This Saturday, the Gustavus Women’s Hockey team will make their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. The first round of the tournament will be held at Don Roberts Rink as the Gusties face UW-Superior. The winner of this game will fly out to New York and participate in the Frozen Four at Plattsburgh State.
The Gusties have played Superior in one previous game this season. In that game the Gusties came from behind to win 2-1. Gustavus is currently ranked as the number two team in the nation, while Superior sits at number six. Superior earned its national appearance by defeating River Falls in overtime to win the NCHA conference tournament. Additionally, Superior won the NCHA conference outright.
The team that wins Saturday’s game will play against the winner of the Manhattanville/Middlebury game, which will take place on Saturday. Also competing Saturday for one of the three available spots in the Frozen Four will be Elmira and Amherst. The winner of their game will face Plattsburg State, who received a guaranteed place in the Frozen Four as the number one seed.
Besides Superior, the Gusties have not faced any other teams participating in the tournament this season. Gustavus has the best record of any team in the tournament with two more wins and one fewer loss than the number one ranked Plattsburgh, who is also the defending champion. No matter how things unfold, only one non-East team will participate in the Frozen Four. With ten more divison teams located in the East than the West it seems natural that the East would be more heavily represented in the National tournament.
Due to discrepancies concerning Eastern and Western Hockey, it is hard to know exactly how the teams will compare. There has been debate for years regarding the quality of hockey in each of the two regions. It is hard for the West to make a strong case since the NCAA Frozen Four has never been held in the West and no Western team has ever won the National title.
This regional variation has made it difficult for the Gusties to truly demonstrate their ability this season. Despite recently earning the number two ranking, not many teams outside of the West are willing to give the Gusties due credit for this season’s success.
“Superior is a pretty good team, we out shot them by a lot in our previous match up, but they held us to only two goals and managed to put one in. The first period will be really important, we need to get on the scoreboard right away and play tough defense the whole game,” said Sophomore Alyssa Saunders.
If the women’s hockey team is successful on Saturday and is able to continue their winning streak throughout the tournament they will earn much more than a national title. The Gusties have been assigned the difficult task of bringing respect back to the West. Their win would solidify their place at the top of the nation and therefore finally end the debate regarding regional skill levels and biases.
In this tournament, the women’s hockey team will truly be competing on a national standard. At this point in the season they have to fight to win, knowing that at this stage “the loser goes home.” Now, more than ever, they are not ready to bow down. Dressed in black and emblazoned with gold, the Gusties will try to take over the nation.
Photo By: Anna Ahlbrecht