A season unlike any other for the Minnesota Duluth women, ended Saturday afternoon as the Bulldogs were eliminated in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
That had never happened in the program’s 14 varsity years.
UMD had never finished under .500 and never failed to win 20 games.
But the Bulldogs (14-16-4) and coach Shannon Miller had never had so many injuries.
The improving Ohio State Buckeyes completed a best-of-three series sweep with a 3-0 victory before 657 fans at Amsoil Arena. Ohio State (19-14-3) won four straight games in Duluth this season, including 4-2 Friday, while UMD won twice in Columbus, Ohio. The teams had tied four fourth in the league.
“It has been an interesting year for us. There were a lot of ups and downs, and we were thrown a lot of curves,” said UMD senior captain Jessica Wong, who had 122 points in 143 career games. “But we rose above them for the most part.
“This weekend we just weren’t getting bounces, but on Friday we also took some penalties that killed us. It’s been a bumpy road.”
When getting to the rink Saturday, the Bulldogs were told sophomore center Zoe Hickel would be out of the lineup because of an injury. Freshman goalie Kayla Black, one of the team’s most consistent performers, left after two periods because of an injury.
Eighteen of UMD’s 34 games had at least one player missing from the lineup because of injuries.
“This is the strangest season I’ve had in 24 years of coaching,” said Miller, the only head coach UMD has had. “When I heard that Zoe couldn’t play today, I just about fell out of my shoes.
“We fought through a lot of adversity all season and it’s easy to say we did as well as we could despite everything, but, really, I think we deserved better. Even today, I thought our players deserved better. I’m not saying we deserved to win, but maybe we deserved a few bounces and a couple of goals.”
UMD did start well and led in shots on goal 7-3 through the first four minutes, but couldn’t get past Ohio State junior goalie Chelsea Knapp. She finished with 21 saves for her third shutout of the season and fifth of her career. By the end of the first period, the Buckeyes led 2-0 on goals by Tina Hollowell and Minttu Tuominen.
Ohio State (19-14-3) takes a four-game unbeaten streak into this weekend’s Final Faceoff semifinals against top-ranked and undefeated Minnesota at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. The Buckeyes were 14-5-1 through December, had a break of 4½ weeks, and went 2-9-1 before righting themselves.
“Now we’re starting to get our legs again the last two or three weeks. We’re getting back in shape,” said Ohio State coach Nate Handrahan, in his second season. “We played this weekend the game we needed to play — sound and simple. We play a vanilla game and take advantage, cash in, when we can. And we played such a sound defensive game.”
The Bulldogs had some decent rushes and decent chances, but no goals. Ohio State captain Hokey Langan added her 58th career goal, on a power play with 5:04 to play, to extinguish any UMD hopes. The Buckeyes led 34-21 in shots on goal.
UMD entered the series with a 15-1 career record in WCHA quarterfinal games. A year ago, The Bulldogs swept Ohio State in the first round of the playoffs at Amsoil Arena.
Early in the season, with a full lineup, UMD was competitive against top-tier teams with a 3-3-2 mark against No. 3-ranked Boston College, No. 4 Boston University and No. 8 Wisconsin. Yet a depleted roster and the most difficult schedule in Division I, according to computer rankings, took a tool.
UMD was 1-8-1 in its final 10 games.
“This team jelled so well, the best of any team since I’ve been here,” said Wong, who battled hip, back and wrist injuries this season, often practicing just once a week and often on crutches. “It was just tough to see it end this way.”
Ohio State……………………… 2-0-1—3
Minnesota Duluth……………. 0-0-0—0
First period — 1. Ohio State, Tina Hollowell 12 (Sara Schmitt, Kari Schmitt), 6:30; 2. Ohio State, Minttu Tuominen 6 (Ally Tarr, Hollowell), 18:31. Penalties — Tea Villila, UMD (interference), 14:16.
Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Tuominen, Ohio State (checking), 2:36.
Third period — 3. Ohio State, Hokey Langan 12 (Paige Semenza, Hollowell), 14:56 (pp). Penalties — Emma Stauber, UMD (interference), 8:25; Jamie Kenyon, UMD (roughing), 13:47.
Shots on goal — Ohio State 13-8-13–34, UMD 8-10-3–21. Goalies — Chelsea Knapp (19-13-3), Ohio State (21 shots-21 saves); Kayla Black (13-14-3), UMD (21 shots-19 saves); Karissa Grapp, UMD (13 shots-12 saves). Power plays — Ohio State 1-of-3, UMD 0-of-1. Referees — Dan Lick, Dave Lick. Linesmen — Shane Paskey, Kevin Capocasa. A — 657.