Both the men’s and women’s hockey programs at St. Olaf experienced what I would argue were defining moments over the past year. Both programs faced the departure of experienced and well-respected head coaches, and the hiring of two young, fresh faces to take their respective places. Alongside this head coaching shift, St. Olaf hockey received a new home on the Hill, a drastic change from their previous location off-campus.
These changes forced both programs to reevaluate and enter a period of transition. As with any transitional period, for any franchise, the hockey teams have struggled to find their footing in unfamiliar territory. Neither team has won a game at the St. Olaf Ice Arena since its inauguration in January 2019. Neither team has won a game, home or away, in their 2019-20 seasons so far. While losses were expected, it is not inaccurate to say that no one envisioned this prolific of a struggle.
However, while it is possible to take these defeats at face value and come to the conclusion that hockey at St. Olaf is simply ‘bad,’ I believe there is more to both programs than meets the eye.
Watching the men’s team play against a nationally ranked St. Thomas last Friday night, it was clear that the Oles were not outmatched, holding a tight defensive line and notching a couple good counter-attacking shots before ultimately falling 0-1. While the situation for the women’s team was more lopsided, they too showed glimpses of promise through some sparkling scoring chances on the fast-break, chances which ultimately caught St. Thomas unawares and led to a 19th minute goal for first-year Samantha Martin in the second period.
“However, while it is possible to take these defeats at face value and come to the conclusion that hockey at St. Olaf is simply ‘bad,’ I believe there is more to both programs than meets the eye.”
Although their records may not reflect it, both men’s and women’s hockey programs are showing definite promise. Both rosters feature majority underclass athletes who are continuing to develop their skills to match a difficult Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Both new head coaches are young and come from successful programs themselves, and while it may take some time to build trust among players, they will surely transfer their developing sets of skills to programs that share bright futures.
Most importantly for both teams, the support from fans is still there. Student-athletes from across campus turned out on Friday and Saturday nights to cheer on the Oles at home, and parents and community members also offered their support from the seats. It would seem that, as the losses continue to pile up and brief glimpses of greatness continue to shine through, support for the teams continues to grow. It’s the paradox of defeat – people want to be there when the tides change.
And, rest assured, the tides will change for these programs. The desire to win, both among the players and the fans, continues to grow. With time comes experience, for coaches and players alike — experience that will naturally translate into success on the ice. Through all the tough defeats and glimpses of brilliance, the character of the teams and of the fanbase will continue to develop.
As with any great franchise, it is necessary to take the good with the bad. While it is clear that St. Olaf hockey is currently in the bad, I think the good is right around the corner.