Lions look to finish strong despite small roster

Photo provided by Finlandia Athletics Finlandia’s Bella Abear tries to keep the puck away from a Lake Forest defender during a game earlier this season at the Houghton County Arena.

HANCOCK — When assessing the quality of a college hockey weekend, most hockey fans would be hard-pressed to look a series in which a team was out scored 10-1 and find positives. The Finlandia Lions women’s hockey team are coming off such a weekend against St. Scholastica, but the numbers show that the Lions actually had a strong weekend and are playing their best hockey at the end of the season.

The Lions went into the weekend with just 11 healthy skaters and two goaltenders, which would make it tough to take on the NCHA second place Saints before the Lions even arrived in Duluth, Minnesota.

When the dust settled, Lions coach Matt Marchel felt that his team had played well, but he was not the only one. Marchel said that what he heard from the Saints’ coach Jackie MacMillan said a lot about the effort his girls put in.

“Their coach gave our team one of the greatest compliments I have ever heard,” said Marchel. “She said we might be the hardest team to play against. She said that ‘If our four lines played like your two lines, we’d have something special here.'”

With junior goaltender Annah Smiddy between the pipes Friday, the Lions fell 6-1. Smiddy made 50 saves over the course of the night.

On Saturday, Marchel turned to junior goaltender Sarah Gundry, who was able to play for the first time in three weeks and Gundry had a strong performance in a 4-0 loss that included two late goals against.

Gundry, who was back from a right shoulder injury, had moments where she fought the puck and lost control of her stick, but Marchel was encouraged by her willingness to fight for pucks throughout the night.

“She’s a gamer,” said Marchel. “It was huge for her confidence. She was great. I give her a lot of credit for that.”

While the season has not gone the way Marchel and the Lions’ seniors wanted it to when they started the season, the fourth-year coach is proud of the efforts of all four seniors, who have grown into stalwarts in Finlandia’s lineup.

“I told the seniors that might have been the best weekend of hockey for six full periods,” Marchel said. “It was great to see and we left there feeling good about our weekend.”

Whether asked to play a position they have not played in years or make a play that would prove extremely difficult at the end of a third period on the second night, the Lions’ senior class has done it all.

Good news is on the horizon for the Lions’ seniors as well. Junior forward Kate Ryynanen, who has missed six weeks with an upper body injury, will return to the lineup this weekend. While she is not fully in game shape yet, just having the third-year skater back will help as she possesses what coaches often refer to as a “nose for the net.”

This weekend, the Lions are home to take on the Concordia Falcons. The Falcons currently sit fourth in the NCHA standings with a record of 6-6-2 in conference play and 10-8-2 overall.

The Falcons are led offensively by senior Kristen Kennedy, who has eight goals and 20 points in 20 games. Junior Natasha Wanless has a team-high 11 goals and 18 points.

Between the pipes, the Falcons are led by senior Christina Pattengale who has a record of 9-7-2 in 18 appearances. She sports a goals against average of 2.45 and a .913 save percentage.

GAME TIMES

Friday’s game is slated to start at 3 p.m. Saturday’s contest is scheduled to start at 2:15 p.m., will feature Senior Night festivities and is also Dean Kern Night as the Lions look to raise money for the father of senior forward Natasha Kern.

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