“Testing the waters” may have best described the first period of play in Saturday’s NCAA Division III Women’s Hockey first round game in St. Peter, Minn. between Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Neither team generated many scoring opportunities until the Falcons tallied the go-ahead goal with just :24 left in the frame. The Gusties came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the second, though, and scored three unanswered goals on their way to a 4-2 victory, while punching a ticket to the NCAA semifinals for the third-straight season.
Gustavus advances to the semifinal round with a 24-2-2 record, while the Falcons end their campaign at 23-5-2. The Gustie win marks the third consecutive year Gustavus has ousted River Falls in the first round of the national tournament.
“This team has really showed good resolve late in the season,” Head Coach Mike Carroll said. “We got down a goal and did not panic. We talked it out in the locker room after the first period and came out strong in the second period. Allie (Schwab) set the tone with the tying goal just 18 seconds after the puck is dropped and we never looked back. It was a total team effort and I am very proud of this special group of kids. They deserve to be going back to the NCAA Finals.”
The two squads skated back-and-forth for nearly the entire first period with much of the action occurring in the neutral zone. Gustavus accumulated eight shots on goal in the first 20 minutes and the Falcons registered six before Katie Batters netted the game’s first goal at the 19:36 mark. Batters weaved through the Gustie defense and fired a shot, which went wide, but controlled the puck off the boards and skated to the left circle where her second shot deflected off the skate of a Gustavus defender and into the net.
The Falcons carried all the momentum into the first intermission, but it didn’t take long for the Three Crowns to respond. Immediately following the puck-drop to start the second, Allie Schwab took the puck into the Falcon zone and fired a slap shot from the left circle that made it past River Falls goalie Melissa Deardorff for the equalizer just :18 into the frame.
A hooking penalty on Emma Nordness put the Gusties in the power play at the 7:03 point in the second and they took advantage. Danielle Justice sent a pass out to Amanda Cartony after the Falcons cleared their zone and Cartony found Mollie Carroll :55 into the player advantage for the go-ahead goal, her 16th score of the season. Justice’s assist was the first of her career and first by a Gustie goalie since Molly O’Donnell did so on Jan. 19, 2002 in a 10-0 win over Bethel.
With 4:11 remaining in the second, Schwab slammed home her second goal of the game and team-leading 24th of the season, which proved to be the game-winner.
“Both goals were very similar,” Schwab recalled. “I came down the left side of the ice and fired two one-timers right at the net. The first one I thought she (UW-River Falls goaltender Melissa Deardorff) might have made the save, but the puck popped out and over the top of her glove and into the net. The second one I made good solid contact and the puck sailed right through the five hole and into the back of the net.”
The score stood 3-1 in favor of Gustavus after 40 minutes of play, but the Falcons didn’t lie down. Alice Cranston cut the deficit to one when she netted River Falls’ second goal of the game 7:28 into the third. The intensity picked up a couple notches on both ends after Cranston’s goal until the Gusties stole the momentum right back midway through the period. Cartony dangled the puck around two Falcon defenders through the slot and backhanded in the final goal with 9:23 left on the clock.
Deardorff finished the game with 32 saves in 59:05 of work, allowing four goals in net for the Falcons, while Justice improved her unbeaten record to 18-0-2 after matching a season-high 24 saves for Gustavus, 12 of which coming in the Falcons power play.
The Gustie penalty-killers were on the mark, denying five River Falls power plays. Gustavus tallied one goal in the player advantage in seven tries and outshot the Falcons 36-to-26.
The Gusties will face off against defending national champion Norwich University in the NCAA semifinals on Friday, March 16 at 7:00 p.m. EST. Norwich defeated Amherst 4-0 on Saturday. The Frozen Four will be hosted by Rochester Institute of Technology, who defeated Concordia 5-2, in Rochester, N.Y.