After opening the season 4-0 with non-conference sweeps of Franklin Pierce and Lindenwood, reality has set in for the St. Thomas women’s hockey team. Playing in the daunting WCHA will do that.
Ohio State, the nation’s No. 2 team, completed a weekend sweep of the Tommies on Saturday at St. Thomas Ice Arena with a 7-1 victory. The Buckeyes beat St. Thomas 6-2 on Friday.
Having lost their first two conference games of the season the previous weekend to the No. 4 Gophers, the Tommies have now been outscored 25-3 in WCHA play.
Next up, a weekend series against No. 1 Wisconsin, with the first game Friday night in Mendota Heights.
“I think (assistant coaches) Bethany Brausen and Marty Sertich said it better than I did in the dressing room,” St. Thomas head coach Joel Johnson said. “Nobody is feeling sorry for us, so we’re not going to do that for ourselves.
“This is what we signed up for. This is exciting, but it’s also really hard right now. But is anything worth doing that isn’t hard at the beginning of it? I know it is going to be successful long term, which is why I’m excited.”
The task at hand might seem overwhelming for the Tommies, which Johnson said is probably inevitable.
“It’s actually leading them through how to feel overwhelmed is what allows them to thrive in their space,” he said. “As I’m looking at it, yeah, you should be nervous, you should think this is tough.
“But I told our team, this is the first year I walked into the room every Monday and said, ‘If we do what we can do, we give ourselves a legitimate chance to win.’ I’m going to continue to believe that, because we have enough talent to make that happen.”
Johnson was looking for a better start from his team after giving up four first-period goals on Friday, and he got it, But the Buckeyes still took a 1-0 lead two minutes into the game on a goal by Farmington’s Kenzie Hauswirth.
A pair of goals 40 seconds apart gave Ohio State a 3-0 lead early in the second period. The Gophers responded 16 seconds later when Allie Monrean deflected a Nicole Vallario slap shot past Ohio State goaltender Amanda Thiele for her first goal of the season.
But the Buckeyes pushed their lead to 4-1 at 11:08 of the period when Kiara Zanon brought the puck out of the left-wing corner in the Tommies’ zone and drove a shot past Tommies goaltender Olivia King from just outside the crease.
The Buckeyes were in control from that point on.
“I shared with our team that we need to be disappointed, but we can’t be discouraged,” Johnson said. “Our hope is to take some of the things that we’re learning playing against a team that is that deep and saying, ‘OK, how can we be better prepared for next Friday?’
“Because next Friday is going to be tougher, or just as tough. Right now we’re just chasing it. Against Ohio State, which might have the deepest lineup in the country, you’re going to be chasing it.”
Due to their ultra-aggressive style of play, the Buckeyes, will take penalties. The Tommies had three power plays but came up empty on all three.
“I told our team (on Friday) that someone needs to make a special play at a special time,” Johnson said. “That could have been a power-play goal today, and we didn’t get it. I still trust our groups, I still like the people we are putting out there.
“Give credit to Ohio State, who stayed aggressive on the power play as well.”
Looking ahead, Johnson said Wisconsin is very disciplined on defense, which means scoring figures to be even more challenging for the Tommies than it was the last two weekends.
“We can score,” Johnson said. “We haven’t scored, but we can score.”
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