The Gustavus Women’s Hockey team was only a year removed from an extremely successful 2014-2015 campaign, where they went 19-5-2 overall and 15-2-1 in the MIAC, placing them first in the conference and raising expectations of the team’s performance for the coming year, even after a disappointing semi-final conference loss.
Fast-forward a year, and the 2015-2016 season told quite a different story, where the Gusties finished with 9 wins and 12 losses, with a winning MIAC record at 8-7-3. Throughout the season, it became exceedingly difficult for the team to maintain any momentum they gained with a pair of wins, and stall any momentum against them during losing streaks.
The season began with a promising start, going 2-0-1, with the sole overtime tie coming in the opener at UW-Superior, followed by consecutive wins against St. Olaf and conference rival, St. Thomas in a thrilling 6-4 victory, who at the time was ranked No. 4 in the nation. In that game, Sophomore forward Diana Draayer scored a hat trick, and held off a ferocious third period comeback by the Tommies.
However, in the second contest in 24 hours, this story took a turn for the worse, as St. Thomas took an insurmountable lead in the first 13 minutes of play, and the Gusties failed to rally falling 5-3. This would mark the beginning of one of the toughest streaks of the season, where Gustavus only mustered a single win against conference opponent Augsburg, and posted a record of 1-7-3, during which they traveled to Middlebury, Vt. to play the top two ranked teams in the nation, one of which being Plattsburgh State University, the No.1 ranked and defending two-time national champion.
“We had a very young team and faced a lot of adversity. season right where we left off.” – Laura Johnson
It was during the Plattsburgh game that the black and gold faced one of the most turbulent moments of the season, when Sophomore Kaitlyn Klein (Plymouth, Minn.) suffered a broken vertebrae.
“At the time I thought Kaitlyn and the Plattsburgh player had just collided and she hit her head, but after looking at the video it was clear that Kaitlyn went head first into the boards,” Head Coach Mike Carroll said. “Kaitlyn was coming in to forecheck, the puck was behind the net and their defender was getting pressured by one of our other players. Kaitlyn came after another player right on the icing line and that player lost her edge. Kaitlyn then hit her, fell over and went straight into the boards.”
Although Klein was unable to finish the season and semester of school, she was extremely fortunate the damage was not more severe. “The surgeon said things could not have gone better and he was amazed that she didn’t have more serious consequences to her spinal cord because her C7 was crushed. She has a loss of strength on her left side, but he feels confident that will heal,” her father, Joe Klein, said on Facebook soon after the accident.
Even with such setbacks, the new year brought a newfound spark for the Gusties, as they hosted St. Catherine University and blanked them 3-0.
“We have been having a tough time playing 60 minutes of hockey in our past few games. Today our goal was to play the entire game through,” said Coach Caroll
The black and gold then had back to back contests against St. Olaf, winning both games to make them 3-0 on the year against the Oles.
Sadly, the final stretch of the season turned bitter. After fighting their way back to a 7-7-4 overall and a 6-2-3 MIAC record, they would drop five of their last seven games. However, the heartbreak came in the final game against Hamline. Going into the game, Gustavus held the No. 5 seed with 19 points, one point ahead of St. Mary’s Cardinals. Yet, because the Gusties tied in conference play, and Saint Mary’s defeated St. Kate’s, the two teams fell into a tie, with the tiebreaker going to whichever team had the most MIAC wins, a stat which Saint Mary’s edged Gustavus by one. This marked the first time since the initiation of the MIAC Playoffs in the 1999-2000 season that Gustavus did not clinch a playoff berth.
This marked the final game for seniors Lindsey Hibbard (Princeton, MN.), Emily Reibert (Inver Grove Heights, MN.), and Allison Eder-Zdechlik (Stillwater, MN.), all of whom the program will greatly miss for their contributions to the program. Hibbard’s goaltending through her four years could be deemed spectacular, posting a record of 46-12-5, logging 3,900:33 minutes, and cementing her in second for total wins in program history. Reibert was a steady force in 104 games she played, totaling 24 points through 12 goals and 12 assists. Eder-Zdechlik left her mark as an offensive power, placing herself at No. 5 in program history in goal scoring with 58 and No. 12 in total points posting 95.
Despite the up-and-down nature of this season, there is quite a lot to look forward to in the years to come.
“This season was a rebuilding season,” Sophomore Laura Johnson said, “we had a very young team and faced a lot of adversity. We are only graduating three seniors, who will be missed, meaning we will be able to jump into next season right where we left off this season. There are some really good recruits coming in next year which gives us promise, and will give us an opportunity get right back to playing Gustie hockey.”
The team is absolutely determined to improve in all facets of the game, especially with such a raw group, and hope to achieve both personal and team oriented goals with the offseason protocol.
“Up until the ice gets out, we will be preparing for next year. This week we have practice to work on skills. In the off-season we have set individual goals that we will be working on in order to come in ready for next season,” Johnson said.