Duluth gets the best of Gophers

Paul Markgraff

Maybe Brittny Ralph and Jenny Schmidgall felt like they had something to prove. Maybe after leaving the Gophers last spring to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey team, they wanted to show they didn’t make a poor decision.
And it’s possible they just wanted to win so badly, nothing could stop them.
Whatever the case, Ralph and Schmidgall, along with WCHA-Women’s League scoring leaders Maria Rooth and Erika Holst, wanted to show their 10-0-0 record wasn’t a fluke.
And they proved it in convincing fashion. Duluth won 1-0 Saturday and 5-4 Friday.
Before the weekend, Schmidgall, Rooth, Holst and Hanne Sikio led the WCHA in scoring. Sikio, playing for Finland at the Three Nation’s Cup in Canada, did not play for the Bulldogs, but they didn’t need her.
Friday night, before the unusual five-goal third period, Schmidgall and Rooth owned the ice. In the first period, Schmidgall scored on an assist from Rooth.
During the second period, Rooth scored with an assist from Schmidgall and Schmidgall scored another goal with an assist from Rooth. Anyone see a pattern developing yet?
“Coming back here and playing against our own team, I think that just adds fuel to the fire,” Schmidgall said. “I just don’t think they know what to expect from a first-year team. I think we just outworked them in the first two periods.”
Although Schmidgall and Rooth were relatively quiet in the third period, Ralph came through for the Bulldogs in a big way. She scored two goals, including the game-winner.
“I’ve been taking those shots all year,” said Ralph. “I just happened to capitalize on them in a big game.”
The irony was not lost on the Bulldogs.
“I think it’s especially special to us, beating the old team even though we are a first-year team,” said Schmidgall. “(We were) getting excited to play them all year and we finally come back and play them and beat them, I think that’s awesome.”
But during Saturday’s game, the Gophers made some adjustments to quiet the scoring storm of Schmidgall, Rooth and Ralph. Bulldogs coach Shannon Miller and her players noticed the adjustments right away.
“They stuck very close to Maria Rooth and (Schmidgall),” she said. “They did a really good job checking those people.”
“I thought they were really physical, especially with (Schmidgall) and Maria in the corners,” said Bulldogs freshman wing Joanne Eustace, the player who scored what would be the game-winning goal for Duluth.
More physical? Not according to Gophers coach Laura Halldorson.
“We weren’t doing anything special against anybody. We just wanted to play good defense,” she said. “I thought people stepped up today and came to play.”
Regardless of the tactics, Duluth swept the Gophers in a very important WCHA series this weekend. They brought the best scorers in the league and left with the Northern Star trophy, their number one WCHA ranking, and their undefeated record intact.
“That’s huge for us,” said Miller. “We set some goals tonight and just went an inch at a time, and boy, did they ever stick to the game plan. We were trying to get from point A to point B and we did.”

Paul Markgraff covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]