Jack Wiessenberger – Staff Writer
After a tough loss in the season opener, the Gustavus Women’s Hockey team has bounced back strongly with back-to-back shutout wins. Last Sunday, February 21, the team took the ice against St. Benedict. Following a particularly strong showing from underclassmen players, the Gusties emerged victorious in a 5-0 win.
“Our team has definitely grown since our first game. We are becoming much more confident in our systems and where we are supposed to be at different points in the game. Overall, I think we have gotten better at angling and winning battles in the critical spots on the ice. Our defense and offense are working together much better now as well,” Junior forward Jamie Byrne said.
The Gusties fell to the Bethel Royals in their first game of the season, but since then have played nearly perfect hockey. Over their last six periods, the team has held their opponents scoreless. Control over the puck has seen significant improvement. Even when the opposing team gets the chance to shoot, the Gusties last line of defense has been impeccable in stopping the puck.
“I feel that the game went very well for me personally. I’ve been focusing on consistently playing confident, on my rebound control, and on puck-play. I think that Sunday’s game was a good representation of those skills. I think it was a great team win. We had several different girls get involved in scoring our goals, and were strong on both the offensive and defensive end,” Junior goaltender Emilia Helms-Leslie said.
The Gusties are a team of great depth at every position. Helms-Leslie and sophomore Katie McCoy have split time at goalie, with both showing great skill. A large part of the team’s depth comes from the emergence of underclassmen as serious competitors. Three of the five goals scored by the Gusties in this game came off the sticks of underclassmen. First-year forward Brooke Power achieved a significant milestone when she scored her first collegiate goal early in the third period.
“Scoring my first collegiate goal was one of the best things ever. It was an exhilarating feeling knowing that I scored and I threw my hands up in the air as my other teammates on the ice skated over to surround me in a big group hug. After, I skated to the bench with the biggest smile on my face to give the rest of the team a high five. I have been waiting for this moment ever since I was a little kid and knew I wanted to play hockey at the collegiate level,” Power said.
The moment was certainly a special one for Power. Following her goal, the team felt a rush of enthusiasm. The Gusties went on to score once more in the third period. Power’s goal was just one example of the team performing at a high level.
“Brooke’s first collegiate goal was very exciting and well deserved, I was on the bench during it and everyone jumped up. It was the loudest the bench has been this year. The underclassmen have all been working really hard in practice which is exactly what we need as a team to be the best we can be. The upperclassmen have been very open to answering questions, and I think we have been very welcoming so the younger players feel like they are a part of the team,” Byrne said.
COVID has made virtually every aspect of sports harder, but the Women’s Hockey team has managed to successfully integrate their new players into the system despite the challenges. In a season where typical team bonding activities are not allowed, upperclassmen have had to step up even more to enforce team culture and togetherness.
“We are lucky to have a very close-knit team, which makes integrating freshmen into the program pretty easy. While COVID restrictions have changed our day-to-day routines, our culture hasn’t changed,” Helms-Lesli said.
The team has shown a high level of resilience throughout the season. Through the various strange scenarios COVID has brought to sports, the Gusties have managed to bring the team together and play well.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how our team can grow this year despite it not being a normal year. Since there is no conference title or playoffs, we are really just playing for fun and using this time to improve as a team overall. We are playing each day like it’s our last because with how things are, you never know when it could be,” Byrne said.
With a little more than two weeks left in the season, the team is looking to make the most of every game they get. Without the opportunity to compete for a conference championship this year, the focus is being set on next year. The women’s hockey team has a bright future ahead with strong upperclassmen leaders and a solid core of underclassmen. Even in the most challenging season, the Gusties have managed to shine.