’Jackets right where they want to beIt seemed as though the University of Wisconsin-Superior women’s hockey team was fighting an uphill battle for most of the season.
By: By MIKE SYLVESTER, The Daily Telegram
It seemed as though the University of Wisconsin-Superior women’s hockey team was fighting an uphill battle for most of the season. The Yellowjackets were 7-3 at the Christmas break, but trailed UW-Stevens Point, UW-River Falls and Gustavus Adolphus in the hunt for a limited number of NCAA tournament berths.
The Yellowjackets started the second half of the season with a 3-1-1 mark, but suffered a costly loss against River Falls and had to settle for a tie against Lake Forest, at which point the uphill battle to earn a postseason berth seemed almost impossible.
However, the ’Jackets were able to achieve what was nearly impossible on paper: they won their last 14 games of the season, and in the process won the NCHA regular season and postseason titles. That streak was just enough to get them into the NCAA tournament, as the NCAA selection committee picked them over perennial power Stevens Point.
The Yellowjackets (22-4-1) are scheduled to play at Gustavus Adolphus (25-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals.
The winner will advance to the Frozen Four and will face either Middlebury or Manhattanville on March 21 in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
“We are a much better team than in the first half, and we have developed and gelled well in the last half of our season,” UWS coach Dan Laughlin said. “We just need to keep improving every game.”
The ’Jackets will need to bring their “A” game to the rink on Saturday, as they face a powerful Gustavus Adolphus team.
Both of the Gusties’ losses came at the hands of Stevens Point. In addition, the Gusties defeated the Yellowjackets 2-1 on Dec. 17.
Leading scorers for the Gusties include MIAC Player of the Year Stephanie Ubl (30 points) and Mari Gunderson and Molly Doyle, who have 22 points each. Goaltender Breanna Scavo is 22-2 with a 0.87 goals-against-average and a .918 saves percentage.
“It will be a hard-fought battle playing Gustavus,” Laughlin said. “They skate very well and are 25-2 for a reason. We have always said it doesn’t matter who we play but how we play. We need a consist effort every shift.”
The Yellowjackets have found success with a balance between offense and defense and a stellar pair of goaltenders.
Stacy Anderson leads the team in scoring with 38 points. Gina Baranzelli has 32 points and Lindsey LeGree has 30, while both Jamie McClintock and Brianne Mosher have 23. Baranzelli was the NCHA Player of the Year and leads the team with 24 goals.
Melissa Kunzelman (10-1, 0.83 goals against and .958 saves percentage) and Rikki Nespor (11-3, 1.37 goals against and .933 saves percentage) have split time in goal. Both goalies were named first team All-NCHA this season. On defense, the Yellowjackets have allowed just 1.13 goals per game.
“Our captains, Gina Baranzelli, Stacy Anderson and Jamie McClintock, have done an awesome job leading this young team,” Laughlin said. “Everyone has contributed on the ice and off the ice. It’s a total team effort.”
Other teams in the tournament include Elmira, Amherst and Plattsburgh.
“This is the position we wanted to be in since day one,” Laughlin said. “We have done a great job meeting our team goals and we need to continue our focus on meeting our goals for this game.”
Mike Sylvester is an assistant softball coach at UWS. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.