The Bulldogs Win the NCAA National Championship
Saturday, March 22, 2008 4:32 PM
Senior captain Karine Demeule holds the 2008 Frozen Four championship
trophy after UMD beat Wisconsin 4-0 at the DECC Saturday to earn its fourth
Five years removed from its last NCAA national championship -- at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, no less -- the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team is the NCAA champions once more.
The Bulldogs dominated the University of Wisconsin, which they faced just one year ago in the 2007 title game, 4-0 to earn UMD’s fourth Frozen Four championship in only the eighth year of NCAA women’s hockey existence.
“Today we pulled together almost a perfect hockey game for 60 minutes,” said head coach Shannon Miller, who is now 4-1 in the title game over her career. “We have such a young team. Every single time there was a hurdle in front of us, we cleared it. Every time there was a wall, we went around it. And when you watch your team do that, you know you can win a national championship.”
Blissfully aware that sophomore goaltender Kim Martin had carried her team into the NCAA Frozen Four final, the Bulldogs were ready to distribute the load Saturday afternoon. While Martin nabbed only the second clean-sheet in NCAA Frozen Four history, her teammates provided more than enough offense to repay her the favor.
After both teams were awarded power-play chances early in the first period (Wisconsin three, UMD two), a delayed penalty call led to the Bulldogs first break. Freshman defenseman Jocelyne Larocque threw the puck on net from the left slot, and junior forward Sara O’Toole had the first crack at it on the right post. O’Toole’s shot – UMD’s first since 9:23 in the opening period – was unsuccessful, but freshman forward Haley Irwin joined a scramble in the crease and jammed the puck past the line to give the Bulldogs the first lead of the game at 19:22. The goal was immediately contested by the Badger bench, insisting that a Wisconsin player had first touched the puck, but a lengthy video review proved otherwise and the goal stood.
UMD would strike again midway through the second period, notching its third power-play tally of the Frozen Four. Sophomore defenseman Jaime Rassmussen rifled her third shot of the man-advantage on net, where a waiting freshman forward Laura Fridfinnson took a swing at the rebound. Wisconsin goaltender Jessie Vetter made the initial two saves, but similar to the first goal, found her crease crowded. Sophomore forward Emmanuelle Blais picked up the puck to Vetter’s left, and backhanded it past her to give UMD a 2-0 lead at 11:48 in the second stanza.
The No. 1 ranked offense in the nation (4.26 goals a game coming into the matinee) wasn’t finished though. O’Toole, who had picked up a goal Thursday night against New Hampshire in the semifinal, stripped the puck off a Badger miscue right above the Wisconsin blueline. O’Toole withstood some contact at the line and skated in, beating Vetter over her left shoulder in dramatic fashion to give UMD its 11th short-handed goal of the season and a 3-0 lead at 18:24 in the NCAA championship game.
With a three goal lead and just 20 minutes remaining in the 2007-08 season, the Bulldogs emerged from the final intermission ready to capture UMD its NCAA-best fourth title. The Badgers would get the benefit of four power-plays in the period, but just as the Maroon and Gold had done all game, the Bulldogs disarmed them. UMD was a perfect 10-for-10 on its penalty-kill, and allowed the Badgers just seven shots on Martin in the final stanza.
The icing on the Frozen Four title cake came with less than three minutes left on the clock. The Badgers pulled their goaltender in a last gasp effort, and Duluth native and junior forward Tawni Mattila took a shot from the Wisconsin blueline on net. A Badger player deflected it off her stick back and around the goal. UMD’s lone senior, Karine Demeule, found the puck on her stick, skated from behind the net, and backhanded the puck into the vacant goal. Demeule’s 16th tally of the season, and the last of her Bulldog career, caused a pile up in front of the Wisconsin goal and gave the Maroon and Gold a destiny-filled 4-0 lead at 17:15.
The rest, as they say, is history. UMD watched the final seconds tick of its home scoreboard and the celebration was on. A DECC crowd of over 4,000 showed their appreciation. Duluth was a title-town once more.
Martin, who was every bit Kazmaier-like during the Frozen Four, made 28 saves in the outing. For her effort, she was named the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four MVP, the third such Bulldog to earn the honor. Fellow Swede Maria Rooth was named the MVP in 2001, and current UMD assistant Caroline Ouellette nabbed the award in 2003, like Martin, in front of the home crowd.
Vetter closed out the game with 20 saves for the Badgers, who finish their season 29-9-3.
UMD had five players named by the media to the 2008 Frozen Four All-Tournament team. Forwards Fridfinnson and O’Toole, defensmen Myriam Trepanier and Heidi Pelttari, and of course, netminder Martin. It also marks the most Bulldogs ever to be named to a Frozen Four All-Tournament team in the program’s five-visit history.
The Bulldogs, who closed out their 2007-2008 season with a record of 34-3-1, the best ever by a UMD squad, will no doubt relish their impressive season and its perfect ending for weeks to come.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s like a dream,” said lone senior Demeule after securing herself a piece of Bulldog title immortality. “A lot of players wish for this. I got to win a national championship at home. It’s perfect. It’s like a dream.”
Only this time, Demeule, and the rest of her Bulldogs, are wide awake,
holding the 2008 NCAA national championship trophy.
by Kelly Grgas-Wheeler
photos by Brett Groehler
Did you find what you were looking for? YES NO