Saturday afternoon Minnesota opened the 2019 WCHA Final Face Off semifinals against Duluth at Ridder Arena. Gophers came out strong from the moment they hit the ice and while there were several minutes of back and forth at the start of the game, they were soon boxing in the Bulldogs shift after shift forcing Maddie Rooney to scramble in her crease. That made Gabbie Hughes’s 5-hole goal on Alex Gulstene at 7:20 after she came down the center all the more surprising. Maggie Flaherty had the lone assist on this goal, which also happened to be Duluth’s first official shot of the game.
The Bulldogs got enough buzz to make more offensive runs on net, but not actually put pucks on net and officially shots were 17-1 in Minnesota’s favor at the end of first period. However, Kelly Pannek tied the game well before first intermission when she scored from the left circle at 12:48. Sarah Potomak assisted. At 13:56 Flaherty hurled Alex Woken to the ice, went to the box for interference, and was released two minutes later. Then in the last two minutes of the period Nicole Schammel streaked diagonally across the rink to the left circle for a great shot, which Rooney denied.
Second period started with Duluth getting a shot on goal before Minnesota took over again. Somehow Rooney managed to stop a 5-hole attempt and then a little later Taylor Wente nearly tipped in Olivia Knowles’s shot. The Bulldogs were getting more zonetime as the team fended off lots of attempts. Wente fed the puck to Schammel, who then flew up the left side, crossed through the circle before shooting into the top right pocket of the net at 6:08. Crystalyn Hengler had the second assist. Minnesota then had an extended offensive, which ended after Abigail Boreen caused a mess at the crease and Rooney covered the puck.
Duluth continued doing a stellar job foiling Gopher attempts, but eventually they had to use their timeout at 10:49. Once play resumed here was some back and forth until Flaherty earned a tripping penalty at 14:49. On the resulting power play the Gophers cycled the puck until Emily Oden passed to Emily Brown and Brown fed the puck to Grace Zumwinkle, who blasted it into goal from the left circle at 15:56. Bulldogs went on the attack late in the period and eventually forced Minnesota to use their timeout with 32.3 seconds left on the clock, but they couldn’t beat Gulstene again.
Third period was Duluth’s strongest, as they had a far amount of offense in the first several minutes, save for a play that ended with a Gopher in the back of Rooney’s net. One of their best chances came when Naomi Rogge had a shot that barely landed on the outside of the post during a Bulldog barrage. Wente was denied on flyby attempt and then went for hooking at 8:20. During the penalty Minnesota hunkered down tightly in front of Gulstene and allowed Duluth to cycle the puck, but didn’t allow them to come close to breaching the golden wall.
Once they had killed the penalty Duluth started an all out offensive on goal. This was further bolstered by pulling Rooney for the extra attacker at 17:09. After the Gophers iced the puck it seemed like the Bulldogs were going to score, but their double edged advantage cut them as a Schammel shot from deep within Minnesota’s zone slid across the entire length of the rink into the back of the net at 17:31. That was the final nail in the coffin for the Bulldogs’ season and Rooney was returned to goal as they waited out the last two and a half minutes. Minnesota had won 4-1 after outshooting Duluth 44-9, earning them a slot in the championship game against Wisconsin Sunday afternoon.
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