Women’s hockey season ends at NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals
The women’s hockey team had its season end in a heartbreaking fashion, falling to Gustavus 3-2 in the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals at Hunt Arena on Friday, March 10.
The Falcons came out pushing the tempo early and attacking the Gustavus zone throughout the entire first period. Players and coaches at UW-River Falls have described all season that coming out with slow starts has been a downfall of this team. However, the Falcons came out flying from the opening puck drop and outshot the Gusties 12-4 in the first period.
But at the end of the first period, the scoreboard showed a 1-0 Gustavus lead. A rebounded goal by Allie Lewis came after a deflection by Falcons goalie Angie Hall at 6:27 in the period. This goal shifted the momentum, even as Gustavus had to play with its back against the wall the rest of the first.
“That’s as good as we’ve played in the first period this season,” Head Coach Joe Cranston said, “but we came away with no points on the board, and we took too many shots that weren’t on the mark and that went into the goalie’s chest.”
The second period began to pick up in tempo of play, and penalties began to pile up for both teams. Both teams ended above their season penalty averages, and the game began to get chippier as the emotion of the situation grew.
Dani Sibley helped spark the Falcons early in the second period, chasing down a puck and working to set up teammate Emily Stark in front of the goal to even the game up at 1-1. Gustavus became much more aggressive in the period, but it remained tied at the end of two.
The Falcons came out in the third period with less than a minute left on their power play, but they took advantage of every second of it. Sibley sent a pass across the defense to Hailey Herdine, who snuck the puck past Gustavus goalie Amanda DiNella only thirty seconds into the period to take the lead for the first time of the night.
But the game was decided in the third period by the goaltending of DiNella and the power play success of Gustavus. Kristen Cash scored a power play goal only six seconds after a UWRF penalty to tie the game up at 2-2 and swing the momentum clearly in the favor of the Gusties. Cranston said it was a weird play where one of the Falcons got boxed out and couldn’t get to the puck, and a bad bounce for UWRF changed the game.
DiNella was a force between the pipes for the Gusties, saving 38 shots and shutting down countless breakaways and opportunities by Falcon attackers. The way the sophomore goalie set the tone seemed to raise the play of the entire Gustavus team.
“She was definitely the difference in the game,” Cranston said. “We just couldn’t get a bounce on her, and she was the best player in the rink tonight.”
Gustavus completed its comeback with only about four minutes remaining in the game. A power play goal by Kaitlyn Klein would prove to be the game-winner. This goal also came only seven seconds into the power play, proving to be too much for the Falcons to overcome.
“We outplayed them for three periods tonight,” Cranston said. “Once we scored [to go up 2-1], I thought we had the win, because we haven’t let teams come back from that situation all season.”
The Falcons outshot Gustavus 40-20, but couldn’t take advantage of any opportunities down the stretch. DiNella shut down the Falcons in the closing two minutes after Angie Hall was pulled as goalie for an extra skater and Gustavus took the win 3-2.
Gustavus now advances to the NCAA Frozen Four, where it will take on Adrian College.
UWRF ends its season at 26-3, with this being its earliest playoff exit since losing to Gustavus by one goal in the 2012-2013 NCAA Quarterfinals. This will be the first season the UWRF seniors haven’t made it to a frozen four.
“[These seniors] have set the stage. I think they’ve won 98 games in their four years, which has never been done here before,” Cranston said. “They’re great kids who’ve really raised the bar.”
The season may have ended on a sour note, but the team still took home its fourth-straight WIAC regular season and postseason titles.
With important senior leaders leaving, new players must step up for the Falcons to attempt a 10th consecutive NCAA tournament. With the talent and youth the team has, the future could be ripe for another Frozen Four run.