UMD returns to AMSOIL to face CC, Gophers

John Gilbert

UMD goaltender Hunter Shepard could relax for a moment against Denver as defenseman Scott Perunovich stopped the action while picking out his next assist. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD goaltender Hunter Shepard could relax for a moment against Denver as defenseman Scott Perunovich stopped the action while picking out his next assist. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Lots of questions this weekend, seeking lots of answers — some of which will be provided at AMSOIL Arena Friday and Saturday.
The spotlight will be on the UMD men’s hockey team, which takes on Colorado College at 7 p.m. both nights, and the Bulldogs are in position to answer their fans’ most serious question: Are the Bulldogs a true contender to wind up as the best team in the country for the third straight time when this season’s NCAA tournament is conducted? Of course, the Bulldogs did exactly that the past two seasons.

They were good enough against Denver, this year’s early No. 1, in rallying from behind with a sizzling third period, only to lose the extra point in a shootout after two overtimes, and then proving their merit in the second game, when they jumped on top- early and held off a late Denver challenge for a 5-2 victory.

But the Bulldogs then went to Oxford, Ohio, and lost a tough 3-1 game to Miami of Ohio, proving how tough the NCHC is once again, before the Bulldogs came back and won 3-2 in the second game. Scott Perunovich,
who had assists on the two goals that lifted UMD from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to gain the 3-3 tie, and added an assist on the first goal in the second game, outdid himself at Miami, assisting on the lone goal in the 3-1 loss, and assisting on all three goals in the 3-2 second-game victory, for a 4-point weekend.

Perunovich was named NCHC defenseman of the week, for all those assists, leading up to two other questions against CC: Is Scott Perunovich the best player in NCAA hockey, or just the most fun to watch? And, is Hunter Shepard the premier goaltender in the NCHC, and perhaps the country? We could find out against CC, but be aware, the Tigers are a year older and much improved this season.

Interestingly enough, on both Friday and Saturday the UMD women’s hockey team takes on Minnesota at 3 p.m. Make no mistake, these are the two biggest games on UMD’s schedule for the entire season, because
Minnesota is the easy answer to the question of which team is the best in the country in women’s hockey. The Gophers are No. 1 ranked, after sweeping both games from then-No. 1 Wisconsin two weeks ago, and while
the Bulldogs are always full of hope and even something resembling confidence when they take on Minnesota, the question UMD faces is can they live up to their hope and spring an upset or two?

UMD, you recall, just lost 3-1 and tied Ohio State 1-1, only to lose in a shootout after overtime failed to solve the tie. That leaves UMD at 4-3-1 and in fourth place in the Women’s WCHA, and 7-4-1 overall, although Rooney’s outstanding goaltending earned here WCHA goalie of the week honors. Meanwhile, Minnesota is 8-1-1 atop the WCHA and 12-1-1 overall, having just crushed a good Bemidji State team 7-1 and 3-0. It was Bemidji State, you recall, that swept UMD both games in their series in Bemidji a month ago.

    2.   UMD women's goaltender Maddie Rooney has established some high standards for facing the Gophers -- and everybody else. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD women's goaltender Maddie Rooney has established some high standards for facing the Gophers - and everybody else. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The big question facing the UMD women against the Gophers is: Can Maddie Rooney continue the play spectacularly against the Gophers? And, can sophomore Gabbie Hughes once again prove to be a scoring
force against the formidable Gophers? Last season, the Bulldogs lost 4-1 to Minnesota in the WCHA tournament semifinals in an interesting game at Ridder Arena. Hughes scored at 7:20 of the first period to
stake UMD to a 1-0 lead, on what was the Bulldogs only shot of a 1-1 first period, in which the Gophers held a 17-1 edge in shots. Rooney was sensational, even though Minnesota won 4-1 — outshooting UMD 44-9 for the game.
Furthermore, when Minnesota played UMD at AMSOIL Arena last season, the Gophers won the opener 5-2, but again Hughes opened the scoring at 1:07 of the first period, and Rooney made 41 saves in the first game,
then in the second game, Hughes yet again scored the game’s first goal early in the second period, and Rooney was unreal in a 2-2 tie through overtime,. The game went to a shootout, and it was more of the same —
Hughest scored as UMD’s first shooter and Ryleight Houston scored as the second UMD shooter, while Rooney stopped Minnesota’s three best shooters with a poke-check, a save, and then a huge stop on her good friend Kelly Pannek to give UMD a rare victory, although it counted as a tie.
This is a big season for commemorations, and it is the 20th anniversary of the year UMD started its women’s hockey program. Athletic director Bob Corran hired the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey coach, Shannon Miller, and she put a team together of a lot of disparate parts, but they included  a couple players from Sweden, a couple more from Finland, and one — Jenny Schmidgall — from the Gophers.

It made for an instant rivalry, as this upstart UMD team went to Minnesota and swept the Gophers, who had had a program for several years, with 5-4 and 1-0 games, and in their later rematch at the DECC, Minnesota won 5-4 and the teams tied 2-2 through overtime. UMD outshot the Gophers 53-33 in that game, and Erica Killewald made 51 saves. That tie was big, because it secured the first year WCHA season championship for UMD at 21-1-2, while Minnesota finished second at 21-2-1. In a seven-team league, that meant UMD got a bye in the first quarterfinals.

Tuula Puputti shut out the Gophers 2-0 in the league playoff championship game, which caused great consternation for Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson, who had secured a berth in the four-team coaches association tournament held in Boston. She told me repeatedly that season that the west would only get one team, against four from the east, because it was an invitational tournament, and Minnesota would be the West representative. She never imagined UMD’s fledgling outfit could win the league and playoff spot, and gain that automatic berth. But politics prevailed, and the Gophers not only got into the final four, they wound up paired against UMD in the semifinals.

At Mathews Arena on the Northeastern campus, the Gophers beat UMD 3-2. The Bulldogs outshot Minnesota 42-27, and took a 2-0 lead on Maria Rooth’s 36th goal, and Michelle McAteer’s 17th, but Minnesota’s star scorer, Nadine Muzerall, scored her 47th and 48th goals of the season to tie it 2-2, and won it on a power-play goal. Muzerall scored her 49th in the final, a 4-2 Minnesota triumph over Brown.

For that 1999-2000 season, Potter scored 41 goals and had 52 assists for 93 points — with the goals and points UMD’s all-time single-season records. Rooth had 37 goals and tied Hanne Sikio with 68 points that season. They led UMD to that first-year 22-1-2 WCHA record and 25-5-3 overall mark.
Those records set the bar high, but the next year, the NCAA began holding national tournaments for women’s hockey, and Miller led UMD to victories in the first three of them. The current crop of Bulldogs and their fans may not remember those now-unbelievable-seeming seasons, but they established the rivalry forever with the Gophers. Added now is the fact that, 20 years later, Minnesota raised a banner to Ridder Arena’s rafters to celebrate that “national championship” before there was one. Maybe they though nobody would remember the seedy details.

It could serve as motivation for UMD this weekend, and even the men should take a bow toward the women for holding their biggest rivalry as preliminary games both days.