The men’s hockey team’s NCAA playoff run ended Wedneday night at Don Robert’s Arena in St. Peter. The Tommies lost 3-1 to Gustavus just one week after St. Thomas upset the Gusties in overtime to win the MIAC championship.
Gustavus came out strong, looking for revenge. Like the match March 3, Gustavus controlled most the game, outshooting St. Thomas 40-20.
Momentum was in Gustavus’ favor from the moment the puck dropped. The Gusties took nearly 10 shots on goal before St. Thomas managed one. Defensive lapses plagued the Tommies’ first period. The team gave up several odd man rushes, forcing desperate saves by senior goalie Joe Schraeder and defensive dives from his teammates.
“[Gustavus] got a couple lucky bounces,” senior captain Parker Burgess said. “Someone’s team’s got to win. They are a really good team, and we did not come out as sharp as we wanted.”
Gustavus junior forward Brad Weick scored the game’s first goal seven minutes into the first period in a play that summed up St. Thomas’ struggles. Gustavus senior Rory Dynan took the puck from two Tommie defenders deep in the corner and found Weick at the hash marks on the boards. Weick threw a blind pass in front of the net and got a fortunate deflection off Tommie freshmen defender K.C. Kranz, beating Schraeder under his pad.
Despite being outshot in the first period 14-3, St. Thomas went into the locker room only down one goal.
St. Thomas came out with some fire in the second period, balancing the ice that had been weighed down in the Tommies’ defensive zone for first period. But Gustavus capitalized on another unlucky bounce two minutes into the second. Gustie senior captain Joe Welch scored his eighth goal of the season, finding the puck low in the slot and snapping a shot to beat Schrader glove side.
“I let in a couple bad goals,” Schraeder said. “That second goal I really would have liked to have back, [but] you can’t dwell on any goals. Still had twenty minutes left to play.”
St. Thomas fought hard after Welch’s goal with 13 shots and several scoring opportunities but was unable to cut into the 2-0 deficit before the end of the second period.
St. Thomas needed a score fast to start the final period and keep its hopes alive.
After a scramble for the puck, junior Rob Johnson threw it in front of the net, somehow finding Burgess’ stick,and Burgess finally broke Gustavus’s shutout.
“I just went to the net and stood there,” Burgess said. “[Johnson] got the puck to the net, and I just swung at it, and it went in.”
But whatever momentum the Tommies gained from the goal ended quickly. Freshmen Riley Horgan was called for a trip inside his defensive zone, leaving St. Thomas a man short with just three minutes left in the game.
“That is tough,” Burgess said. “You know we shouldn’t have been in that situation, but for the refereee to make that call with three minutes left and have the decisive end to the game, that is kind of bush league. Just let us finish it; let us play it out. I didn’t like the call, but that is just hockey.”
Horgan’s penalty allowed Gustavus sophomore Ross-Ring-Jarvi to crush any hopes of a Tommie comeback, scoring a power play goal with just over two minutes to play.
St. Thomas pulled Schraeder for the extra attacker with one minute to play but was unable to score.
With the loss, St. Thomas ends their four-game playoff winning streak and two-game road victory streak against top-10 -ranked opponents. The team can hold their heads high, after winning 7 of their last 9 games and finishing the season with a winning record.
“The whole team just showed up the second half of the season,” Schraeder said. “Obviously we’re all sad. Being a senior, it’s a tough last game, but it was fun. It is always fun having a season with your buddies and winning a championship.
With the win Gustavus moves on to the NCAA quarterfinals against St. Norbert (Wis.).
Brian Matthews can be reached at email@example.com.