Happy, but not yet satisfied.

That’s the phrase Gustavus Adolphus women’s ice hockey head coach Mike Carroll used to describe his Golden Gusties following their 2-1 NCAA quarterfinal win last Saturday against visiting Wisconsin-River Falls.

It was GAC’s third one-goal victory against the Falcons this season, but the Gusties seemed to have particular trouble on Saturday. Playing at its Don Roberts Ice Arena home in Saint Peter, Minn., Gustavus (now 26-0-1) was made to work harder than some had expected in order to make Leah Johnson’s second-period goal stand up as the winner.

With that ground-out win, the Gusties advanced to this week’s NCAA Division III women’s hockey semifinal in Superior, Wis.. Relieved though he was in the end, Carroll felt his GAC team hadn’t put its best proverbial foot forward in a game that, if the score was flipped, would’ve meant both the end of the Gusties’ season and their then 27-game unbeaten streak.

“It was the third time we’d played them this season, and it’s often come down to either us or them [during] the last couple of years,” Carroll said. “And we certainly did not play our best game, but part of that was River Falls playing extremely well.

“But good teams seem to find a way to work through things, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

If the Gusties can upend Elmira (22-5-1) on Friday night in Superior, GAC would get another crack at winning the program’s first national championship.

Gustavus has never been quite able to reach the mountaintop -– this is Carroll’s 10th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, and GAC finished among the last four in each of the past three seasons – but the de facto Division III women’s hockey western champions are hopeful that this could be their year.

Apart from the Gusties’ near-stumble against UWRF last weekend, things have gone well for GAC this season. Gustavus has won each of its last nine games going into Friday’s national semifinal, and the only blemish on the team’s record this season was the result of a 1-1 tie at Wisconsin-Superior on Feb. 5.

The Gusties will have their hands full against Elmira, though. The Soaring Eagles went on the road to Bowdoin for the teams’ NCAA quarterfinal last Saturday and, though the Polar Bears outshot Elmira 37-25, the visitors left Brunswick, Maine 4-0 winners.

EC went 7-for-7 on the penalty kill against Bowdoin and Soaring Eagles senior goaltender Lauren Sullivan stopped all 37 shots she faced en route to her 10th shutout of the season.

Gustavus Adolphus vs. Elmira
 
Scoring Average 4.57 3.33
Total Goals 137 70
Goals Against Avg. 1.67 1.71

Sullivan has been a revelation for EC down the stretch this season, posting a 13-4-1 record, 1.16 goals against average and .936 save percentage. She had split time with junior netminder Lisa Marshall earlier in the campaign, but Soaring Eagles head coach Dean Jackson hasn’t regretted giving Sullivan the reins full-time in the home stretch.

“It’s important for our mindset to know that we’re not going to be splitting hairs down the stretch when we’re to the point where we have one game per weekend like we did with the quarterfinals,” Jackson said. “Lauren’s been fantastic, and she’s getting the job done.

“The Bowdoin game was a perfect example of having a hot goaltender making the saves she needs to make and then making those second and third-effort saves that are so important at this time of the season.”

Up front, the Soaring Eagles have enjoyed the sometimes overlooked luxury of not being carried by just one or two players. No EC skater has hit the 30-point mark –- although sophomore forward Ashley Ryan (16 goals, 13 assists) leads the way 29 -– but six have at least 21, and 15 Soaring Eagles are in double-digits.

“It’s nice to not have to count on just a couple of players or just a couple of lines,” Jackson said. “We’re getting a lot of secondary scoring and our defensemen are getting involved in that, so it’s nice to have such depth throughout the lineup that anybody on our team can score.

“That provides us with a big threat to our opponents going into each game.”

The Soaring Eagles will be in for another challenge on all fronts against Gustavus. The Gusties possess Division III’s third-stingiest defense (1.14 goals conceded per game), and they are averaging 3.46 goals scored per game at the other end of the ice.

Much of the credit for the Gusties’ defensive success has to go to freshman goaltender Lindsey Hibbert. Hibbert has posted a 16-0-1 record so far in her collegiate career, and her .922 save percentage places her fifth among Division III freshmen this season.

Gustavus hasn’t spread the scoring wealth around as much as Elmira has -- the Gusties only have six players in double digits on the team’s scoring chart -- but four have hit the 20-point mark. Senior forward Lindsey Hjelm (13 goals, 14 assists) leads the pack with 27 points and freshman forward Allison Eder-Zdechlik (13 goals, 10 assists) has 23.

So far, though, apart from video the two teams will have seen on each other, neither team knows a whole lot about the other apart from statistics.

“At this point, we don’t know a lot about Gustavus,” Jackson said. “What I’m anticipating is a team that’s very quick and very skilled. They move the puck well and can get goals from almost anybody in their lineup, and they’re very strong on the power play.

“They’re a dangerous team, and their statistics don’t lie. Coach Carroll has done a great job there year-in and year-out, and that’s kept them so consistent this year and staying undefeated this long.”

Carroll lauded the Soaring Eagles similarly, going on to imply that he was glad that EC and the east’s other powers that are still alive this season are having to travel to relatively near GAC, the best of the west.

“Elmira’s certainly a very good hockey team, and one of the top teams in the east,” Carroll said. “Between them and Plattsburgh and Norwich and Middlebury and Manhattanville and Bowdoin, all of those teams have close, hard-fought games.

“Elmira was a couple years ago in the same situation we’re in now, so we have to embrace the opportunity that we don’t have to get on an airplane and can instead let being the nearest team [to Superior] be an advantage to us.”

As its campus is only about three hours down Interstate 35 from Superior, Gustavus can expect to have the biggest fan following of the teams in this season’s semfinalists. The Gusties’ hope will be that their talent and support inside Wessman Arena leads their program at long last to the Division III summit.