The University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team was arguably the unluckiest team in the NCAA this season, so by the time the final buzzer sounded Saturday at AMSOIL Arena, it wasn't as if the Bulldogs' luck had simply run out. It had never existed to begin with.
UMD fell to Ohio State University 3-0, giving the Buckeyes the two wins they needed to advance to next Friday's Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Final Face-Off semifinal game. With the two losses, the Bulldogs fall short of surviving the WCHA's quarterfinal round for the first time in program history.
"I did not want our season to end today," said head coach Shannon Miller after the game. "I feel like our team deserves better than this, our seniors definitely deserve better than this. We've fought through a lot of adversity this year and so it's easy to say there is no way to do any better than we did. But I just feel that the injured players fighting through what they fought through and with the healthy players carrying a lot of weight this year that we deserved a better fate."
UMD started the game with freshman goalie Kayla Black back in between the pipes for the Bulldogs, but as was so often this season for the Bulldogs, they gained back one player only to lose another. Sophomore winger Zoe Hickel - a huge part of UMD's power play and penalty kill -- was unable to dress due to injury, a loss some of the Bulldog players didn't even know until warm-ups. Hickel's absence marked the 18th time in UMD's 34 games the Bulldogs have played short a player (not counting senior Audrey Cournoyer, who missed all but five games and freshman forward Hannah Bramm, who has now missed the past seven contests for the Bulldogs.
OSU opened up the scoring 6:30 into the first period when Tina Howowell tipped the puck high and past Black to take the 1-0 lead. The Buckeyes doubled the score with 1:29 remaining in the stanza on a blast from the right circle by Minttu Tuominen and the Bulldogs trailed 2-0 after the first 20 minutes of action.
Outshot 13-8 in the opening period, UMD put more shots on net in the second period than the Buckeyes (10-8), but the 20 minutes went by without a goal from either team.
After she suffered from reoccurring symptoms during the second period, Miller was forced to pull Black prior to the third period and gave Karissa Grapp the nod for the final 20 minutes. The Buckeyes iced the game at the 14:46 mark with a power play goal that came from just above the extended goal line to the left of Grapp by Hokey Langan, sealing OSU's 3-0 advantage and UMD's cruel fate.
"Ohio is a good team and you can't take them lightly," said Bulldog senior captain Jessica Wong, still fully dressed in her uniform 20 minutes after the game. "Unfortunately they got a couple of goals on us. It's been an interesting year for us and we had a lot of ups and downs and we were thrown a lot of curves. We rose above a lot of them this year, but some we couldn't and hopefully the young players learn from all of this."
Black made 19 saves in her 40 minutes of action, while Grapp made 12 over 20 minutes. The Bulldogs were unable to convert OSU's lone penalty, while the Buckeyes were 1-of-3 and 4-of-7 with the extra skater in the series. OSU outshot UMD 34-21 in the game.
"The one thing about this team this year was they had great team chemistry," said Miller. "With all the adversity we faced, these kids are close, they care about each other. "Even though a lot of our season was bad because of injuries and losing, a lot of it has been good very, very good with relationships."
Wong, who spent her entire season battling a plethora of injuries, from both her hips to her back and left wrist, summed up her feelings the best she could after the game.
"It's tough, very tough," said Wong. "Fans have been great, can't thank them enough. The coaching staff, can't thank them enough. Our team, we gelled so well on and off the ice and it was probably the best team as far as chemistry is concerned that I've ever been on. It's obviously not the outcome I wanted for my last game in Duluth ever and being a Bulldog, but it happens."