Finlandia women’s hockey snaps 70-game losing skid
HANCOCK — It was something that had not happened since Feb. 8, 2014. When freshman Kait Ryynanen’s shot off a faceoff slid into the back of the net Saturday afternoon in overtime, the Finlandia Lions women’s hockey team earned its first win of the season, 2-1, over the St. Norbert Golden Knights.
For Ryynanen, one of head coach Matt Marchel’s key additions for 2016-17, the goal was her first since Oct. 29, when she scored in an 8-3 loss to Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“Everyone is so happy for Kait for scoring that goal,” said Marchel. “She’s such a big part of our offensive game with her speed and her strength, but she just has not been rewarded too many times this year.”
Ryynanen’s game-winning tally came on a power play nine seconds in.
When the Knights’ Libbie Doney took an interference penalty with 34 seconds left in regulation, the Lions entered the overtime with the advantage. A Knights’ defender flipped the puck over the glass from her own end, setting up the faceoff near St. Norbert goaltender Brianna Kelly. Ryynanen was knocked down on the draw, but she got enough of the puck to push it towards the net and through Kelly’s legs.
As the Lions stormed the ice, Marchel had little chance to process what had just transpired.
“I was nervous,” said Marchel. “My stomach was just churning.”
The Lions (1-22-0 overall, 1-15-0 NCHA) were outshot 38-13 in the game, but in the third period, leading scorer Sierra Meiners, who had already scored in the contest to even things in the first period, had three breakaway chances and hit various posts rather than the twine behind Kelly.
Marchel was pleased with the efforts his girls gave, despite being unable to take the lead.
“They controlled the puck for much of the game,” said Marchel. “We do a good job of clogging the middle and letting them shoot from the outside. The whole game, things were positive for us. We were playing a good hockey game.”
The Knights had already beaten the Lions 1-0 earlier this season and 7-0 on Friday, but even when Jillian Kosteck gave St. Norbert a 1-0 lead just 8:37 into the contest, Marchel rallied his troops by reminding them that there was plenty of time left for them to even things up.
“It was kind of a fluky goal,” said Marchel. “I just said, ‘Ladies, here’s the deal, we weren’t going to win this game 1-0 anyway. We have got to score. That goal does not matter.'”
He was right, as Meiners evened things up just under six minutes later. Ryynanen picked up the lone assist on the goal.
The Knights (5-17-1 overall, 3-12-1 NCHA) peppered freshman goaltender Annah Smiddy throughout the night. She made 13 saves in the first period and 24 more over the rest of the contest.
Marchel was proud of the way Smiddy carried herself after surrendering the goal and felt that her confidence in the face of adversity filtered out to her teammates.
“She’s been awesome for us all year,” said Marchel. “A lot of the games she’s played for us have been a lot like this. She’s a competitor.”
It had been 70 games since the Lions last won a hockey game. Seniors Alena Fiala, Sara Martin and Theresa Wolf all played in that game with Wolf picking up an assist in the contest.
Lions’ defenseman Sarah Hockings grew up playing alongside several members of the Golden Knights: Lexi Pyykonen, Kenna Farry, Selena Stromer, Allie Patrick and Jessica Schlaff all played alongside Hockings for the Keweenaw Storm.
The men’s team greeted the Lions as they came off the ice, cheering them all the way to the locker room.