Minnesota Duluth 2, Northeastern 1 (2OT)
The UMD Bulldogs exacted revenge for their exit from the 2021 Frozen Four at the hands of Northeastern with an epic, double-overtime win on Friday afternoon.
"It's hard to put into words. It's just we put in so much work in the offseason. And our goal from the start when we all got together as a group was to make it to that game on Saturday and watch it come true with this group of girls. It's just incredibly special," Naomi Rogge said about avenging last year's loss.
Despite the teams returning mostly similar rosters to this game, it had a different feel. Whereas last season the Bulldogs had Northeastern on the run early and the Huskies were left needing to regroup, these teams were evenly matched from the get-go. Both squads did a good job of neutralizing the other's top lines. As overtime went on, Élizabeth Giguère racked up the shots, but she was well-defended all game, with a Northeastern player constantly on her back or between her and the net. On the other side of the ice, Alina Müller ended the game with just one shot on net. Chloe Aurard was able to make use of the space the attention on Müller afforded her to get more pucks to the net, but UMD kept them from being too dangerous.
"I thought [Northeastern] were fantastic. Even better than last year when we faced them. I think they're super fast. Really good on transition. Their second line is lethal. Obviously the first line gets a lot of credit and attention just like ours, but that second line is really good," said Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell.
The teams took turns dominating the run of play, holding their zone and moving the puck around before periods of quick transitions. In the first, the Bulldogs seemed to have a bit more jump, as it took Northeastern's top line a little bit to figure out how to play around the defense they were seeing.
In the second, rookie Skylar Irving proved she's a player everyone should be paying attention to in the coming years, scoring her second goal of the NCAA tournament, putting away a rebound off Maddie Mills' shot.
"It was a fun, exciting game. This is the type of hockey you want to play," said UMD goaltender Emma Söderberg. "Those are the type of goals that happen in these games. It's easy to reset. You can’t think about it. If the puck goes in, it’s on to the next one."
The goal energized the Huskies, who played with just that bit more speed and confidence immediately after. They were close to doubling their lead a number of times, particularly in a flurry right before the end of the period. Northeastern has been adept at scoring late-period goals, using every tenth of the second on the clock. It would have been a different game had they headed into the locker room up 2-0, but a number of great saves by Söderberg kept the lead at one.
Both goalies played as tremendously as was expected from them. Aerin Frankel won her second-straight Goalie of the Year Award earlier in the week and Söderberg, who was playing well before leaving for the Olympics, seems to be even better in her return to the starting role.
Minnesota Duluth tied the game up with about 10 minutes left in regulation. The goal came off a Naomi Rogge faceoff win, and Taylor Anderson handled a bouncing puck in traffic by lifting it with her backhand to beat Frankel.
Both teams showed how tough they were fighting for every inch of ice as their fatigue began to show late in the game. Unfortunately for them, they still had nearly forty more minutes of hockey to play.
Both teams had chances to end the game, but the defenses racked up blocks and the goaltenders showed why they are some of the best in the world.
It wasn't until late in the second overtime that UMD was able to force the Huskies to make a mistake and capitalize on the opportunity, with just 1:45 remaining on the clock.
McKenzie Hewett's persistence in the neutral zone led to a loose puck that Giguère picked up and quickly fed it to Rogge. She carried it into the zone and let loose with a wrister that went through the defender's legs and under the right arm of Frankel to win the game.
Sunday will be Minnesota Duluth's seventh national championship game. The Bulldogs have won five titles, with their last coming in 2010.
Ohio State 2, Yale 1
The Ohio State Buckeyes advanced to their first-ever national championship game with a 2-1 win over Yale Friday evening. The Buckeyes have played in four NCAA tournaments and three Frozen Fours, but had never broken through to the title game until last night.
The teams felt each other out over the course of the first period, with Ohio State leading in shots, but the Bulldogs getting opportunities on their end. Then, early in the second, Yale broke through when Tabea Botthof buried a loss puck on a rebound to give them the 1-0 lead.
It was one of the few mistakes from OSU goalie Amanda Thiele, who has been stellar for the Buckeyes since she came on as the starter when Andrea Brändli headed to the Olympics. Thiele has been the top goalie for OSU ever since.
The lead did not last for long, as Ohio State, who are the top power play scoring team in the country, got their first chance at the extra attacker and did not squander it.
OSU coach Nadine Muzerall, who has been forthcoming with information about her thought processes and strategy throughout the postseason press conferences, said she thought Yale would watch and prepare for her top power play unit – what she called the "Scarlet" group. So when the opportunity arose, she sent out their "Gray" unit instead, giving a different look. It was a successful gambit as the Buckeyes scored before a minute had elapsed in the power play.
Ohio State was moving the puck around the perimeter and drew the Yale defenders' attention by getting the puck down low to Liz Schepers at the bottom of the faceoff circle. Paetyn Levis, who had been moving around the ice seemingly aimlessly while her teammates passed the puck, took advantage of the defense's attention being turned to slide into the slot unnoticed. Schepers hit her with a perfect pass and Levis one-timed it into the net.
Less than four minutes later, Jenn Gardiner scored the game-winner on a great individual effort that saw her picking up the puck from Riley Brengman on a breakout that started behind the center line. She picked up speed and headed up the right side. A toe drag beat the last defender and she roofed her shot over Gianna Meloni to make it a 2-1 game.
Yale surprised a lot of people by scoring first and sticking with Ohio State throughout the game. The Buckeyes average nearly five goals per game on offense and were held to just one even-strength goal, but as Yale coach Mark Bolding pointed out, it was a defensive lapse of just a couple of minutes that made the difference in the game.
The Bulldogs were playing in their first NCAA tournament in program history and had set a record with 29 wins. Bolding said there is a new standard set for Yale women's hockey thanks to this year's team.
It was an emotional loss for senior captain Greta Skarzynski, who pointed out that it had been an amazing ride for her class, who went from not qualifying for the ECAC playoffs their sophomore year to playing in the national semifinal this season.
It has been a tremendous six years for Muzerall and Ohio State with her at the helm. She was hired in September 2016 and had to hit the ground running. The team finished 14-18-5 that season. The next, they were in the Frozen Four.
She applauded her team's resilience – they've come from behind to win each of their last four playoff games, dating back to their WCHA semifinal win over Wisconsin. Their opponents have scored first in each game, but the Buckeyes have rallied each time.
Now they face a familiar opponent in Minnesota Duluth, who they played four times this season. Each team took a win and a loss at home. But Muzerall said the game will be more about how the team's are prepared mentally than about on-ice strategy.