WINONA, Minn. — It’s been said that the toughest thing for any team to do is to beat an opponent three times in one season.
But don’t tell that to Saint Mary’s.
Not only did the Cardinals beat St. Thomas for a third straight time Friday night, but they did it a fourth time on Saturday, as SMU completed a two-game sweep of the Tommies with a 2-0 victory and earned a spot in the MIAC playoff championship next weekend.
“It certainly wasn’t a very flashy performance, and it may not have been very pretty, but we got the job done,” said SMU coach Duncan Ryhorchuk, whose Cardinals will travel to St. Peter, Minn., next Friday and Saturday to take on league champion Gustavus Adolphus, which beat St. Catherine 6-0 and 8-2 in the other MIAC semifinal.
“We challenged this team to put their best game on the ice and they did just that – they all played with a lot of heart and gave it everything they had.”
The Tommies gave it everything they had, too, it’s just that whatever they threw at the SMU goal was kicked away by goalie Missie Meemken, who was her usual acrobatic self between the pipes for the Cardinals, stopping 26 shots for her third shutout of the season.
“Missie played extremely well both nights,” praised Ryhorchuk of his sophomore netminder, who finished with 34 saves in the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory on Friday. “When you get to this stage in the season, you need people to pick their games up a notch or two and Missie certainly did that this weekend.”
With Meemken busy thwarting every UST scoring opportunity, the Cardinals got all the offense they would need midway through the first period as Emily Kearns took a feed from Missy Westergren and beat St. Thomas goalie Danielle Mikolai.
“We were a little tentative early in the game — I think everyone was playing more not to lose than they were to win,” admitted Ryhorchuk. “We talked about it a little bit between the first and second periods. We told them to stop worrying about all the possible scenarios and go out and play the game they way they were capable of playing it.
“And I thought we did a better job of that in the second and third periods.”
After a scoreless second period, the Cardinals got a little breathing room as Kelly O’Neil converted another pass from Westergren to give SMU a 2-0 advantage with 8:26 remaining in regulation. And with Meemken at the top of her game, that lead was more than enough as the Cardinals held on for their school-record 21st win of the season.
“This team has worked very hard to get to this point, but we certainly aren’t going to sit back now – we’ve still got a lot of hockey to play” said Ryhorchuk, whose team split with the Gusties during the regular season. “We’re looking forward to getting another shot at Gustavus — it should be a great series.”