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Palkowski and co. finish record-breaking season

By , Reporter  |  Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:27 PM

Goaltender Alise Riedel’s record-setting performance in the NCAA national semifinals highlighted a record-breaking season by the St. Thomas women’s hockey team and ended with a fourth-place NCAA tournament finish.

Riedel stopped 63 shots in the NCAA semifinal, setting a new NCAA record. In addition to finishing fourth nationally, the Tommies took the MIAC regular season and postseason titles- their first since 2004.

The Tommies started the season as they would end it, losing to UW-River Falls. After a 9-3 rout from the Falcons, the Tommies proceeded to win five in a row, with a combined score of 18-6. This early streak showcased a Tommie offense; however, during this streak defense was key for St. Thomas as it held opponents to an average of 1.2 goals per game, along with two shutouts.

After a tie with Concordia and two losses to Wis.-Stevens Point, the Tommies went on a 10-game unbeaten streak that included eight victories and two ties. St. Thomas went 7-2 in the last nine games of the regular season.

This success earned St. Thomas its first conference title in 10 years and gave the Tommies momentum heading into the MIAC playoffs as the No. 1 seed. In the semifinals, St. Thomas defeated Concordia 4-3 in overtime then shut out Gustavus 2-0. The conference-championship win ended Gustavus’ 10-year run as MIAC champions.

In addition to winning the conference title, the Tommies also took home a plethora of individual awards.

Riedel was the backstop for six shutouts, 18 victories and sported a .947 save percentage, with a 1.39 goals against average for the season. She broke the school record for all-time victories for a Tommie goalie and was named to All-MIAC first team for the third time in her career.

Defenders Mary Grace Flesher and Megan Juricko, and forwards Christina Rozeske and Paige Baldwin were also named to All-MIAC first team. Forwards Jenny Saxon and Courtney Umland got honorable mentions. The mastermind of this team, head coach Tom Palkowski, won MIAC coach of the year for the first time.

Heading into the national championship playoffs, the Tommies had a streaking goaltender in Riedel, who was named an All-American the day before St. Thomas’ semifinal game against Plattsburgh. The only thing standing in the way of the Tommies first national championship was the Plattsburgh Cardinals and All-American and D-III player of the year goalie Sydney Aveson. A late, overtime goal pushed Plattsburgh over St. Thomas, 1-0. In the consolation game, St. Thomas lost 5-3, to a familiar foe in River Falls.

The fourth place finish is the best in Tommie history. St. Thomas loses nine seniors including Flesher, who finished with 12 points this season; Saxon, who finished second on the team in points and Riedel.

This senior class will be missed at St. Thomas, but this Tommie team returns seven of the top 10 scorers, including forwards Paige Baldwin and Courtney Umland, who both finished the season among the team’s top five scorers. Stepping into Riedel’s skates is sophomore Taylor Neisen who won a state championship, was all-state, and a finalist for Minnesota High School Goalie of the Year at Breck.

Jesse Krull can be reached at krul7386@stthomas.edu

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