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Season Preview: Minnesota Duluth Women

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13
Nope.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

This is Maura Crowell’s third year behind the bench as coach at Minnesota Duluth, but in a way, it almost feels like Year One. Her first official season featured a surprising trip to the NCAA Tournament, but was done almost entirely with players brought in by previous head coach Shannon Miller. Last year could be considered “Year Zero” for Crowell, with a roster made up of a high percentage of freshmen and sophomores and her star goalie off winning a gold medal at the Olympics.

This year, the roster is made up almost entirely of her own recruits. It’s notable that five international players graduated off last year’s roster, and are essentially being replaced by six Minnesota-born recruits, showing the shift in recruiting philosophy between this regime and the prior.

This is what the Bulldogs are likely to look like under Maura Crowell. How will they do? The future looks pretty bright for them.

Key Departures: Katerina Mrazova, F, Michelle Lowenheim, F, Jessica Healey, D, Catherine Daoust, D, Linnea Hedin, D, Lynn Astrup, D, Jessica Convery, G

Mrazova was a skilled playmaker that finished her career with 75 career points. It’s tough to lose any offense off a team that probably didn’t score enough goals last year, but the emergence of some good freshman and sophomores last season makes the loss a little more bearable.

There’s a lot to replace on the blue line. Healey, Daoust, and Hedin all had 140+ career games played. They’ll be replaced by a group that arguably comes in with a higher pedigree, but it can be difficult to replace that kind of veteran experience.

Jessica Convery performed admirably has a one-year stopgap in goal while Maddie Rooney was at the Olympics. Now that Rooney is back, no disrespect to Convery, but I think most UMD fans will happily take that trade.

Key Returners: Maddie Rooney, r-Jr., Naomi Rogge, So, F, Ashton Bell, So, F, Jalyn Elmes, Jr., D, Sydney Brodt, Jr, F

Maddie Rooney returns to Duluth a hero after conquering the world last winter. Expectations may be impossibly high for her this year, especially given the challenges she’ll face against the likes of BC, Minnesota and Wisconsin this year, but it is fair to say she should be the best goalie in college hockey this year, and certainly give the Bulldogs at least a fighting chance in some games they shouldn’t win this year.

The rest of the team is young, but at least not as young as last year. Their top two scorers from last year were freshmen in Naomi Rogge and Ashton Bell. If their huge freshman and sophomore classes from last year all get just a little bit better with that extra year of development and experience, they could be a much stronger team.

Sydney Brodt is an extremely hard worker that should be very effective in a secondary scoring role. North Dakota transfer Ryleigh Houston struggled with her transition last year, but if she can reach the 20+ point mark like she did at North Dakota, that gives the Bulldogs another viable scoring option.

Key Newcomers: Gabbie Hughes, F, Anneke Linser, F, Lizi Norton, D, Maggie Flaherty, D, Taylor Anderson, F, Kailee Skinner, D, Kylie Hanley, F, McKenzie Hewett, F, Emma Soderberg, G

This is another huge incoming class for the Bulldogs, and a very talented one. Leading the way is the duo of Gabbie Hughes and Anneke Linser. Teammates since a very young age, neither was originally slated to play for the Bulldogs. Linser originally committed to Ohio State, but flipped to the Bulldogs after Ohio State fired head coach Jenny Potter. Hughes was originally committed to play for North Dakota, but committed to the Bulldogs shortly after North Dakota decided to drop their program. Hughes should be the star of the class after a breakout senior season last year. She is a tenacious goal-scorer that should be a key component of UMD’s offense this year. Linser is more of a pass-first playmaker that should excel surrounded by the talent UMD has.

Rebuilding the defense will start with newcomers Lizi Norton and Maggie Flaherty. Both have World U18s experience, with Norton winning two gold medals at the event. Norton uses exceptional skating ability to control play from the blue line. Flaherty is a strong, solid two-way defenseman with some offensive upside. She technically made the U18 team last year as a forward.

Canadian defenseman Kailee Skinner will be the youngest player in college hockey this year. She won’t turn 18 until March, but has already declared a major in biochemistry.

Eagan’s Taylor Anderson will likely start out as more of a depth forward, but her speed and ability to put the puck in the net are intriguing.

Overall: There’s a lot to like about this team, but it’s really hard to see them being able to compete consistently with the likes of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I see the Bulldogs as the solid third place team in the WCHA, and on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament, depending on how well the conference performs in out-of-conference action.