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Team Chemistry Key to Bulldogs’ Success

Surging skilled veterans clicking offensively

Lara Stalder explodes for 6 point weekend
Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

After their heartbreaking finish last season, there was a lot talk this summer as to whether Minnesota-Duluth would step up to the challenge and be a contender in the 2016 season. After two dominant weekends, the Bulldogs went from being unranked in SB Nation’s poll in week one to fifth in week two. After a tie and a win against last season’s Frozen Four runner ups in the first games of the season, and an impressive sweep of Minnesota State this past weekend, the Bulldogs are making people take notice.

Dominant Weekend vs. Minnesota State

What is working for UMD so far? Cohesion is a big part of it. For the first two periods of Friday’s game, both teams played equally well. The shots on goal were equal, and both goaltenders, Brianna Quade for Minnesota State, and Maddie Rooney for Minnesota-Duluth, made many crucial saves. But in the third, the Bulldogs broke out. Suddenly, the game wasn’t about Rooney making saves, as the Bulldog offense and defense clicked. This started with a power play goal from Katie McGovern, but soon after, Katerina Mrázová, Jessica Healey, and Jalyn Elmes put the Bulldogs up 4-0. While some would interpret this as the Mavericks falling apart, that wasn’t the case. The Mavericks were still playing solid defense, and Quade was good in goal, but they just weren’t a match for a Bulldogs team that found its groove.

Saturday night found the Bulldogs at their best. Again, some could interpret the 5-1 final score as reflective of the failures of the Mavericks instead of the success of a united Bulldogs front. Five minutes into the first period, Minnesota-State sustained good pressure, but a turnover led to a beautiful play by Katie McGovern and Lara Stalder, which saw Stalder scoring the first goal of what would become a hat trick. Two more goals by Stalder and one each for McGovern and Catherine Daoust resulted in a 5-1 win over Minnesota State, and once again, it was the chemistry that propelled UMD above and beyond MSU. While MSU struggled with passes in the offensive zone, the Bulldogs shined.

Building On Success of Last Season

In the 2015 season, the Bulldogs went 15-21-1, and it was one of their best runs in recent years. There are five seniors and six juniors on the team this year, and they’re picking up right where they left off in team chemistry.

Seniors and last year’s top forwards, Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Lara Stalder, each have already scored a hat trick this season, while junior defenseman Jessica Healey has a goal, in addition to looking great on the blue line. The Boston Pride’s 20th overall pick, Stalder, leads the team in points with 9, shots with 21, and has now hit the 100 career point mark with UMD. Here’s the dish that put her in that club:

The penalty kill and power play were killer this past weekend, something that was a sore spot for UMD last year. If the upperclassmen can continue to be in sync as the already stellar freshmen and sophomores settle into the new season, the team should be in pretty good shape going forward.

What’s Next?

Minnesota-Duluth will be heading south to Minneapolis to face the 3-1-0 Gophers this upcoming weekend at Ridder Arena. Considering how they fared last season in games versus Minnesota, this will be a real test for the Bulldogs. UMD’s surging offense is a big story, and will serve them well against the Gophers, but their penalty kill is not something to be swept under the rug. Historically, Minnesota has had a great power play, and it will be crucial that Duluth keep that at bay. So far this season, the Bulldogs have had an excellent penalty kill, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can continue that trend. This series will also be a great test for sophomore UMD goaltender Maddie Rooney, since Minnesota has so many talented shooters.

The Minnesota v. Minnesota Duluth series kicks off Friday October 14th at 6:07pm CT at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn.