Rachel Anderson scored the winning goal for St. Scholastica last Saturday afternoon in overtime, capping a weekend sweep over visiting Marian. It says so right in the box score: Goal by Rachel Anderson.
Top shelf wrister from the slot, blew up the goalie's water bottle?
"I didn't even see it," said Anderson, a sophomore from Shoreview, Minnesota. "The puck went off my skate or shin pad. Just a lucky bounce and it went through. I just started getting mauled and I heard the crowd go crazy."
Honest hockey is great hockey.
The Saints (3-0-1) were frustrated all game by Marian goalie Lindsey Strainis, who deserved the number-one star for her efforts. Strainis stopped 66 shots on the day. The lone goal against required a power play, a screen and a lucky bounce off the leg of Anderson. The screen element is perhaps most telling, in that the only way to beat Strainis on that day was for her to not SEE the puck. She may as well have been blindfolded.
"It was ridiculous," said Anderson. "We had two or three breakaways, perfect chances to score. (Strainis) was amazing. Just save after save, she stood on her head.
As long as we kept working hard and staying to our systems, we felt that a goal was going to come. No one was negative on the bench; it was all positive. It took overtime to do it, but we got it done."
St. Scholastica head coach Jackie MacMillan knows a thing or two about goaltending - she was an all-WCHA netminder at Wisconsin - and she was thoroughly impressed with Strainis.
"It was probably the best performance I've seen since I've been here in this league," said MacMillan, who is in her ninth season with the Saints. "She was making some big-time saves. We focus on quality scoring chances, not shots on goal. We had to get some people in front of her, take away her eyesight, because everything she was seeing, she was stopping."
MacMillan was also impressed with the way her team handled the situation. Pouring shots on goal with nothing to show on the scoreboard can be infuriating and cause a team to collapse mentally. There were similar challenges in the Saints' opening series at Augsburg where the team could have folded.
"Even against Augsburg, in a spot where we we were up and they pulled their goalie, there was never a panic on the bench," said MacMillan. "We stayed calm and stuck to what we needed to do. It's been that way for all four games thus far. They're not phased by the situations they're in. That mentality, not being affected by physical play or anything else, just being able to go out and do their job, it's helping them out a ton right now ... That's where I'm kind of amazed with what we have going right now, because that usually doesn't happen with young teams."
Against most teams, Strainis would have at least earned a point for her team with a tie. But the early reports on St. Scholastica are showing it's not an average team. The NCHA coaches picked the Saints second in the preseason poll. The Saints opened with the win and tie at Augsburg - which has been a solid team in the MIAC the past few years - and 3-0 and 1-0 wins over NCHA-foe Marian. They've gotten scoring from six different players, including three freshmen - addressing a question mark entering the year. And the goaltending has been fantastic thus far, with Lexi Thomeczek and Lori Huseby each posting shutouts already.
"We're doing a lot of things with confidence, in practice and in games right now," said Anderson. "We're starting to click with our lines and systems, which is really great to put in place. We're all clicking off ice as well, especially with our big freshmen class."
The young roster jumps off the page as something to keep an eye on with St. Scholastica. The Saints have just three seniors this year. Three of their top four scorers from last year are gone. Freshmen will need to contribute throughout the season.
"It's been pretty incredible," said MacMillan, about her important freshman class. "I knew we had some talented players, but their character and willingness to compete and wanting to pick things up quickly has been a difference-maker ... I keep telling them, if they continue on this path and play competitively, keep the desire to compete and win, they're going to go a long way."
"At first I thought it was going to be tricky with all the underclassmen," admitted Anderson, who is looking to build off her 17-point season a year ago. "But the seniors and juniors have done a great job welcoming everyone in. (The freshmen) are really nice girls that really love hockey and are passionate about it. They love learning and all the new experiences that come with college hockey."
Impact freshmen on the scoring front thus far have been Amber Tilander and Kayla Kasel. Both have scored twice in four games, with Tilander bagging game-winners against Augsburg and Marian.
To think this young team from Duluth will roll through the schedule without blemish or breakdown is unrealistic. The antidote to rookie mistakes (and many other mistakes in hockey, for that matter) can be found in great goaltending. Goalie rotations can be feast or famine, but MacMillan is convinced it's all feast with the chemistry between her netminders.
"I've seen (goalie competitions) when it's not healthy, and what they have going is unique," said MacMillan, about Thomeczek and Huseby. "They are extremely supportive of each other. They are making each other better by competing with each other, in a healthy manner ... It's pretty special for us to have this."
St. Scholastica will get a good test this weekend with a home-and-home series against Northland. The Jills were swept last weekend by No. 6 Adrian, but they did give the Bulldogs trouble in both games. The second game of the series was a 1-0 final.
For consistently strong play and to reach their goals for the year, Anderson says they need to stay focused, listen to their head coach and score.
"We just need to stick to our systems and do the little things. That will be key to our success this year. We need to capitalize. We've been working on that a lot and we know we have to do it. We need to stay focused all season - every game, every period."
MacMillan is looking to take the next step past the NCHA Semifinals, where the Saints' season has ended the past three years - sometimes in heart-breaking fashion, with CSS coming one bounce from a trip to the title game. The players like what their coach is cooking up for them.
"(MacMillan) is very hockey smart," said Anderson. "She knows what she's talking about. She's very fun, but focused. She is very approachable with questions and all that. You can go to her office whenever. She makes learning and the transition from high school to college hockey that much easier and enjoyable."
HOMETOWN: Shoreview, Minnesota
HIGH SCHOOL: Mounds View
2017-18: 6 goals, 11 assists, 17 points
MAJOR: Exercise Physiology
FAVORITE CLASS THIS SEMESTER: Anatomy and Physiology.
QUOTABLE: "I'm an exercise physiology major, so I find all that stuff really interesting. (Anatomy and Physiology class) is on the harder level of my classes, but it's a good challenge."