SAINT PETER, Minn. — Even though the game was on a Wednesday, fans of both teams made the trip out to the Arena for this NCAA opening round game. The Gustavus faithful were all decked out in white shirts for a white out effect, while the St. Thomas supporters were wearing purple and white in support of their team.
And in the end, it was the home fans that went home happy as their Gusties prevailed, 3-1.
“I thought we were more focused than our game against them last week”, said Gustavus head coach Brett Petersen. “I felt we controlled play well, and did a good job getting chances, getting to rebounds, and focusing on defense. Everyone out there played well tonight.”
Gustavus Adolphus opened the period by controlling play in the St. Thomas zone and were quickly rewarded with a power play. The Gusties kept the puck in the St. Thomas end for most of the power play, but were unable to solve Tommie netminder Joe Schraeder. Gustavus was able to put several shots on net, but most were from the outside, as St. Thomas did an excellent job clogging up the crease and keeping the Gusties from getting any good looks.
At 7:04 of the first period the Gusties struck first. From the corner Brad Wieck threw the puck to the front of the net, saw it deflect off a St. Thomas defenders stick and then slowly trickle in behind Schraeder, giving Gustavus a 1-0 lead. It may not have been a highlight reel goal, but it counted nonetheless, and sent the Gustavus students into a frenzy.
Following the goal, Gustavus continued to apply offensive pressure, as St. Thomas seemed content to stay back defensively and look for transition opportunities for themselves. The Tommies are at their best when they are able to disrupt the offensive buildup of their opponents by forechecking, clogging passing lanes, and creating turnovers.
As the first period would down, each team would receive a power play opportunity, and while each was able to generate shots, neither was able to put the puck into the net. Gustavus netminder Josh Swartout was not tested often, but he was tested well, being forced to turn away point blank shots and 2-on-1s.
“We tend to outshoot our opponents,” said Swartout. “I try to keep communicating with my defensemen as they get to the puck, it helps me stay involved and stay focused since there are stretches where I don’t see many shots. That way when they do get a good look, I’m ready to challenge them.”
The first period ended eerily similar to the game one week ago, with Gustavus leading 1-0 and outshooting the Tommies heavily in shots on goal, 14-5. In the MIAC championship game, the Gusties led 1-0 after one with a 17-7 shots on goal advantage.
The second period would start out the same as the first, with Gustavus controlling play and St. Thomas looking to break out offensively. The Gusties pressure paid off again, this time just a couple of minutes into the period as a bad angle shot to the left of Schraeder found a hole to give the home team a 2-0 lead.
Play would even up after that goal, with St. Thomas finding more success cycling the puck while still limiting Gustavus’s chances. The Tommies were able to apply steady pressure throughout the middle of the second period, and at one point were outshooting the Gusties in the period.
The pressure and resulting scoring chances would not result in any goals for the Tommies though, as Gustavus defensemen consistently gave themselves up to block shots, and when the puck did get through, Swartout was there to shut the door. The junior goalie for the Gusties made several key saves to preserve the lead, on breakaways, from open shooters in the slot, and on wrap around attempts.
Near the end of the period, Gustavus reasserted control of the game, unleashing a flurry of shots on Schraeder, who made several spectacular saves to keep it a two goal game. St. Thomas defenders also gave themselves up to stop shots from reaching their goaltender, but were not able to clear the puck for almost two full minutes.
The second period ended with Gustavus leading 2-0, and were outshooting their opponents 28-16. The second half of the period took on a decidedly more physical appearance, with neither team being afraid to play the body and lay some big hits on their opponents. Tempers boiled over at one point leading to matching minors after some post-whistle pushing and shoving.
These are two of the least penalized teams in the MIAC, and it was unusual to see them lose their focus, especially in such an important game.
The third period would see the Gusties adopt a new strategy. They kept up their forecheck, but otherwise drew back into the defensive zone, forcing St. Thomas to dump the puck in and chase it. Gustavus also seemed content to chip the puck out of their zone and force St. Thomas to bring it all the way down the ice, instead of trying to force their own rushes.
“Our goal for the third period was to go out and win the period”, said Petersen. “It may be human nature to try and stay back and focus on defense, but our intent was to go out and keep playing like we had.”
With just over six minutes left in the period, the score was still 2-0 in favor of Gustavus. Intentional or not, the Gusties’ attention to defense was keeping St. Thomas from creating scoring chances and had the added benefit of eating time off the clock.
With 6:17 remaining in the game, St. Thomas would finally get on the scoreboard and cut the Gustavus lead in half. A wraparound attempt fluttered into the air, and resulted in a scramble for the puck to the left of Swartout. Eventually the puck was batted in by St. Thomas’s Parker Burgess, making the game 2-1.
Gustavus took an interference penalty only 10 seconds after the goal, putting St. Thomas in perfect position to knot the game up. Gustavus, however, had different ideas and played a hard hitting kill, constantly punishing Tommies with hard hits as they tried to skate into the zone. St. Thomas never had a good look on the power play, and the crowd roared into life every time the puck was chipped out of the Gustavus end of the ice.
After the penalty expired, Gustavus roared back into an offensive mindset, controlling play in the St. Thomas end and forechecking unrelentingly.
“I felt that the penalty on us really brought us back into the game, said Petersen. “We went out there and played physically, which brought the crowd back into the game. I don’t think they had a shot on goal during their power play, and it helped us regain some of the momentum we had lost by giving up that goal.”
With 3:14 remaining in the game, Gustavus was rewarded with a power play chance. The Gusties kept the puck in the St. Thomas zone for most of the power play, putting shots on net, getting to rebounds, and pushing their advantage. Just over a minute into the power play, Rory Dynan skated into the slot and fired a shot that went just wide. The puck rebounded off the end boards where Ross Ring-Jarvi scooped it up and fired a shot on net that beat Schraeder, giving Gustavus a 3-1 lead.
“We knew we would need to win the special teams battle,” said Petersen. “I didn’t think it would come with just three minutes left in the game, but I felt we played well on the penalty kill and on the power play all game, even if it didn’t always result in a goal. You can gain momentum from a successful kill or from the pressure you generate on a power play, even if you don’t score.”
Unlike the last time these two teams met, Gustavus applied pressure throughout all three periods, and continued to play hard deep into the third period. Perhaps their marathon four overtime game preceding the MIAC title game had sapped some energy then, or maybe they were d