Falcons to play Gustavus in first round
March 12, 2009
After winning the NCHA O’Brien Cup, the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team was rewarded on Monday with a first round game against No. 1 ranked Gustavus Adolphus College in the NCAA tournament in St. Peter, Minn.
Gustavus won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) playoff title for the sixth straight season against the University of St. Thomas (UST) 3-0 on March 4, in St. Peter, Minn. To go along with that, the Gusties have five consecutive regular season titles as well.
This season was also the sixth consecutive season UST lost to Gustavus in the MIAC finals.
The Gusties will bring a 26-game unbeaten streak to the NCAA tournament and a record of 22-1-4. Their only loss of the season was a 2-1overtime defeat to Adrian College (Mich.) on Nov. 7, the first game of the season.
Adrian swept UWRF in a two game series at Hunt Arena on Jan. 17 and 18.
The Falcons lost to the Gusties 5-3 on Jan. 27, in what ended up being a close game after Gustavus dominated the first two periods.
“They took it to us for 75 percent of the game,” UWRF head coach Joe Cranston said. “We were able to come back in the third, but couldn’t get it done.”
Since then, Gustavus has locked it down defensively and have not allowed more than one goal since. They have not allowed a single goal in its last seven games.
On March 4, UWRF went to watch the MIAC finals. Cranston said the Falcons can exploit Gustavus’ defense, despite them allowing .70 goals per game.
“They’re not that good defensively,” he said. “We have to get shots on net because they don’t allow too many, so we can get at them that way.”
This year, Gustavus does not have a goalie with collegiate experience, but its top two were the best in the MIAC in several major statistical categories.
Emily Klatt had an undefeated 12-0-0 record this season in her first year between the pipes and Danielle Justice was 10-1-4. Both combined for a .70 goals against average.
Putting the puck in the net will not be the only problem the Falcons will face as Gustavus has a balanced, potent offense to compliment its defense.
In the MIAC final, the Gusties outshot UST 12-1 in the first period and have been notorious for strong starts all year, Cranston said.
“We have to weather the storm,” he said. “They will get a fore-check on you so it’s important that you match them and play well at the start.”
Sophomore Jessica Thompson said the first period will be important.
“Have to be ready in the first [period],” she said. “St. Thomas was not ready and Gustavus got to them early.”
The Gusties are led by Melissa Mackley, who has 27 points this season. Her teammate Allie Schwab was the team leader in goals with 14, followed by Jessica Doig with 13.
With the balanced offense, similar to what UWRF has, Thompson said the first round game will be interesting to watch as both coaches match lines.
“It should be a great game to see with the line matchups,” she said. “Joe [Cranston] will be confident with anyone he puts on the ice and we all know that.”
UWRF has prepared for Gustavus since the O’Brien Cup victory. Cranston said before the bracket came out that he thought a first round game against the Gusties was a lock.
“Something very weird out east would have to happen,” he said. “The NCAA doesn’t like to fly teams that often for the first round game.”
The Falcons have been practicing on occupying as much ice as possible to shut down the powerful Gustavus offense.
“We’ve been working on closing the lanes on them,” Cranston said. “Teams have to take away space from a team like that.”
Since the loss to the Gusties on Jan. 27, the Falcons have a 10-game unbeaten streak of their own. During that stretch they have averaged 5.3 goals a game and have scored five or more goals in seven of the 10 games.
In 2003, the last season UWRF was in the NCAA tournament, it advanced to the Frozen Four in 2003 after a 5-1 win against UST in the first round. The Falcons lost to the eventual national champions that year in the semifinals to Elmira College (N.Y.) by a score of 2-1.
For the Gusties, conference success has not led to a lot of national glory. The best national finish they have had was third place in 2002.
In 2004 Gustavus lost to UW-Stevens Point, of the NCHA, in double-overtime in the first round. Stevens Point went to the championship game, but lost to Elmira, which won the first two national titles in Div. III women’s hockey.
Plattsburgh State (N.Y.) is the two-time defending NCAA champions and are in the tournament again this year.
The tournament bracket is set, and the Falcons take on the Gustavus Adolphus College Gusties Saturday at 2 p.m.