This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: March 6, 2009

Women have been playing college hockey in Mankato for a dozen years but they had never once won a playoff game.

That is until last week.

And since the Mavericks of Minnesota State hadn’t won once, they certainly hadn’t won any playoff series.

That is until last weekend, when the Mavs, seeded No. 5, bounced No. 4 St. Cloud State out of the WCHA tournament in a set that took three gripping one-goal games to settle.

“It was huge,” said sophomore Paige Thunder, MSU’s fabulously named goaltender. “We had to work our way there. It’s kind our theme lately. ‘We’re making history, one weekend at a time.'”

The Mavericks now have a chance to stop history in its ruts this weekend in Minnesota, site of the WCHA’s Final Faceoff. All they have to do is cut a path through two of the top three teams in the land, beginning with No. 1-ranked Minnesota.

That, of course, presents the Mavericks with a supreme challenge. However, they’ve already scaled some pretty daunting foothills on their way to Mt. Olympus. That includes winning two straight elimination games at St. Cloud after dropping Game One by a 2-1 count.

“We knew what we had to do,” said Thunder. “We knew we had to win both games. Just go a period at a time. We’d go, ‘this period’s 0-0, let’s win this one’. Next period, same thing.”

That chiseled mindset worked for six straight periods, after the Christina Lee gave the Mavs a lead just 0:51 into Game Two. Thunder was stellar throughout the whole series, allowing just three goals in total.

However, the former Cloquet (Minn.) High star was at her very best in Game Three, when she nursed a one goal lead for nearly 55 minutes, and ultimately turned in the first shutout of her college career.

“It got more intense,” said Thunder, who made 27 saves in the decisive contest. “But I just had to keep my focus, stay calm, and take one shot at a time.”

Thunder even garnered an assist on the game’s only goal, by Kala Buganski, although she wasn’t aware of that until her Mav mates told her during the first intermission. At the time, it was a seemingly routine stopping of the puck behind the net.

In time, after countless retellings, the story could inflate into a 100 foot laser up the ice.

“I might jazz it up a little,” Thunder said.

As for handling the Gophers, Thunder said the Mavs are heading to Ridder Arena in a “what the heck” frame of mind. Sure, Minnesota lost just three games all year (MSU is 12-18-5). But one of those losses came early in the year to unheralded Robert Morris.

The way MSU sees it, if the Colonials can pull off that kind of stunner, so can the Mavs.

“We’re so excited,” Thunder said. “We want to give them a run for their money up there. They have some amazing players, but everybody on our team has stepped up huge. Our D has been playing awesome. If we can just hold those Lamoreuxs (freshman phenoms Monique and Jocelyne) and Gigi (Marvin) and all of them.”

Of course, should the Mavs find a way to topple Minnesota, they would have little time to savor that feat. Not with either Wisconsin or Duluth waiting for them the following day.

But hey. That’s how history is made … one weekend at a time.

This has not been the easiest of seasons in Mankato. In January, head coach Rick Vizenor, citing burnout, stepped aside after eight seasons at the helm while the team was in the midst of a 13-game winless streak.

Vizenor was replaced in the interim by assistants Mandy Krause-Rideout and Paul Willett, who have led the Mavs to a more respectable 6-4-2 mark since Jan. 25.
Thunder said that the club handled the regime change as well as could be expected.

“Paul and Mandy are great,” said Thunder. “We all get along. We had our ups and downs throughout the year. But us girls just stayed together. (We) played for each other.”

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