Defensively strong Gustavus Adolphus looks for jumpstart against old foe

Gustavus Adolphus is no stranger to the top spot in the MIAC conference. The Golden Gusties have dominated the league for over a decade, and so far, this season has been no different.

Gustavus Adolphus is 8-0-0 overall and 6-0-0 in MIAC play heading into a crucial home-and-home series with rival Wis.-River Falls, which starts Wednesday at River Falls.

While Gustavus has won 20 or more games in nine straight seasons, as well as made three straight trips to the Frozen Four, the Gusties lost some crucial pieces from those teams. GAC lost two All-Americans in Allie Schwab and Mollie Carroll, who were also its top two scorers last season.

“One of the goals any team has going into a game is to win, so you can’t complain about getting the [wins],” Gustavus Adolphus coach Mike Carroll said. “Our team has a little different make-up than we did last year. We have played a pretty tough schedule so far. Except for maybe one or two exceptions, every team we have played so far this year has either been ranked or getting votes in the top-10 poll.”

The Gusties also lost four-year starting goalie Danielle Justice, who played in 88 games in her career, racking up 63 wins in the process.

“One of the question marks going into the season was three freshmen goalies,” Carroll said. “Through eight games, all of them have played, and they’ve all done well. We’re in a unique situation where we’ve got three options, and that’s a good thing as the season goes on.”

Not only have all three goalies done well, but according to Carroll, they all have different dynamics and make up.

“Danielle was a good goalie, but the one thing that she had going against her was she was very tiny,” Carroll said. “If she wasn’t on her angles and she got bumped around a little bit, things could get dicey sometimes if we weren’t playing well in front of her. All three are a little bit bigger and stronger than Danielle, and give us a different look.”

Lindsey Hibbard, Colleen Jacoby, and Tara Hoverstad have all shared the minutes with Hibbard, sporting a combined 4-0-0 record, 0.900 goals-against average, and a .941 save percentage. Jacoby is 2-0-0 with a 0.86 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage, while Hoverstad is also 2-0-0 with a 0.43 goals-against average and a .974 save percentage.

In total, the Gusties have given up just six goals this season, and they have yet to trail in a game at any point. While the defense has been as good or better than ever, the GAC offense hasn’t quite been on par with where it has been in previous years.

“I think our team will get going scoring more,” Carroll said. “We’re getting opportunities and just not burying them right now. We have some forwards right now with really good hands that in time will develop finishing skills that will only help us improve.

“We’re still changing things up with lines and defensive pairs. Our power play hasn’t been as good as we had hoped. Every coach should be happy to be 8-0, but we’re not. We think we can get to be a lot better hockey team. We’ve got a good challenge this week, and then we can focus on the second half.”

So far, freshman Allison Eder-Zdechlik has stepped up and led the way offensively with four goals and four assists for eight points. Senior defenseman Lindsey Hjelm has continued to be an overwhelming presence on the blue line, coming off being named a First Team All-American last season by scoring a goal and four assists so far this year.

“Lindsey does a good defensively for us and is a presence out there,” Carroll said. “We just have to be a little more diverse and not just rely on one line, which can definitely be a good thing.”

The Gusties will get perhaps their sternest test to date on Wednesday when they make the nearly two-hour trek to Wis.-River Falls to take on the perennial powerhouse Falcons.

“River Falls and us have some history and tradition with some great games over the years,” Carroll said. “It will be a nice benchmark for where we are at currently. No matter what and who we are playing, if we can just worry about what we want to do, it doesn’t really matter who we’re playing. They should be two good games.”

GAC holds a 15-4-3 lead in the all-time series between the two schools.

After its two-game set with River Falls, the Gusties will tackle their final exams and then head home for the holiday break. However, it will be a shorter break for GAC, as the day after Christmas they’ll be meeting at the airport and heading over to Europe, where they’ll spend a week in Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic.

“This is my 14th year coaching and we’ve gone over to Europe every three years since then,” Carroll said. “Gustavus is a school that in general is known as a big study abroad school. Last time we went and played the Swiss Olympic team in a scrimmage, and this year we’re going to play the Austrian national team.”

Carroll characterized the games as pretty low-key exhibitions, and they are just part of the trip.

“The trip is mainly focused on learning about another part of the world and immersing yourself in that culture,” Carroll said. “We have a group of 59 going, including some parents. Each year we do this trip, it seems like we come back a much closer team.”