Women’s NCAA tournament first round preview: Minnesota vs. Minnesota-Duluth

The defending champions head up to Duluth for the opening round of the tourney.

For the final time this season, instate rivals Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth will face off, with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four. In the regular season, the Gophers found victory in multiple meetings with the Bulldogs, but Duluth found themselves on top in a series at the end of the season and in their most recent postseason meeting. Will the defending national champions make it to the next round?

Cameranesi returns, but absence still hurt

The Gophers had been hit harder by injuries this season than they have in years. Most notably, they lost Dani Cameranesi, then the nation’s top scorer, to an ankle injury back in January. Shortly after, Minnesota entered their first losing streak of the season, which included a sweep by the Bulldogs. While she was away, coach Brad Frost has been shuffling line combinations, which helped spark new life in the Gophers offense.

Though some thought Camarenesi’s season was over, she rejoined Minnesota in their last game against UMD, registering 14 shots on goal but not earning a point in a 2-1 loss. Having her back is a plus, but by the time it takes her to get up game speed after missing so much time, Minnesota’s season could be over.

Rooney looking better than ever

Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Maddie Rooney has garnered a lot of attention throughout the season for her stellar play, and it’s already continued into the postseason. After a double overtime win over the Gophers in the WCHA Final Face-Off tournament last weekend, she then went on to have a 50-save game in a loss to the Badgers the next day. In total, she made 112 saves in just two games, a WCHA Final Face-Off record. If the Bulldogs manage to knock the Gophers out of the tournament, it’s safe to say Rooney will have played a major part in their victory.

Expect star players to shine

Many of the WCHA and NCAA superstars this season have come from the Bulldogs and the Gophers. Minnesota Duluth senior Lara Stalder has made waves this season and picked up numerous awards, as well as finding herself a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. Gophers sophomore Sarah Potomak has had many game winning goals this season, something that has garnered her national attention. Bulldogs captain Ashleigh Brykaliuk made waves when she had the first hat trick of the NCAA season. When these superstars meet up, it’s always an entertaining game.

Impressive postseason histories

Both the Gophers and the Bulldogs have extensive experience in the NCAA postseason. The Gophers have six NCAA championship titles, four of which were won in the past five years. While the Bulldogs haven’t made it to the tournament since 2011, prior to that they were the dominant championships. They won the first three NCAA championships and picked up two more titles a few years later.

One of these teams will soon have another quarterfinal win to add to their storied team histories. The Gophers face-off against the Bulldogs at 2:30pm CST on Saturday.