Max Steigauf / Sports Director / @MSteigauf
St. Cloud looked to make a statement in the WCHA conference tournament over the weekend trying to dethrone the reigning national runner ups, Duluth Bulldogs. The Huskies and Bulldogs got familiar with each other two weeks before the tournament when they played each other two weeks before the tournament.
In game one the Huskies started off on a tough note. St. Cloud was out shot in the first period 14-5. St. Cloud also killed off a Bulldog’s power play which was lethal to the Huskies a couple weeks prior. Both Jojo “No-no” Chobak and Emma Soderberg both made unbelievable saves to keep the game scoreless which would set the tone for the game. Soderberg would escape the first period just in time as the Huskies started to sustain a constant offensive barrage.
The St. Cloud used that momentum to head into the second period. SCSU has forged their grit and grind identity in having good or great second periods, and this one was no different. The cardinal and black made an adjustment to control the neutral zone with a 1-2-2 neutral zone trap. The adjustment stymied the Bulldogs offensive barrage. Duluth still outshot St. Cloud 6-5 but heading into the third period of game one St. Cloud looked poised to steal game one in Amsoil.
To open the third period St. Cloud started by peppering Soderberg with a handful of shots before Danielle Burgen for UMD received a two-minute minor for body checking. The Huskies went to work on their powerplay which hit at a fantastic 20.7% heading into Duluth. St. Cloud couldn’t convert on the power play thanks to outstanding saves by Soderberg. Just a minute after the Bulldogs got back to full strength, they would take another minor penalty for cross checking. By this point in the game, you could see Duluth was frustrated with the physical play of the Huskies. St. Cloud once again would come up empty handed with Duluth controlling the puck for a majority of the powerplay. St. Cloud State would be put on their back foot defending in their own zone for a while after their second straight powerplay came up short. Then about midway through the third period St. Cloud would receive their third powerplay of the period. St. Cloud’s Powerplay looked determined to break up the scoreless game forcing Soderberg to pull out all the stops. Seven seconds into the skater advantage Huskies’ defender Dayle Ross rung the iron on a monster slap-shot from the blueline. The puck however didn’t go in. Not deterred St. Cloud would force Soderberg to show off all of her Olympic talent to keep the game scoreless.
Then it was Duluth’s turn to go on the power play after a tripping. The Huskies penalty kill once again looked fantastic up until the final 30 seconds of the kill. A loose puck would create a dog pile in front of the net of Chobak. Miraculously, SCSU swept the puck away and cleared the puck. With about seven seconds left on the powerplay Maggie Flaherty dumped the puck in and the puck bounced awkwardly and beat Chobak with about two minutes 45 seconds left in the game. 1-0 would be the final, but St. Cloud pushed UMD to the brink for the third time in three weeks. Jojo Chobak turned in another spectacular performance against her former team stopping 32 of the Bulldogs’ 33 shots good enough for a .970 save percentage.
St. Cloud would start game two trying to catch up with the Bulldogs. The Huskies were outshot 5-1 before Anneke Linser would go to the penalty box for interference. St. Cloud only could muster one shot on net during the power play and once again SCSU would leave empty handed. After a tough penalty kill UMD went on the offensive outshooting the Huskies 4-0 for the next four minutes. St. Cloud would punch back like they have done all season, but the Bulldogs would work their way back towards Sanni Ahola. With six minutes left Naomi Rogge would fire a laser past Ahola hitting the corner off the net giving Duluth a 1-0 lead after one period.
Duluth would strike again early in the second period thanks to a lucky dump by Kylie Hanley making game two 2-0. After that tough bounce Huskies Head Coach Brian Idalski would pull Sanni Ahola from the net. Jojo Chobak would then take care of the goaltending duties for the rest of the second. When asked after the game about what went into the move Idalski said, “You know after that fluky goal I just wanted to give her some time to reset.”. Jojo would once again be strong in net for the Huskies. Duluth would find a way to get on the powerplay after Allie Cornelius took a five-minute major with less than six minutes left in the period. Jojo and the Huskies looked spectacular on the penalty kill, but after a handful of rapid shots Duluth would finally break the game open with a back handed goal from Mary Kate-O’Brian. The Bulldogs would add insult to injury with another goal from Taylor Anderson from Gabbie Hughes making it 4-1 heading into the third period.
To start the third period Sanni Ahola would return to the net for St. Cloud State. The Huskies needed to find a way to inch their way back into the game. Duluth however would sit back and just try and keep St. Cloud from scoring. The Huskies would finally figure out a way to get the puck past Soderberg. St. Cloud would get their first and only goal of the series off the stick of their Captain Taylor Lind. Lind completed the beautiful tic-tac-toe goal from Courtney Hall and Grace Wolfe. However, the goal was too little too late the Bulldogs would add an empty net goal at the end of the game to beat St. Cloud 5-1 and sweep the Huskies out of the playoffs.
Even though the Huskies didn’t break their winless streak in the WCHA this season was full of records and firsts for the 25-year-old program. To start off the Huskies finished the regular season 18-16-1. That tied the program record for most wins in a season and the Huskies also set a program record for most WCHA conference points (36). The Huskies finished fifth in the conference when they were only predicted to finish seventh. The team saw huge wins beating #1 ranked Minnesota in Andover 4-1 in the Hockey Hallof Fame game. St. Cloud swept the season series against Bemidji State and St. Thomas. The Huskies also had a huge sweep at the end of the season against Minnesota State to secure the number five seed in the conference tournament. The team had four wins against ranked opponents and three games against ranked teams go into overtime. St. Cloud also had 12 WCHA points against ranked competition this year. SCSU also lead the WCHA in blocked shots this year with 576.
Individually multiple Huskies had career years. On the blue line Taytum Geier played in her 150th game of her career and blocked 71 shots this year good enough for fourth in the WCHA. Taytum’s defensive partner also had a career year. Sophomore Dayle Ross burst on to the scene scoring 15 points and blocking a new program record 104 shots. Ross led the WCHA in blocked shots too. The second pairing for St. Cloud was spectacular too with Grace Wolfe leading the team in assists (16) while also second in the WCHA in blocked shots (83) Freshman Reagan Bulger was third in the WCHA in Blocked shots with 78.
In Net the Huskies boasted probably the best goalie tandem in the nation with Sanni Ahola (2.50 GAA .923 SAV%) and Jojo Chobak (2.63 GAA .921 SAV%) Ahola and Chobak were third and fourth respectively in the WCHA for save percentage.
On offense the Huskies had four players score 20 or more points Jenniina Nylund 28, Klara Hymlarova 26, Emma Gentry 22, and Taylor Lind 22. Hymlarova also scored eight goals on the powerplay which was not only good enough to tie the lead in the WCHA, but also the nation! Hymlarova led the team in goals (17) while Wolfe led the team in assists (16) and Nylund led the team in points with 28.
With such a fantastic season now over the women’s hockey team looks like they are poised to be contenders in the national tournament in the coming years.