Women’s hockey team falls short in final

by Monica Wright

If anyone doubted that the WCHA championship match between Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth was a deep-seated rivalry, they just needed a look at one statistic — the Gophers had as many penalties as shots on goal in the first period.
The noticeably physical game was evenly matched Saturday until the Bulldogs scored late in the first period, sending the Gophers off the ice with a cloud over their heads. The cloud never left — Duluth scored an insurance goal to win 2-0.
“We couldn’t have wanted it more, but we couldn’t execute,” Minnesota goalie Erica Killewald said. “We’ve got to capitalize on breakaways, especially against good teams.”
Minnesota fought hard in the second period, showing more energy and earning more scoring chances. Laura Slominski and Nadine Muzerall each had several breakaway attempts that fell short of the goal.
“We had a lot of good chances on the power play, and our power play has been good this year,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “If we had gotten a goal, we could have gained momentum, and it might have turned out better for us.”
The game couldn’t have turned out better for Duluth goalie Tuula Puputti, who made 31 saves and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Joining the Bulldogs in January, Puputti is already the nation’s sixth-ranked goaltender.
“I definitely didn’t imagine anything like this happening, but I knew the plans and goals for the team,” Puputti said. “It wasn’t an easy game, but my team playing well made it easier.”
Muzerall, the nation’s leading scorer, was quick to point out why Puputti had success shutting down the Gophers.
“Wasn’t she an Olympic goalie? That’s probably why,” Muzerall said.
Even with five Olympians on the Bulldogs roster, the two teams shared an even number of all-tournament players, with goalie Killewald, defender Winny Brodt and right wing Tracy Engstrom joining Duluth’s Puputti, Jenny Schmidgall and Brittny Ralph on the all-tournament team.
Though the loss puts an end to the Gophers’ 21-game winning streak, hope of being in the national championship doesn’t die with the WCHA tournament. Two at-large bids will be awarded in the next two weeks to teams chosen by a committee.
The Gophers have no games left on their schedule, but Halldorson feels that Minnesota is worthy of one of those spots despite the loss to Duluth.
“I’m not going to plead our case,” Halldorson said. “They just need to look at what we’ve done this year.”

Monica Wright covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected].