Episode 34: Gophers women’s hockey stunned by tournament snub

In this week’s episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” our staff discusses the NCAA tournament committee’s decision to leave the Gophers women’s hockey team out of the tournament, the team’s reaction and whether seniors will elect to return next season.

Nolan O'Hara and Matthew Kennedy

INTRO MUSIC PLAYS 

NOLAN O’HARA: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” presented by the Minnesota Daily. I’m your host, Nolan O’Hara. This Sunday there was a bit of shocking news that the Gophers women’s hockey team didn’t get selected for the NCAA tournament for the first time, under head coach Brad Frost. So we’re here to discuss it. I have Matt Kennedy, who’s covered the team all season for us here. Matt, how’s it going?

MATTHEW KENNEDY: Good.

O’HARA: For sure. Well, you know, definitely wanted to ask you, you know, we read your story, obviously, that, after the selection show on that the team left out, and they seemed pretty shocked about it as well. You know, Frost got that text from Colgate’s coach saying, ‘see you next week.’ And, and sure enough, you won’t be seeing him next week. But you know, it’s obviously never a guarantee. But how surprised were you when the Gophers didn’t get in?

KENNEDY: Yeah, I was super surprised. You know, I was getting pizza at Frank and Andrea’s right by my apartment. And I was watching the live stream. And as they’re rattling off teams, and when I saw a University of Minnesota-Duluth at No. 5, I was like, ‘Oh, no,’ because I knew the University of Minnesota-Duluth was ahead of the Gophers. They didn’t really have a good shot of getting in. And as the teams kept rattling off, and when there were eight teams, that was basically it, and it was a big shock. Just due to the fact first of all, that the Gophers were 2-0 against UMD this season. So going off a head-to-head like Brad Frost said in the press conference after the selection show, you’d think that the committee would put head-to-head first and the Gophers being 2-0 against the Bulldogs, you’d think they would get it.

O’HARA: Right. Yeah, because they did beat him twice this year. And you always would think like, head-to-head is probably the most telling, and that was kind of the team UMD was kind of the team, everybody was expecting to get left out, you know, the Gophers beat them this year. And the Bulldogs lost in the semis, it’s not like they beat Ohio State in the semis and made it to the WCHA championship either, they lost in the tournament, too. They lost in the tournament to Ohio State there. And it just kind of seemed like the Gophers would get that nod over them. But why do you think the committee did go with UMD over Minnesota?

KENNEDY: So why the UMD picked nine why the committee picked UMD over Minnesota was most likely due to UMD’s record. UMD was 11-5, and Minnesota finished the season 11-8-1. So playing those extra games didn’t really actually turn out to be in Minnesota’s favor. Minnesota in all of their losses lost to Wisconsin, and they lost Ohio State who has been consistently in the top three of the country. And it really doesn’t make sense because 2-0 against UMD, and UMD didn’t play a lot of teams that were at the top of the conference. UMD played Minnesota in one two-game series. They also played Wisconsin and split their one two-game series with them. And they played Ohio State and split that series with Ohio State and the rest of the wins were coming against Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State and Bemidji State losing wants to Bemidji State but since they played last games. I think the committee just saw the winning percentage and put UMD in.

O’HARA: For sure you look at it. Yeah, it’s almost kind of like the Gophers are getting penalized for playing, you know, the top teams. It’s kind of an interesting thing, because, you know, you see it in football, sometimes to like, especially in the non-conference. And then basketball people duck opponents and not schedule. The Gophers didn’t do that. They went with the top opponents and kind of didn’t work out in their favor.

KENNEDY: Right. And the Gophers were always playing, they played four games against Wisconsin, they played six games against Ohio State. And they did go 2-4 against Ohio State. So it makes sense why Wisconsin and Ohio State were put in ahead of the Gophers, but UMD is definitely a head-scratcher for sure.

O’HARA: Right, for sure. Yeah. And yeah, I was in Wisconsin, I mean, obviously, two teams playing in that you know, WCHA had the four-team playoff there. You know, Wisconsin obviously winning so it’s like you’re penalized for the two best playing the two best teams in the conference. extra time. I mean, in the case of Ohio State two extra times. And you know, it’s kind of like it’s got to be kind of frustrating for the coaching staff and for the players.

KENNEDY: And it doesn’t make any sense either based on The WCHA Final Faceoff, the Bulldogs lost 7-2 against Ohio State while the Gophers lost 5-3 against Wisconsin, which was a pretty close game throughout and it was a one-goal game and besides a mistake by Lauren Bench going for pocket outside of the crease and behind the net and it accidentally going to a Badger, note the Gophers might have only lost by one to Wisconsin last Saturday in the first game that WCHA face off.

O’HARA: Right for sure. I mean, yeah, looking at that game, too. That was definitely a good one. Gophers, obviously lost in Wisconsin, one of the best teams in the country. But they kind of struggled with Wisconsin this year, I guess. Besides that, that one little mishap there at the end, what was kind of the difference in that game for Minnesota?

KENNEDY: The difference in that game was goaltending. The Gophers defense played exceptionally well, they only allowed 23 shots on the game and Frost has been switching off goalies between Makayla Pahl and Lauren Bench this season and after Pahl let in three goals, he switched off the bench thinking she could probably jumpstart things and provide a little bit of a defensive spark for the team. And it did not work out as planned.

O’HARA: Right for sure. Like you mentioned — we were talking about off the air too — it’s hard to replace a goaltender like Sydney Scobee last year is as good as it gets, it’s tough. You can’t always have one of the best goaltenders in the league.

KENNEDY: Right. And it’s not like Bench and Pahl this season have been completely bad or anything. Both of them have save percentages right at 92%. So it was just a bad day last Saturday.

O’HARA: Right for sure. I guess. One of the things we haven’t talked about the women’s hockey team much on this podcast to I guess kind of like an overview of the season, I guess how would you kind of summarize the way they played this year?

KENNEDY: The Gophers this year, I think they’ve lost a lot of close games, to teams, like Ohio State, Wisconsin, I think last year, they would have won because probably because of the better goaltending last year by Scobee. And I feel like last year they had they had better offense. I think I if I’m not mistaken, they were able to play with teams more and shoot outs like Wisconsin, and Ohio State and some of these games they lost zero to five at Wisconsin, they lost six to three at Wisconsin. So I think they also had a little bit more offensive firepower, which is interesting because they return most of their offensive players back and Abbey Murphy this year, a new freshman has been great for him on offense so but I think the main thing has to be goaltending and it’s not like their goaltending was bad. But last year, Sydney Scobee was really unbelievable. Winning WCHA goaltender of the year. And you always could trust her in the back end. And that while the Gophers were kept switching between Bench and Pahl this year.

O’HARA: Right, for sure. It is. Yeah. And it’s kind of interesting. When you look at teams like that, you return a lot of the same players and kind of don’t see the same results. But it’s a little disappointing. But everything has been kind of strange this year, with the COVID year, which has definitely been tougher for every school, every team.

KENNEDY: Right. And I think also why the Gophers might have done a little bit more poorly this year was because their schedule was harder. I feel like they played Wisconsin and Ohio State. They played Wisconsin, Ohio State 10 times and they went 11-8-1 which means that that was more than half the games they’re playing Wisconsin, Ohio State. So in their games that they played against worse teams like Minnesota State, Bemidji State, they dominated, especially at Bemidji State, they outscored them 15-2. The weekend before they lost Wisconsin and the WCHA Final Faceoff.

O’HARA: Yeah, they closed out the regular season super strong and yeah, they destroyed Bemidji State. And, like we said, it’s kind of been this unusual year this COVID year. And part of that too is that the seniors can come back so this team’s got quite a few seniors. Frost was talking about that a little bit. What do you expect from the senior class? I think you mentioned Zumwinkle probably won’t be back but looking towards next season, do you think most of them will be back and ready to go for another year?

KENNEDY: Yeah, so Zumwinkle might have created those the Olympics and if that is true, she will be playing with the Olympic team as she should, but both defenseman Emily Brown and Olivia Knowles, who were seniors this year come back. So that could add a lot of experience on defense. Also, Lauren Bench graduate senior, she also has another year of eligibility, so she could come back for six-year, which having another year of experience under her belt will be cool to see. And it will also be interesting, due to the fact that Pahl would still be playing and also a goaltender. They’ve wanted to get some time in Olivia King would still be third-string behind bench and Pahl, and then Taylor Wente too you will also be coming back who is a great forward that adds really, really needed depth on their offense. So yeah, four of the five seniors will become, will be likely coming back according to Frost and all those four players are really, really important for Gophers success.

O’HARA: For sure. Yeah. And it’ll be interesting to see kind of what happens next year with the goaltending too, like you mentioned, like, they kind of switch back and forth. Would that be something Frost wanted to do again, are you looking for somebody to kind of take the majority of the time there?

KENNEDY: Yeah, he hasn’t really mentioned anything next year. He’s still kind of grieving, as the entire team is about the shock of not making the tournament, but we’ll have to wait and see. Definitely.

O’HARA: Right, for sure. And you’d mentioned this shock of not making the tournament, I mean watching this team all year long, was there ever a point where you thought they’d be at the outside looking in? I mean we were talking about it in our weekly meeting, and neither of us thought it was going to happen when, when the selection show was on Sunday. But kind of looking at them all year long. Did you think that this would be where we’re at?

KENNEDY: Never, I never, I never thought that the Gophers would not make the tournament. They always were in the top five in the USCHO rankings. And I think one of the reasons, you know, outside of UMD that they didn’t make the tournament was because maybe the committee thought there are too many WCHA teams. Because there were teams a lot from Hockey East that made it that I think that the Gophers are far better than including Providence, who lost in their championship match. And Boston College bowed out early of the Hockey East to unranked UConn. So maybe they just want a little bit more parity in the conferences. But yeah, I, Minnesota has always been consistent in that top five on the USCHO rankings, and I never once doubted that they would make the tournament. I mean, Brad Frost said himself, he’s been doing this for 21 years, he never thought that this situation would happen.

O’HARA: Right. You kind of look at that to like the thought of more parity. You look at the people kind of say that with a College Football Playoff and stuff too. But it’s like, it’s still gonna be dominated by SEC teams every year. And it’s — no non-Power Fives can be in there. It’s like if you’re doing the playoffs, you’d think typically, you want to see the best teams playing the best teams instead of somebody who maybe deserves to be in but didn’t play good teams all year long.

KENNEDY: Yes, correct. Correct. In my opinion, you should always reward teams for playing in a better conference, like we’re talking about March Madness right now. We should be rewarding, most teams should be for the Big Ten and the Big 12 conference, we should be wanting to have an equal number from other conferences. college football’s a little bit different. Because, you know, win-loss records matter more in college football like you’d rather have a one-loss Ohio State in the, in the field that lost in the Big Ten championship, than Georgia from the SEC, who had like, two losses in the regular season, but won their conference championship.

O’HARA: Right, for sure. I guess were there any more thoughts you had about the women’s hockey team about them not making the tournament?

KENNEDY: No, I’m just really surprised that Providence and Boston College made it when they really had way easier schedules Minnesota throughout the year. And they did play, Providence played actually, the exact amount of games that Gophers had, they just had one less loss and one more win. Yeah, it’s just, it’s a shock. You can’t really explain it. The committee hasn’t really explained their decision either. So I’m wondering what they’re gonna say. If they say anything at all.

O’HARA: Yeah, I’m curious too. It’s definitely a head-scratcher. But yeah, thank you so much for joining us to talk about the women’s hockey team here and this, this little bit of a shock that we’ve had this weekend.

KENNEDY: Yeah, no problem and to go into NCAA Tournament. I really think it’s going to be Wisconsin, Northeastern championship. Northeastern only has one loss in the season they went 21-1, pretty much dominating competition, and Wisconsin at 14-3-1. They have to have the best goal scorers in the country in Daryl Watts and Sophie Shirley, so that’ll be probably the likely Championship match and really fun game to see. But, again, disappointing result with Minnesota not making it.

O’HARA: Sure it’s gonna be — Wisconsin is gonna be a tough team to beat. Well, yeah, thanks again. And enjoy the rest of your evening.

KENNEDY: Yeah, thank you.

OUTRO MUSIC PLAYS

O’HARA: In other news: The Gophers women’s basketball team fell to Nebraska in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Minnesota was without its top three scorers in Jasmine Powell, Sara Scalia and Kadi Sissoko, who were all out due to injury. The Gophers have had lots of injury difficulties this season, which was evident in the team’s final two games. Minnesota’s season is most likely over as it finished within an 8-13 record.

The Gophers men’s basketball team survived the first round of the Big Ten tournament with a narrow 51-46 win over Northwestern, and with the win, the Gophers did advance to the second round of the tournament but fell 79-75 to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Barring an NIT tournament appearance, the Gophers season is most likely over with a 14-15 record. A disappointing end after starting the season 11-4.

The Gophers men’s hockey team is also competing in the Big Ten tournament this week, and they’ll play Michigan State on Sunday. The Gophers swept Michigan State in both series they played against the Spartans this season.

And the Gophers volleyball team is finally back in action after a two-week layoff. The last few series was postponed due to health and safety issues in first the Michigan program and then the Minnesota program, but they’re back on track to play on Friday and Saturday against Illinois at Maturi Pavilion.

That’s all for this week. Be sure to check our website mndaily.com for more coverage, and tune in again next week to get the “Weekly Rundown” on all things Gopher sports. Thanks.