New week, new challenge: Tommies women prepare for No. 10 St. Cloud State

St. Thomas’ Ella Boerger’s shot goes just wide of the Lindenwood net as Lady Lions goalie Natalie Ferenc looks on during a Oct. 6 game in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — It’s been a rough stretch for the St. Thomas women’s hockey team and rough might be putting it mildly.  

The Tommies play in the best conference in the nation and must go up against much more established and much deeper programs on a regular basis. Over the course of the last month, UST took on national powerhouses Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth, and not surprisingly, the Tommies were on an eight-game losing streak heading into last week.

However, things changed during Thursday’s U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game. In front of a packed house in Maple Grove, the Tommies (5-8, 0-8 WCHA) ended their long skid and emerged with a 4-1 win over Minnesota State. The victory was also UST’s first DI win over the Mavericks and during Monday’s press conference, head coach Joel Johnson said the result was “everything we wanted and more.” 

“I just thought that it was a tremendous event and there was some pomp and circumstance to it,” he said. “And then there was just some traditional hockey and a great matchup. I thought it was great. Certainly, the building being full and cheering for both teams, but cheering for great hockey made it a really fun event.” 

St. Thomas’ Maddy Clough plays with the puck as she weighs her options during a game against Lindenwood Oct. 6 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

During the game, the Mavericks struck first in the opening period, but the Tommies scored four unanswered goals with two of them coming from Rylee Bartz in the third to nail down the victory. Four UST players earned WCHA honors this week with Bartz getting named Forward of the Week, Nicole Vallario earning Defender of the Week, Calla Frank notching Goaltender of the Week and Ella Boerger picking up Rookie of the Week.  

“As far as on the ice, I’m really excited about how we played,” Johnson said. “We defended well. We had talked about defending all week and one of the reasons is because now, we look forward to St. Cloud (State) this weekend and we know we’re going to have to defend well. One game at our place, which is a relatively small ice sheet, and then we go up there and play on some big ice again. So, we’ll have our challenges because they’re another ranked opponent in our league, and we’re excited to see what happens as we prepare for this weekend.” 

When asked what getting back in the win column felt like, Johnson said that it’s “always better to win than lose.” 

“Sometimes you can find silver linings in wins or losses, but at the end of the day, we play to compete, and we play to win,” he said. “To get back in the win column felt great for our team and as we look forward to the next four or five weeks of the season, we’re excited to see what’s next for our opponent this upcoming weekend with St. Cloud. We feel like ‘All right, this is somebody we feel good about.’ On paper, are they ranked higher than us? Yes, they are. But we’re going to go out there and give it our best. I love the way that we played defensively against Mankato and that gives us a chance, I think, in any game this weekend.” 

St. Thomas’ Abby Promersberger sends a shot on net during a game against Lindenwood Oct. 6 in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

Looking at the No. 10 Huskies (9-4, 4-3), they’re clearly a program on the rise. SCSU turned things around last season and hasn’t missed a step as it’s looked good week after week. UST might be catching the Huskies at a good time too as they were swept at home by No. 1 Wisconsin two weeks ago and might be a bit rusty after being off last weekend.  

“They’re (the Huskies) good,” Johnson said. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical, they can finish, and they get great goaltending. So, it’s a team that we’re continually working to be where they are and they’re a little bit ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel great about competing and trying to show what we have to offer as well. Certainly, a great opponent and we’re looking forward to it, but I think if we play defense like we did last Thursday, we give ourselves a chance to win.” 

Puck drop is set for 6 p.m. Friday in Mendota Heights and 1 p.m. Saturday in St. Cloud.  

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