Women’s hockey falls just short of postseason

St. Olaf women’s hockey has experienced a pleasant turnaround this season, posting a 6-8-2 MIAC record to date. This improvement has been due in large part to the emergence of numerous upperclassmen, from forward Jane Vezina ’18, who leads the Oles in goals and points with 10 and 14 respectively, to forwards Megan Skelly ’17 and Drue Engleman ’17, who have provided consistent production on a team that has seen its average goals per game rise from 1.56 a year ago to 2.06 in conference play this season. Hannah Forliti ’17 and Karma Knutson ’17 form a stifling veteran defense that has assisted in solidifying the back end for the Oles this season, and goaltender Cassie Alexander ’17 has been solid all season, posting a 2.47 goals against average – sixth in the MIAC – ensuring that most contests remain close. Alexander is coming off of a 40-save performance that helped the Oles skate to a 1-1 tie with Concordia on Feb. 11.

Unfortunately, the Oles still needed outside assistance to reach the playoffs, and when St. Thomas knocked off Augsburg 4-2 on Saturday it resulted in their elimination.

Nonetheless, this season has been filled with much more optimism than in the past. The Oles have finished last in the MIAC standings the past two seasons, notching only one win in conference play over that span. Currently, the Oles sit in sixth place in the conference – although the team won’t be making a postseason appearance this year, the Oles have proven that they can contend in the MIAC.

Vezina will return for a highly anticipated 2018 campaign, looking to lead the team in scoring for a fourth straight year while setting her sights on all-conference honors. Several underclassmen have also shown potential, including Xandi Swedberg ’19, who led the team with 11 assists, and forwards Johanna Glaaser ’20 and Maddy Johnson ’19, who combined for 11 points and started to emerge as key performers. Defenders Kalli McCullen ’19, Molly Andrews ’19 and Lainie Baldwin ’19 will all be returning next year for their third season at St. Olaf, looking to build on the strong defense established by Forliti and Knutson in 2017.

The Oles’ success was a pleasant surprise this season, one of the highlights of both the winter season and the yearly athletic calendar. The team will look to build upon their successes in conference play this year, hopefully forcing their way into the playoff picture and controlling their own destiny up until the final contest of the season. Losing some quality senior leadership always hurts, but St. Olaf seems to have enough returning depth to transition to next season smoothly and emerge as a preseason sleeper playoff contender – a far cry from a year ago.

This season’s squad will close out their season this weekend with a home-and-away series against the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs, fifth-place St. Thomas. If the Tommies had lost against Concordia, this series would determine the final seed in the playoffs – that’s how close St. Olaf was to pulling off their Cinderella story. Still, with a pair of wins this weekend, the Oles would post a .500 record in conference for the first time since the 2011-12 season in which the team finished 11-5-2 in MIAC play. In a season pointing to a return to glory for St. Olaf women’s hockey, this would be yet another small victory that is hopefully building towards something truly special in the near future.