St. Peter, Minn. – For the first time this season, the Gustavus women’s hockey team found itself trailing by more than one goal, trailing after two periods, and facing elimination. For the first time this season, the Gustavus women’s hockey team came back from trailing by two goals, came back from trailing after the first two periods, and avoided elimination by defeating Bethel 3-2 in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Playoff Semifinals on Thursday night at Don Roberts Ice Rink. With the win, the Gusties move to 25-0-1 on the year and advance to the MIAC Playoff Championship Saturday.
The Royals got off to the start they were looking for in the first period when Biz Huss and Charise Kendrick capitalized on a two-on-one opportunity at the 12:39 mark. Kendrick dished to Huss, who beat Gustavus goaltender Lindsey Hibbard (Fy., Princeton, Minn.) glove-side to put Bethel on top 1-0 in the early going.
Although the Gusties did not score in the first two periods, they did create a number of quality chances. Gustavus outshot Bethel 27-8 through the opening two frames, but Bethel goaltender Erika Allen was up to the challenge. Allen stopped all 27 shots that were thrown her way, including a flurry of Gustavus chances midway through the second period, and kept Bethel’s 1-0 lead intact headed to the third period.
“You have to give credit to Bethel,” said head coach Mike Carroll. “They came ready to play and executed their game plan. We had some good opportunities we just couldn’t finish in the early going. The longer we went without putting one in, the more momentum they seemed to get.”
That momentum continued to build in the early minutes of the third period when the Royals wasted little time adding a goal to their lead. Lindsay Burman put Bethel on top 2-0 at the 3:52 mark, but :40 seconds later, the Royals took a tripping penalty that gave the Gusties their second power play of the night.
Carolyn Draayer (So., Deephaven, Minn.) won the opening draw of the power play and the puck found the stick of Leah Johnson (So., Chanhassen, Minn.). Johnson threw a shot on net looking for a rebound to bounce out in front of the goal. Instead, the puck trickled its way through the initial save by Allen and slid across the goal line to bring Gustavus back within a goal with the score 2-1.
“We got down 2-0, but scoring right away and the way we scored was huge,” acknowledged Carroll. “It was kind of a soft goal, but after their goaltender had made so many saves I think our kids thought ‘okay, she’s not invincible.’ That gave us confidence that if we just kept staying the course we were going to get some better luck. We did and we were able to neutralize them and actually control the play.”
Gustavus next took advantage of another power play opportunity 3:08 later. Meagan Wanecke (Sr., Delafield, Wis.) brought the puck from the corner along the goal line and rifled a shot off the shoulder of Allen and into the upper left hand corner of the goal to tie the score at 2-2.
The Gusties scored their third unanswered goal with 5:22 remaining in the contest. With the puck loose in front of the net, Lindsey Hjelm (Sr., North Oaks, Minn.) was relentless in keeping the puck alive and finally found the back of the net for her 12th goal of the season. She was assisted by Wanecke and Melissa Doyle (Jr., White Bear Lake, Minn.), who recorded two assists on the night. Hjelm’s goal put Gustavus on top 3-2, which is where the score would stay until the final buzzer sounded.
“What is incredible about our team is that we always have a positive attitude,” mentioned Leah Johnson. “We got down with the first goal and we were able to shake it off right away and think about getting the next one. When we were down by two, it was definitely tough, but again we shook it off, stayed positive, and kept encouraging each other. That positive attitude helped us come back tonight. We are really lucky to have a team like this.”
For the game, Gustavus tallied 39 shots compared to just 11 for Bethel. The Gusties continued to do damage on the power play, as they went 2-for-4 with the advantage. Gustavus has now scored 12 power play goals in the last five games. The Royals did not capitalize on either one of their two chances.
Lindsey Hibbard got the win in net for the Black and Gold. The first-year netminder made nine stops on the evening, six of which came in the first period. With the win, Hibbard moves to 14-0-1 on the year.
“Lindsey made some big saves early when things weren’t going real well, so that definitely helped,” stated Carroll. “It was a good team effort, which was great to see. I’m really proud of our kids for hanging in there. We have never been down 2-0 this year, so it is a huge confidence boost for them knowing that they can come back. We are very happy to be playing Saturday.”
Following tonight’s victory, Gustavus advances to the MIAC Playoff Championship where it will square off with Concordia on Saturday afternoon. Saturday’s contest is set for a 2:00 p.m. puck drop in St. Peter.
“The whole season, we have taken it one game at a time, and Saturday is our next big game,” concluded Johnson. “We are just looking forward to having fun, taking it period-by-period, shift-by-shift, and having a good time working hard.”