Coming off a tough series loss to No. 12 St. Cloud State the week prior, the Minnesota State Women’s Hockey team had their eyes set on No. 6 University of Wisconsin this past weekend for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament.
The first round of the WCHA tourney is held at the home site of the higher-seeded team in the final regular season standings. The Badgers earned the third seed in the WCHA this season with 60 points, falling shy of second-seeded University of Minnesota by eight points.
The regular season finale was the decider for Minnesota State’s fate in the tournament, where they eventually landed in sixth after getting swept by St. Cloud, meaning they were set to face the third-seeded Badgers in the first round of the tournament.
The two battled it out this past weekend in their best-of-three series, where the Wisconsin Badgers defeated Minnesota State 3-0 and 1-4 to claim a berth in the WCHA semifinals. With the two losses, the Mavericks finished their season with a 15-20-1 record and ended the season as the USCHO Poll’s “RV,” reserve, as the first team outside of women’s college hockey’s top 15.
Friday night’s contest started off slow for both squads, as both skated into the intermission locked at zero. Wisconsin held a minor shots advantage at the sound of the horn, leading 10-7 over Minnesota State.
As the second period opened, the Badgers opened the frame with a goal off the stick of Kirsten Simms at the 2:49 mark. Simms’ goal was all the Badgers’ needed to get rolling, as they buried two more pucks behind Minnesota State’s senior goaltender Alexa Berg before the end of the period.
Giving their opponents a three or more-goal advantage in the second period was unfortunately a common theme for the Mavericks toward the end of the season, a feat that happened three games straight starting in their series against St. Cloud on Feb. 17.
Freshman forward Taylor Otremba explained that the team was aware of their second-period blunders, but what they did just didn’t seem to be enough.
“We knew our second period wasn’t good. Coming into Wisconsin our second period hurt us again, but we saw the pattern,” said Otremba. “We saw it, and we knew we needed to change it. We tried shorter shifts to help not get caught in the D-zone but I think we would fall apart after one goal would go in. On top of that, we started taking more penalties which made the bench shorter for too long.”
Despite knowing they had to do all they could in the final period of play to stay in the game, the Badgers dominated the third period with an 18-5 shots-on-goal advantage. Neither team scored in the period, marking a 3-0 win for the Badgers in the series’ first game.
A lot had to change the following night for the Mavericks if they wanted to keep their season alive, and the Mavs came out firing on all cylinders to make it happen.
Junior forward Sydney Langseth got Minnesota State on the board first Saturday, tapping home a rebound off the Badger goaltender’s left pad at the 17:39 mark to give MSU the 1-0 lead. The Mavericks held that lead until the 10-minute mark in the second period before Wisconsin tied the game.
Senior Britta Curl found the nylon, which was later followed up by a goal from freshman Laila Edwards just one minute and 23 seconds later to give the Badgers their first lead of the contest. Wisconsin held that lead for the remainder of the game, finding a quick goal at the start of the third period while adding onto it midway through on the power play.
The final score Saturday was 4-1, sending the Mavericks back to Mankato, eliminated from any further contention in the WCHA tournament and beyond this season.
Despite losing both games this past weekend, Otremba knew the Mavericks had played well enough to beat the Badgers. Otremba explained, “The first periods definitely stick out to us. We worked really hard, and made quick changes. That made a really big impact on how we performed.”
Otremba also said, “Our communication in the D-zone was great. Bergy [Alexa Berg] did amazing in the net, talking to our defense and wingers. The team as a whole had great communication and that was huge for us.”
On the bright side, the WCHA released their team of the year members on Feb. 23, and Otrema was honored as a WCHA All-Rookie Team member.
Otremba explained that she heard from fellow teammate Madison Mashuga about her honor, and that the honor still has not set in yet.
“Shuga actually said it. She was like, ‘congrats! You made the All-Rookie Team!’ And I was like, ‘what!?’,” explained Otremba with a laugh. Otremba continued to say, “I was really speechless at first. I didn’t know what to do because only a couple of girls in the whole WCHA got the honor. I’m just so blessed about it. It is crazy how this year went for me, and I obviously couldn’t do it without my linemates. We worked so hard all year. The honor is huge, and it really hasn’t set in.”
Otremba became one of the premier goal scorers for the Mavericks this season, sitting fourth on the team with eight goals on the year. Otremba also tallied 12 assists on the year, marking a 20-point year for the first-timer. The Lakeville, Minnesota native became the fourth active Maverick and sixth Maverick ever to be named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team under Head Coach John Harrington.
Otremba joins alongside current teammates Jamie Nelson, Calla Frank, Kelsey King and Anna Wilgren as selections to the All-Rookie Team during their first season as a Maverick.
The Mavericks now await what is ahead next season, which as of right now holds a lot of uncertainties with some of their big senior pieces possibly leaving the team for professional contracts or jobs in their major field. Despite this, Otremba is confident in what the Mavericks are going to have next season, and knows the team can make some noise around the WCHA given the chance.
“Our season went pretty well, but we can do better. We were right up there starting off the season, being in close games with Ohio State and other top teams in the WCHA,” said Otremba. “It’s really hard seeing all year that we were RV, were RV. We were always close, competing with top teams, so it’s hard not getting that recognition for our team.”
“Obviously, we’re a good team,” said Otremba. “We believe in ourselves. Next year will be a good year.”
Write to Kole Buelow at Kole.Buelow@mnsu.edu
Header Photo: The MSU Women’s Hockey team closes their season with a 15-20-1 record after a two-game loss against the Wisconsin Badgers in the WCHA tournament quarterfinals. (Lilly Anderson)