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Bulldogs win in-state battle with Gophers

The Gophers lost three of their final four regular season games.

The Minnesota women’s hockey team’s hopes of clinching second place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association came to an abrupt end Saturday with a 7-1 loss to Minnesota Duluth.

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The Gophers continued their woes Sunday with a 5-1 loss, but the damage had already been done as Saturday’s loss sealed the second seed for the Bulldogs.

Minnesota (20-11-1 overall, 17-10-1 WCHA) never really got started in Saturday’s game and was knocked back on its heels after Minnesota Duluth jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.

“I thought we came out a little nervous and didn’t have a very good start,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “That gave them a lot of confidence. We were just never able to get anything going.”

Minnesota Duluth’s seven-goal total tied a season high for goals allowed by Minnesota while the Bulldogs mustered their best offensive numbers of the season.

Minnesota Duluth (20-8-4, 19-6-3 WCHA) was expected to be put to the test by one of the conference’s best power-play units, but the Bulldogs silenced the Gophers’ power-play lines by giving Minnesota just three opportunities to play with the advantage.

The Bulldogs needed no such advantage against the Gophers, although they did record one power-play goal in the game.

Senior forward Noemie Marin led Minnesota Duluth with a goal and three assists, while freshman forwards Emmanuelle Blais and Elin Holmlov each contributed a pair of goals.

Blais notched both of her goals in the first 2:38 of the game to give her team all the goals it would need and record the first game-winning goal of her career.

The Bulldogs’ defense backed up the offense, rarely allowing Minnesota to put together sound scoring attempts.

The defense consistently stepped in front of shots, threw the puck on net in the offensive zone and kept the pressure on the Gophers by refusing to let Minnesota clear the puck from its defensive zone.

Sophomore goaltender Kim Hanlon struggled in net for the Gophers, giving up seven goals on 34 shots.

“We just couldn’t keep up with them,” Hanlon said. “They had some great shots and they used their speed to their advantage.”

On the other hand, freshman net-minder Kim Martin stopped all but one of the Gophers’ 25 shots on goal for the Bulldogs.

Minnesota junior forward Erica McKenzie recorded the Gophers’ lone goal 6:52 into the third period when she broke up Martin’s shutout.

McKenzie’s lamp-lighter was too little too late for the Gophers, though, as their hopes of clinching second place in the WCHA vanished with the loss.

Although Minnesota came out noticeably more prepared in Sunday’s grudge match, the Bulldogs were able to jump out to a 5-0 lead thanks to no offensive production by the Gophers in the first two periods.

Minnesota finally showed signs of life when McKenzie and sophomore defenseman Dagney Willey brought the puck in on a 2-on-1 attempt.

McKenzie’s first shot was blocked by Martin, but Willey was right on her teammate’s heels and poked the puck through.

“Today just wasn’t our day,” Willey said. “It’s hard when you work so hard and you don’t get anything.”

But for the second time in as many days, the Gophers found themselves in too deep of a hole, and Minnesota Duluth went on to win the contest 5-1.

“I thought we played much harder and much better today,” Halldorson said Sunday. “The score doesn’t necessarily indicate the type of game it was.”

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