The No. 7 University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team had no interest in settling for a tie Sunday afternoon, and as the clock ran out over the ice of AMSOIL Arena, the Bulldogs pulled off an incredible win.
In a game with four lead changes, UMD secured the final one to defeat Minnesota State University, Mankato 4-3 behind two goals and an assist from Gabbie Hughes, who also buried the game-winner. The sweep of the Mavericks sets up a showdown next weekend between the Bulldogs and the No. 1 University of Wisconsin for the WCHA regular season title.
Just as the Mavericks did Friday night, they took the first lead of the game in the opening period. Senior forward Brittlyn Fleming had a breakaway from the blueline, and beat UMD goaltender Emma Soderberg at 12:37 for her fifth goal of the season.
Unlike game one, the Bulldogs stormed back immediately in the second period, and it started with Taylor Anderson's third goal of the year at 2:27. Hughes won the face-off to the left of MSU netminder Calla Frank, and Anna Klein one-timed the shot on Frank. Enter Anderson, from an impossible angle, to pop the puck off Frank's pad and in for the 1-1 equalizer. Hughes then scored her own goal at the 8:43 mark, shoveling in her second tally of the season with assists credited to Anderson and Klein for the 2-1 lead.
The Mavericks were far from finished, however, and again forced a 2-2 tie at 15:05 on a power play goal from Claire Butorac. MSU then opened the third period by retaking the lead at 3:08 on Jamie Nelson's eighth goal of the season.
UMD responded again at 10:12, this time in the form of sophomore forward Kasundra Betinol. Betinol corralled a puck in the crease and after a battle of attempts, finally jammed it home to draw the Bulldogs even at 3-3.
It looked like that score would lead to overtime until Hughes absolutely buried a rebound from Ashton Bell with three seconds remaining, and the celebration was on for the Bulldogs. UMD, with five-straight wins, has set the table for a WCHA regular season champion to be crowned one way or the other at AMSOIL next weeked.
"Unbelievable, it's what it's all about, to be able to play for a title to be at home", said UMD head coach Maura Crowell, whose squad can finish no lower than second in the WCHA for the first time since the 2010-11 season. "To be playing this season through everything that we've gone through and everything we have put into this. Great situation where something big is on the line and we're not just playing for the fun of it, we're playing for trophies. I think this weekend shows our team that we can win in different ways, which is really important throughout the year, and especially at this time of year."
Soderberg finished the contest with 28 saves on 31 shots, and the Bulldogs had a power play goal on five attempts. MSU, which ends their season with a record of 7-12-1, got 35 saves from Frank on 39 shots, and turned in one power play tally on four attempts.
UMD will host the Badgers next weekend at AMSOIL for a shot at the 2020-21 WCHA regular season title. Puck drops on game one at 5:07 p.m.
BULLDOG NOTES: The last time the Bulldogs finished in second place or higher in the regular season was back over the 2010-11 season when UMD and Minnesota tied for second ... The Bulldogs last won the WCHA regular season title during the 2009-10 season as co-champions with the Gophers ... Gabbie Hughes is currently on a five-game scoring streak that dates back to Jan. 23 ... Over that span, Hughes has compiled five goals and three assists for eight points ... McKenzie Hewett is on a career-best three game scoring streak, with three goals and an assist for four points in her last three skates ... with two wins over the weekend, UMD head coach Maura Crowell is just two wins shy of her 100th win ... Anna Klein ranks seventh nationally and third in the WCHA with a 1.29 points per game average ... Emma Soderberg still owns the number two spot nationally and first in the WCHA with a 1.10 goals against average.