After an up-and-down 2014-2015 season filled with off-ice controversy and a first round exit from the playoffs, a new coaching staff and smaller roster have not appeared to slow down the Bulldog women’s hockey team. They are off to a strong start after a two-game exhibition sweep of Lindenwood University this past weekend.
The Bulldogs posted a 4-3 overtime win and a 4-1 victory in their opening road series against Lindenwood University.
But their first true test will come on the road against Boston College this weekend, a team that returns a handful of key players from last year’s Frozen Four team.
“We’re excited to head out to Boston. We know they’re a good team. I saw them three times last year,” Crowell said. “They’re a fast team. I think we will elevate our play to match their level.”
Crowell took over at UMD after serving as assistant and head coach at Harvard University. She has worked hard to get this year’s team on track to success, instilling confidence in her players and her system, but she is confident in the team she has inherited.
“We have 22 players, decent depth and competitiveness at every position,” Crowell said. ”We have Olympians on the team and players that have played for their national teams. It’s a highly talented, experienced group.”
Bulldog junior forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk was excited about what she had seen prior to the start of the first game at Lindenwood.
“Practice has been going really well the past couple weeks. We got going especially this week with coaches on the ice,” Brykaliuk said. ”We’re skating well so we can’t wait to get going”
Fellow junior forward Lara Stalder has been comfortable with the style implemented by the new coaching staff.
“I’m really happy about the new systems. You learn a lot and pay attention to detail. It’s really been great so far,” Stalder said.
Crowell sees value not only among her new players but in the coaches she brought with her to UMD.
“(Assistant Coach) Laura Bellamy is from Duluth and knows the program and alumni very well,” Crowell said. “(Assistant Coach) Sammy Reber is another Minnesotan from Edina. Having Minnesotans on the staff was something I thought was important. It was something we wanted to highlight and they’ve done a fantastic job.”
With all of the pieces in place, the Bulldogs captured Crowell’s first victories at UMD, albeit in two exhibition games.
In both games the Bulldogs peppered Lindenwood with a combined 83 shots, but it took overtime for UMD to get Crowell’s first win. The Bulldogs held a lead late in the third period until a Lindenwood rally with five minutes remaining produced 2 goals. The game-tying goal came with just 17 seconds left in the third period.
Four minutes into overtime Lindenwood’s comeback hopes were dashed as Ashleigh Brykaliuk scored after a centering play from Lara Stalder.
“That was clutch… it was a great play from the corner by Stalder,” Crowell said. “We got a lot of production out of that line of Stalder, Brykaliuk and McGovern this weekend and they clearly enjoyed playing together.”
UMD came out strong in the second game, peppering Lindenwood freshman goaltender Jolene deBruyn with 43 shots. The Brykaliuk, Stalder and McGovern line remained a force with Brykaliuk posting one goal and two assists while Stalder was able to post two goals on three shots in the series finale.
Bulldog senior goaltender Kayla Black was solid in net for the Bulldogs all weekend stopping 25 of 28 shots in game one and 23 of 24 shots in game two. Black also saw a career milestone this weekend, tying the Bulldog’s all-time games played record at 104.
While the opening weekend was a success for the Bulldog women’s team, Crowell understands there is plenty of work to do.
“With it being so early in the season, special teams do take some time to get going, but we were happy to see a power play goal on Sunday,” Crowell said. “We want to strengthen our penalty kill as well. We want to keep it sharp going forward.”