NCAA Tournament Victory Calls For Reflection, Anticipation

Posted on March 13th, 2017 by

Twelve hours after the Gustavus Adolphus College women’s hockey team pulled off an upset victory on the road at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament, head coach Mike Carroll is back on campus at the Don Roberts Ice Rink, flooding the surface for another week of practice.

Carroll methodically works his way backwards across the ice sheet, pausing occasionally to reposition the red hose that is strung across a dozen folding chairs to keep it off the playing surface. He cuts a lonely figure in the empty arena as he slowly plays the hose back and forth, the reflection of the team’s championship banners shining in the freezing water that settles on the rink.

Head women’s hockey coach Mike Carroll.

An assistant coach or student worker could’ve done the job, but Carroll likes the solitude.

“Before the game I talked with the coaches about some of the wins that we’ve had over the years,” says Carroll, who shares the Gustie bench with his brothers Steve and Pat as well as assistant coach Courtney Boucher, an All-American blueliner who graduated in 2015. “The program has been successful and we’ve had some great experiences, but there’s always nerves when we reach the tournament.”

He takes extra care in the corners, making sure that the new layer of ice will be even from board to board.

“This team is different,” Carroll continues in his soft-spoken growl. “There was no expectation that we would be here, so we’re living in the moment and taking it one game at a time.”

The Gusties were 6-5-1 going into the holiday break, dropping the last two regular season contests of 2016 to UW-River Falls on December 7 (0-3) and December 10 (1-4). From there the team went on a tear, bonding over a Christmas-break trip to Austria, Italy, and Switzerland and returning to go undefeated for 13 straight games before falling to the University of St. Thomas in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playoff semifinal.

Then, the Gusties played the waiting game. With a weekend off as St. Thomas and Augsburg College played for the conference championship, the team kept practicing, not sure if they would be competing in the NCAA Tourney.

“The first week of practice was definitely suspenseful,” junior forward Kaitlyn Klein said in Friday night’s postgame press conference. “We watched the selection show in the locker room and had our moment of excitement, but then we got ready to work.” Klein, who suffered a fractured C7 vertebrae early last season and faced the possibility of never skating again, has returned to lead the Gusties with 11 goals this season, including Friday’s game-winner with 3:53 left in regulation.

Klein was joined in the press conference by Amanda DiNella, who posted a career-high 38 saves to keep the Gusties in contention against UW-River Falls. She ranks as one of the nation’s top goaltenders, heading into the final four with a save percentage of .943 and goals against average of 1.0827.

But as Carroll drags the hose off the ice, his hour-long meditation complete, he’s not thinking about statistics.

“This is a chance to go somewhere that you might never have the opportunity to go again,” Carroll says. “I’m really proud of everyone.”

As the new sheet freezes at the Don Roberts Ice Rink and he closes the gate behind him, the coach takes a last look across the arena at the MIAC and NCAA Tournament banners hanging on the far wall.

There’s room for one more.

And with a red-hot goalie, the comeback kid Kaitlyn Klein, and a team of scrappy overachievers, this might be the year.


Gustavus takes on tournament host Adrian College (Michigan) in the NCAA Division III semifinal at 7 p.m. (6 central time) on Friday, March 17. Read the full Gustavus Athletics game preview online. Watch the game live at NCAA.com.

 

Comments are closed.