Retooled Bulldogs no match for Gophers in weekend sweep

Monica Wright

After two solid 4-0, 8-0 shutout wins against rival Minnesota-Duluth this weekend, Gophers senior Ambria Thomas was sick of answering the same question:
Was it any different taking on the defending WCHA conference champion Bulldogs with their top six players absent?
By Saturday night, she was answering it with a groan.
“I am tired of hearing that because we played them last year with two players out, and two is less than six but that’s no excuse,” Thomas said. “They came in here ready to play us and they played hard, but I think we deserve credit for coming out and playing hard too.”
The Bulldogs — who lost six international players to their respective national teams for the Four Nations Cup — were left with just fifteen players, including a third-string goalie who had never seen collegiate action in her life.
But in Friday’s game Duluth showed no signs of being handicapped. They battled the Gophers in typical physical style, holding Minnesota to just one goal in the first two periods of play.
Though the Gophers came alive in the third period to pop in three goals against Duluth goaltender Riana Burke, coach Shannon Miller said she was proud of her third and fourth lines that night.
“My expectations were met with pride,” Miller said. “We went head to head with the Gophers for 40 minutes and showed we can play with these guys. We came here with a plan and these players executed it.”
Saturday’s game saw a turnaround as the Gophers took over from the very beginning of the first period when Ronda Curtin slapped the puck past Burke just seven and a half minutes into the game.
Curtin’s goal was followed by two from Thomas, who went on to finish with a hat trick and two assists for the evening.
Freshman La Toya Clarke — currently second in the nation in points behind Duluth’s absent Maria Rooth — took over scoring duties in the second and third period as she knocked in two consecutive goals.
While the Gophers went on to pound Burke with four goals in the third period and 45 shots on goal overall, they headed off all 21 Bulldog shots, a rare treat for senior goaltender Erica Killewald when playing Duluth.
“In the past any time we played Duluth I was facing 40 shots a game, and tonight it was cut in half,” Killewald said. “I’m not saying it was easier, the shots they got were close which are the hardest to save, but that’s what was different.”
With the Bulldogs missing their top scorers along with the nation’s current number one goalie, Tuula Puputti, coach Laura Halldorson said last weekend’s series isn’t the final word on the Gopher-Bulldog rivalry this season.
“We’ll see them again so I don’t think the title has been determined,” Halldorson said. “We still have to play a lot of other teams before the end of season and that’s going to start in two weeks against Wisconsin who beat Duluth when they were at full strength.”
“I think we’re in good shape now but we still have a lot of tough games ahead of us.”

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