Gustavus Adolphus peaking at the right time

When it comes to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties have held a firm grasp at the top of the standings and in postseason play for quite some time.

The Gusties wrapped up their seventh straight regular season title with a 14-2-2 record and have compiled a remarkable 113-7-6 record over their seven-year reign at the top of the conference standings.

“We did what we wanted to do by winning our conference so we could have home ice for the tournament, which was one of our goals going into the season,” Gustavus Adolphus coach Mike Carroll said. “We also went 5-1 against the Wisconsin schools, which is pretty good.”

Tonight, they’ll begin their quest for an eighth straight MIAC Tournament title when they take on Concordia-Moorhead in the MIAC semifinals.

“Concordia has been a roll lately and has been playing some really good hockey lately,” Carroll said. “We’re going to have to be at the top our game and do the things we know we can do well. Hopefully all the hard work we’ve put forth this season will pay off tonight and then Saturday.”

Gustavus Adolphus took three points from the Cobbers earlier this season in their regular season home-and-home series with a 4-2 win and then a 3-3 tie.

“We didn’t do a very good job against their power play in that series and special teams are usually something we hang our hat on,” Carroll said. “Our penalty kill has been historically pretty good, but we just didn’t have a good weekend with that.”

The Gusties have the second-ranked penalty kill in the country, killing off penalties at 93.9 percent, but they gave up two goals against Concordia in the 3-3 tie.

Concordia has plenty of weapons that will challenge the Gusties’ defense that ranks second, giving up less than a goal per game.

Junior forward Katelyn Dold has 24 goals and 15 assists for 39 points, while Emily Sell has 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points. Sophomore Jenna Westerham and freshman Abby Taffe round out the Cobbers’ four-pronged attack with 19 goals and 14 assists for 33 points, as well as 17 goals and 15 assists for 32 points respectively.

“They’ve got some top-end kids with points, and we’ve got to make sure we keep them under control as best as we possibly can and the best way to do that is to keep the puck out of our end,” Carroll said.

While Gustavus Adolphus doesn’t have a single player over 30 points, Carroll said the Gusties’ depth this season has been their strength.

“We have a lot of kids we rely on, but we don’t have the superstar player that gets all the ink on offense,” Carroll said. “We have a lot of kids that play for each other and with each other. We need some of our kids to step up and score for us, but we’ve got a pretty consistently deep team with not a whole lot of difference between our first line and our fourth line.”

Sophomore Lindsey Hjelm has 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points to lead the Gusties’ offense. Allie Schwab leads the team with 12 goals to go along with eight assists for 20 points, while freshman Amanda Cartony is close behind with 11 goals and six assists for 17 points.

“We’re fortunate that when we’re on, we can keep coming at teams with our depth, and this is the time of the year where we need to be doing that every game,” Carroll said.

In goal, Gustavus Adolphus’ Danielle Justice has once again been rock steady between the pipes for the Gusties in her junior season. She has posted a 15-3-3 record with a 1.00 goals against average and a .943 save percentage.

“We’ve got a pretty good goaltender and not a lot of people talk about her because we’re a team that normally doesn’t give up a lot of shots,” Carroll said. “Danielle doesn’t get a lot of individual accolades, but she’s been there for us when we’ve needed her. She stood on her head against Trinity and has been pretty unflappable all season. She’s an undersized goalie, so she’s got to be on her angles, but she has been as consistent as could be for us.”

Although the result was still the same with a MIAC regular season title, this season has been a bit different for the Gusties.

As hard as it is to believe, for the first time since 2003, Gustavus Adolphus won its first game of the season with a 5-0 shutout of Concordia (Wis.)

Instead, the Gusties dropped a couple of games in the middle of the season rather going on their trademark long winning streak.

“We got off to an up and down start,” Carroll said. “We had seven new players in the mix and were trying to get used to college hockey. The leaders of our team were trying to find where they were going to fit into their role because each year is different. We faced some tough competition toward the end of the pre-Christmas break with games against our biggest conference rival St. Thomas and River Falls, who has had a great year.”

However, the Gusties regrouped over the winter break and came back in the second half of the season to post a 12-1-3 record.

“After the holidays we came back and played quite well out of the chute by beating Superior and playing really well against Trinity in a game that could have gone either way, but neither team scored,” Carroll said. “That game gave the kids some confidence knowing we could play right with an Eastern team that had been rated all year.”

The highlight of the second half of the season came on Feb. 1 when Carroll said the Gusties played their best game of the season by shutting out Wis.-Superior 5-0 on the road.

Although Carroll said he was pleased with what the Gusties have accomplished in the MIAC over the last few seasons, their team goals go beyond the conference.

“It’s a nice accomplishment and it’s something when the season is over we can be proud of, but right now it doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot other than we get to play the games at home. Right now, that stuff is on the back burner and we have other goals we want to achieve.”