The Gustavus women’s hockey team saw its 2009 season come to a close with a disappointing 2-1 loss to UW-River Falls in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon in St. Peter. Kayleigh Bell scored the game-winning goal for the Falcons on the power play at 11:30 of the third period. UW-River Falls now advances to play Elmira in a NCAA Semifinal game next Friday, March 20 in Middlebury, Vt. Gustavus concludes its season with a record of 22-2-4.
The game was played at a level befitting a NCAA Tournament game with both teams playing very aggressively and creating numerous scoring opportunities. In addition, both goaltenders played extremely well which led to the low-scoring affair.
Neither team was able to find the net in the first period although both squads had several good opportunities to score. There were three penalties whistled in the period, two on UW-River Falls and one on Gustavus.
In the second period, UW-River Falls took advantage of some good fortune right off of the face-off as the puck took a funny bounce off the boards right on to the stick of Stefanie Schmitz who found herself behind the Gustavus defense. Schmitz skated in on a breakaway against Gustie goaltender Danielle Justice and she used an impressive fake to the backhand before pulling back to the forehand where she deposited the puck into an open net just :20 seconds into the period. The goal snapped a string of 463 consecutive scoreless minutes for the Gusties that stretched over nine games. UW-River Falls held its lead for the next 12 minutes, before the Gusties evened the score at 1-1 on a goal that Lynn Hillen deflected into the net at the 12:58 mark. Gracie Olson sent a blast at the net from about 20-feet away in the center of the ice that Hillen deflected into the top of the net. The puck shot right back out of the net, and although the goal judge’s light went on there was no whistle, so UW-River Falls took possession of the puck and raced down the other end of the ice on a breakaway and scored. After several minutes of discussion between the officials and the goal judge, it was ruled that Hillen’s shot did indeed enter the net and bounce back out which allowed the Gusties to tie the score at 1-1. The second period ended with the score tied at 1-1.
The first half of the third period was played at a very quick pace with both teams pushing the puck up and down the ice. UW-River Falls would get a big opportunity six minutes into the period when the Gusties were whistled for two penalties twenty seconds apart, giving the Falcons a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:40. UW-River Falls put good pressure on Gustavus goaltender Danielle Justice, but were not able to find the net and the Gusties were able to kill of both penalties. Less than a minute after killing off the two-player advantage, Gustavus was whistled for too many players on the ice and it would turn out to be a very costly penalty for the Gusties. The Falcons continued their pressure in the Gustavus zone and with just :12 seconds left in the penalty, Kayleigh Bell registered what would turn out to be the game-winning goal as she fired a bullet through a lot of traffic and into the net at the 11:30 mark. At the 12:47 mark, the Falcons were assessed a tripping penalty and the Gusties would get their last chance on the power play. Gustavus controlled the puck for almost the entire two minutes and put five quality shots on Falcons goaltender Cassi Campbell, but the Gusties could not register the equalizer. UW-River Falls sat back in a very defensive position the final five minutes of the game and turned away several strong rushes by Gustavus to hold on for the 2-1 victory.
Danielle Justice, who suffered just her second loss of the season (10-2-4), recorded 18 saves, while Cassi Campbell, who improved to 13-2-2, registered 35 saves.
UW-River Falls will advance to the Division III Frozen Four for the second time in the program’s history (the other appearance was in 2003), while the Gusties were knocked out of the tournament in the quarterfinal round by a Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) foe for the fourth consecutive year.