Heading in hot: After big sweep of Mankato, Tommies women prepare for WCHA playoffs 

St. Thomas’ Ella Boerger tries to get the puck past Lindenwood goalie Natalie Ferenc during a game Oct. 6, 2023, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

By Ryan Stieg 

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — This season has been full of ups and downs for the St. Thomas women’s hockey team and recently, it had been mostly downs.  

Heading into last weekend’s regular season finale series against Minnesota State, the Tommies were on a seven-game losing streak with one of them being a 12-1 blowout at the hands of No. 1 Ohio State.  

However, the Tommies caught fire against the Mavericks and picked up their first sweep since October with both wins coming in exciting fashion. UST held a 3-0 lead Friday after getting an empty netter with 45 seconds left, but then Mankato scored two goals during the next 21 seconds before the Tommies managed to hold on. Then on Saturday, it was a back-and-forth game throughout and then freshman Rylee Bartz scored in overtime to give UST a 5-4 win.  

“I think it was building for a while,” Tommies head coach Joel Johnson said Monday. “Our worst period of being tired on the weekend was in the first period at Mankato on Friday in Game 1. I just thought we didn’t start on time, and I thought our goaltender bailed us out, which was awesome for Calla (Frank). She earned that win in dramatic fashion and then I think we kind of settled in for the rest of the weekend, and I was really proud. It was a fun environment both days, in particular at home on Senior Day. We had a great crowd and that was fun to see as well.” 

St. Thomas’ Abby Promersberger fires a shot on net during a game against Lindenwood Oct. 6, 2023, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

A little while ago, Johnson had said that his young team was still trying to find ways to win while battling adversity in big games, but it finally put it all together against the Mavericks.  

“I think it’s a reflection of where we’re at as a program,” he said. “When I look at Saturday’s result, in late moments in the game, we’re still young. We’re still learning how to win. We’re still figuring out how to have players step into moments that they’ve never really been expected to be in. You can talk about high school all you want, but then you get into the college game and the WCHA, and it’s a different experience. So I think it was another step forward for our freshmen and our young team to learn how to win in a weird situation in both games. I’ve never experienced anything like Friday with giving up goals after being up 3-0 on an empty netter. Saturday’s game was equally back and forth. So I think it’s just a reflection of where we’re at. And those are the things when you’re a junior or senior or a veteran, you look back and you have to go through that, just to know how to figure it out. So, we’re getting that experience for some of our young players right now and I hope it pays dividends in the future.” 

St. Thomas’ Maddy Clough looks for an opening in the Lindenwood zone during a game Oct. 6, 2023, in Mendota Heights. (Photo by Ryan Stieg)

As fun as those games were, the Tommies must put them in the rearview mirror because the WCHA playoffs begin this weekend. With those two wins over Mankato, UST moved into seventh place and will travel to No. 2-ranked Wisconsin to face the defending national champions.  

The Badgers are the heavy favorites, but the Tommies are embracing the underdog role and Johnson is looking forward to the challenge.  

“Playoff hockey is fun,” he said. “We were talking as a staff, it’s fun to get to the rink early and tape your stick and kind of get ready for the day. So, I know our players are excited. We know when we play in the league that we play in that every weekend is going to be challenging and then the playoffs are going to be even more challenging. But I’m excited. I’m really excited for our team to travel to Madison and play Wisconsin. They had a great weekend against Ohio State and showed how good they were and now, we get to show how good we are against them when I think we’re, hopefully, playing some of our best hockey.” 

Games 1 and 2 are set for 5 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday respectively in Madison. If necessary, Game 3 is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday.  

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