The Gustavus women’s hockey team put together a furious third period rally scoring three times, but it was not enough as the Gusties fell to Norwich 5-4 in the NCAA Championship Semifinals in Rochester on Friday afternoon. Two of the three third period goals came from Jenna Christensen and the other from Allie Schwab. Gustavus out-shot Norwich 36-26 in the contest.
Gustavus will now face Middlebury, which lost to RIT 5-2 in the second semifinal contest in the third place game on Saturday at 2:30 pm (CDT).
Norwich took a 1-0 lead when the Cadet’s Melissa Rundlett found Julie Fortier in the slot and Fortier re-directed the pass through the legs of Gustavus goaltender Danielle Justice at the 9:44 mark of the first period. The Gusties countered with several good scoring opportunities over the next six minutes, but Cadet goaltender Cindy Fortin had the answer each time Gustavus put pressure on the Norwich netminder. Fortier halted any Gustavus momentum with her second goal of the period at the 18:11 mark. Rundlett picked up her second assist of the game as she fired a shot from the blue line that Fortier tipped over the shoulder of Justice into the upper left corner.
The Julie Fortier show continued in the second period as the junior from Saint Malachie, Quebec registered the pure hat trick with a goal at the 2:27 mark extending Norwich’s lead to 3-0. Just as it appeared that the Cadets might pull away from the Gusties, Lindsey Hjelm scored an unassisted goal at the 4:48 mark driving a blast from the left circle that beat Fortin on the glove side making the score 3-1. The comeback was short-lived for Gustavus, however as Norwich would score twice in the final eight minutes of the period and took a 5-1 lead into the locker room after 40 minutes of play. Rundlett scored the fourth goal on the power play with an assist from Fortier at 12:01 and Brittane Michaud scored what would turn out to be the game-winner at 16:59.
“I think the first and second period in general Norwich played a little harder than us, but we had some really good opportunities,” stated Gustavus coach Mike Carroll. “They exposed us defensively and we had trouble getting the puck out of our end, which they used to their advantage.”
Early in the third period, Gustavus cut the lead to 5-2 when Jenna Christensen took a cross-ice pass from Meagan Wanecke and one-timed a rocket from the left circle into the upper right corner at the 1:15 mark. Six minutes later, the Gusties would inch closer as Allie Schwab scored a power play goal with 13 minutes left to play to cut the lead to 5-3. Gustavus, knowing it had a steep hill to climb, used an aggressive forecheck to put pressure on the Cadets, however Fortin repeatedly turned the Gusties away with her fine goaltending.
Carroll spoke about the adjustments the team made heading into the final 20 minutes saying, “In the third period we worked on floating a couple of our forwards to take the pressure off of our defensive zone and create some room for us to operate.”
With one minute remaining, Gustavus pulled its goaltender and 30 seconds later the Gusties made the game even more interesting when Christensen scored her second goal of the game (and fourth of the NCAA Tournament) to cut the lead to 5-4 with 30 seconds left in the contest. The Gusties would get one last opportunity to score the tying goal with a face-off in the Norwich zone with 05 seconds left. Gustavus did win the face-off, but was unable to get a shot on goal and Cadets escaped with the victory over the Gusties.
Despite the setback, Carroll was pleased with his team’s effort, “Our kids were fighting hard and playing the best that they could in that third period and Norwich’s goalie came up with a couple of big saves. We missed on a couple of opportunities with an open net. A break here or there and we would be playing for the title tomorrow night, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The five goals allowed by Gustavus were the most allowed by the Gusties since the beginning of the 2007-08 season.