After nine overtime games this season, the University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team is pretty comfortable playing in extra time.
That experience proved invaluable to the Bulldogs Friday night at AMSOIL Arena as UMD iced Bemidji State University 2-1 in overtime in game one of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinals. UMD, who has yet to drop an overtime period this season, improves to 3-0-6 in the longer games and 17-10-6 overall with the win.
"I think we started relaxing and playing our game a little more in the third period," said UMD head coach Maura Crowell. "These guys want to get it done in two, so as the time dwindles down, the pressure picked up, and we usually respond well to that pressure. Bemidji State, they play tough, their sticks are so good, they clog things up and frustrate our offense. Our defense was a big part of our success tonight, obviously look at Maggie's goal. We will continue to need that, we will need all five players involved in our offense."
After two periods of scoreless of hockey, and having outshot BSU 14-11, the Bulldogs finally broke through at 6:20 of the third period. On only its second power play of the game, UMD's Ryleigh Houston threaded the puck from the top of the circle to Gabbie Hughes on the near post. Hughes corralled the puck with her skate, pushed it to her blade and backhanded it past Lauren Bench for the game's first goal.
BSU pulled even with a power play goal of its own just 1:17 later when Haley Mack beat Maddie Rooney high to her glove side from the circle to knot the game at 1-1. Despite pummeling the Beavers with 16 shots compared to just five shots from BSU, regulation ended with the contest knotted at one apiece.
Enter the Bulldogs, who have been no stranger to overtime games this season. Ashton Bell collected a long rebound from the top of the right circle, and Bell's return shot spit back out to Maggie Flaherty just under the face-off circle. Flaherty calmly stickhandled the puck from her forehand, to her backhand and then ripped a shot that beat Bench under her left arm for the game-winner at 10:28 of overtime. While the sophomore blueliner has 14 assists so far this season, it was her first goal -- and what a time to score it.
"I just saw an open lane," said Flaherty. "We talked about getting shots and throwing them on net, and I threw one on net, hoping someone would go by and pick it up, and Ashton ended up being there. Then that one just popped out to me and I saw an opening and put it there."
UMD outshot BSU 34-20 in the contest, but Bench had 32 stops for the Beavers, who fall to 15-17-3 overall and behind a game in the best-of-three series. Rooney had 19 saves for the Bulldogs, who improve to 12-4 all-time against BSU in postseason play.
The Bulldogs will attempt to win the postseason quarterfinal series in two games tomorrow afternoon at AMSOIL Arena. The puck is set to drop at 4:07 p.m.
BULLDOG NOTES: With an assist Friday night, Ashton Bell has now turned in 32 points from the blueline (11g, 21a), the fifth most in a single season by a UMD defenseman in program history.