A year ago the Gustavus Women’s Hockey team found their season was over after finishing sixth in the MIAC. A single point in the standings kept them out of the MIAC Playoffs. This year the team netted a spot in the Frozen Four of the NCAA Division III Playoffs with an upset win over the University of Wisconsin-River Falls on March 10.
The road this year for the Gusties hasn’t exactly been a smooth one for the Gusties either. Despite the winning the MIAC in the regular season, they exited the MIAC playoffs early with a semi-final loss to the University of St. Thomas. Despite failing to get an automatic bid, with a record of 18-6-3, the Gusties were a strong candidate for an at-large bid to the tournament, which they ultimately received.
“This team is different,” Head Coach Mike Carroll said. “There was no expectation that we would be here, so we’re living in the moment and taking it one game at a time.”
The Gusties had dropped two non-conference contests against the Falcons during the regular season but, with some help from their power play unit, won when it really mattered.
The Gusties scored first off of the stick of Senior Allie Lewis, who put home a rebound generated by Junior Erica Power. Despite being outshot in the period 12-4, they carried their one goal lead into the second.
“We didn’t play particularly well in the first period overall, but we got that goal and that was sort of a sign that it might be our night if we keep hanging with it,” Carroll said.
The Gusties were able to generate more shots in the second, but were still outshot 15-11 and failed to score as the Falcons got their first point on the board.
Just 32 Seconds into period 3, the Falcons scored the go-ahead goal on a power play. Only four minutes later the Falcons found themselves shorthanded, and the Gusties capitalized on a shot from First-year Kristen Cash to tie things at 2-2.
Things remained neck and neck until the last four minutes of the game, when an interference penalty against the Falcons put the Gusties effective power play unit back on the ice. Junior Kaitlyn Klein fired in her team-leading 11th goal of the year on a rebound to give the Gusties a 3-2 advantage. Klein has made a huge impact for the Gusties this year after sitting out last season with a broken neck.
The Gusties held on to the lead for the final minutes for the win.
“We all looked in the mirror after last season and have pushed ourselves to get where we are today and it has been a lot of fun seeing our hard work payoff.” — Laine Fischer
“My heart was definitely racing,” Sophomore Goaltender Amanda DiNella said. “They were blocking shots and selling out for me, I don’t think I saw many shots in the last couple minutes. We just had to bear down and get it done. It was awesome to see.”
Despite the late defensive surge, the Gusties allowed 40 shots on goal throughout the game, twice as many as they tallied. DiNella had a career-high 38 saves in the victory.
“Between the second and third, we had a talk and said, it’s a 20 minute hockey game,” Carroll commented. “It is a chance to go somewhere that you may never have an opportunity to go. I just hand it to the kids, they hung with it. We beat a heck of a hockey team and I’m really proud of everyone.”
This frozen four appearance has been a long time in the making for the Gusties, who have had last season weighing heavy on their minds for a year.
“If you told us a year ago today after taking 6th in the MIAC and not even making playoffs that we’d be here today playing in the Frozen Four I don’t know if everyone would believe it,” Sophomore Laine Fischer said. “But we all looked in the mirror after last season and have pushed ourselves to get where we are today and it has been a lot of fun seeing our hard work payoff.”
The Gusties play tournament host Adrian College (Michigan) at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 17. If they win they will play for the National Title on Saturday.
“This is a chance to go somewhere that you might never have the opportunity to go again,” Carroll said. “I’m really proud of everyone.”