Lions showing growth, but still have room to improve
HANCOCK – Historically for head coach Matt Marchel, the trip for the Finlandia Lions women’s hockey team to Concordia has been a disaster. However, with the growth the Lions have already made this season, coming out of that trip with no points actually felt like a disappointment, as opposed to anything else.
The Lions rode sophomore goaltender Annah Smiddy Friday night to a 0-0 tie until the 16:02 mark of the third period when the Falcons finally found a way to beat her en route to a 1-0 loss.
Saturday, Sarah Gundry made her season debut for the Lions after returning to the program with the start of the spring semester, and she made 34 saves in a 4-2 loss.
Having started the weekend tied for the sixth playoff spot in the NCHA with Northland, picking up no points from the Falcons hurt as Northland, the team the Lions were tied with, swept Trine.
The Lions, who are 3-15-1 overall and 3-8-1 in NCHA play, are now one point ahead of Marian and just three ahead of both Aurora and Trine.
The pressure is now on for the Lions to take points from every series from this point forward.
“I try to downplay the moral victory side of things and playing better because this is playoff push (time),” said Marchel. “Play good or bad, we need to get some points out of the weekend.”
While the results weren’t there for the Lions this past weekend, there was some good news moving forward for Marchel’s squad. Gundry, who left the program last season, returned with a strong performance in goal. The two goals the Lions scored on Saturday came off the sticks of sophomores Kait Ryynanen and Bella Abear.
As two of the players who inherit leadership of the Lions’ offense next season once captain Sierra Meiners graduates, Ryynanen and Abear have both set career highs in goals and points this season already.
Marchel loves the work ethic Ryynanen, a Dassel, Minnesota, native shows every day in practice.
“She is the best player, in practice, every day,” said Marchel. “She’s out there early and stays late. Almost any time there is an optional practice, she’s there, working on things. She works on her game.”
Along with Gundry, another new face has stepped seamlessly into the Lions’ lineup. Freshman Kylee Dyni has seen in action in six games since joining the program and has already proven to be a steady performer on the blue line.
Dyni, who has family locally, gives the Lions a pair of first-year defenders, along with Rebecca Lilly, who will have a chance to develop side-by-side, giving Marchel plenty of reason to feel good about how things are moving along on the back end.
“That is a big thing for me,” said Marchel. “We have some good, talented freshmen who have been thrown right to the fire. They are logging big minutes for us. I can kind of breath moving forward on the defensive side knowing we have (a couple of) steady Eddies back there.”
This weekend, the Lions return home to the friendly confines of the Houghton County Arena to face St. Scholastica. The Saints are 10-3-4 overall and 9-1-2 in NCHA play, putting them just one point back of Adrian in the chase for the top spot in the playoff picture.
The Saints are led offensively by seniors Emily Stegora and Abby Sawyer and junior Alexia Klaas, all of whom have 17 points. Stegora also has a team-high 12 goals.
Today’s game at the Houghton County Arena will take place at 2 p.m. The teams will meet tomorrow for the rematch at 12:30 p.m.