Women’s hockey swept out of series with Minnesota-Duluth

Brett Angel

When it was over, the crowd at Ridder Arena cheered, and players donned in maroon and gold rushed the ice to surround their goaltender in celebration.

The only problem: Visiting Minnesota-Duluth was the women’s hockey team doing the celebrating.

The Gophers and Minnesota-Duluth renewed their rivalry over the weekend with two closely-contested and physical games. The Bulldogs emerged with four conference points by doing something no other team could so far this season – beat Minnesota. And they did it twice.

“It’s a helluva rivalry,” Minnesota-Duluth head coach Shannon Miller said after Sunday’s narrow 6-5 victory. “We just kept persevering, and that’s exactly how we won.”

Minnesota (13-2-1, 7-2-1 WCHA) dropped an equally tough contest 4-3 on Saturday, surrendering a 3-1 lead in the final period. The defeat ended the Gophers’ unbeaten streak at 14, while getting swept will most likely drop Minnesota out of the top spot in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll.

What made Sunday’s win even more impressive for the Bulldogs (11-1-2, 7-0-1) was that they did it in large part without their best player.

Minnesota-Duluth’s star right wing Maria Rooth was knocked out of the game late in the first period after crashing head-first into the boards.

Rooth lay on the ice for several minutes before eventually skating off under her own strength. She suffered a separated right shoulder as well as damage to her knee in the incident and did not return.

Miller later accused the Gophers of going after Rooth with the intention of hurting her. Rooth scored a hat-trick – including the game-tying and game-winning goals – in the Bulldogs’ come-from-behind win Saturday.

Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson denied the accusation and said she saw Rooth lose her balance on the play.

“It was not intentional,” Halldorson said.

The Gophers scored first Sunday on a Kelly Stephens power-play goal and then withstood an offensive barrage, getting out-shot 19-9 by the Bulldogs and allowing three goals in the opening 20 minutes of play – both season highs for a Minnesota opponent.

Minnesota-Duluth junior Tricia Guest scored two of her three goals in the period.

But the Gophers trailed by just one heading into the second period after another power-play score – this time from Ronda Curtin.

Two more Minnesota goals by Winny Brodt and Kristy Oonincx put the Gophers on top 4-3 just 5:04 into the second period, but Minnesota-Duluth countered with two goals of its own and entered the final period with a 5-4 advantage.

Brodt tied the match once again midway through the period, but Joanne Eustace finished the scoring with an even-strength goal at 15:02 to seal the victory and the sweep.

“It’s huge because we were ranked third and they were No. 1,” Miller said. “It’s huge because it’s on their home ice and it’s the first time we’ve met this year. And it’s huge because we did it without Maria Rooth. That makes the win very sweet.”

Minnesota suffered its first home sweep since the 1999-2000 season.

The weekend series represented the first games against the Bulldogs for Minnesota forward Natalie Darwitz, but the Gophers’ freshman phenom demonstrated an immediate understanding of the rivalry’s intensity.

“Very heated,” Darwitz said of her reaction to the games. “February is marked on my calendar.”

That will be the next time Minnesota gets a chance to win back the Northern Star trophy – the prize presented to the winner of this matchup.

The Gophers have a record of 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and finished a difficult month of November in which they played five teams in the nation’s top 10.

“Unfortunately, the last two games of the month were the losses,” Halldorson said. “It would have been nice to win one or both of these games, but we know we’ll have another chance at them down the road.”

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]