October 24, 2023
Salt Lake City, Utah
This weekend the University of Utah Women’s Division 1 team faced off against a very good Colorado State University squad, and the Utes showed-out for their home opener. W1 collected 4 points with two very close and hard-fought wins against the Rams, moving their record on the season to 4-2. Coming into the game the Rams were 3 points ahead of the Utes in the Women’s Western Collegiate Hockey League standings, but now Utah lies 1 point ahead.
The action began on Friday afternoon. W1 was coming off a frustrating weekend in Arizona and were determined to turn things around. The mood around the team pre-game was loose, but serious and determined at the same time. The first 15 minutes or so were tight-checking and had the occasional chance at either end but things eventually opened up for a possession or two and the Utes took their chance. After a clean d-zone exit on the far boards Molly Murphy fed a pass to Ava Kistner who was streaking up the middle. With two Rams defenders draped all over her she was able to backhand a pass to Halle Hansen, who caught the puck in her skates and then let it rip. Shooting from between the dots and all by herself, the puck hit twine before the goalie could even react. 1-0 Utah.
Late in the second frame Colorado State committed a bench minor and the Utes headed to the power play, where a Valerie Stevenson shot from the point found its way into the back of the net. Their 2-0 lead quickly vanished once the 3rd period began when the Rams scored 2 minutes in and then once again 10 minutes later. As the clock ran down the score stood at 2-2. The Utah lead had evaporated, but that meant that somebody had the opportunity to provide some overtime heroics. Starting OT with about 1:30 worth of PP time, Utah was unable to put the game away, so it would have to be decided at 4v4. While Colorado attempted a clearance, Kistner stepped up at the blue line, won the puck, and rushed into the zone. With a defender on her back she put the puck through an oncoming Ram, dug in on her edges with a sharp turn toward the net, and buried the shot on the near-side.
The Utes won 3-2. Kistner was the star of the show with an apple and the overtime game winner, Hansen also had a goal and an assist, and netminder Caroline Steegmans stood on her head. Steegmans posted a .936 save percentage, blocking 30/32 and giving her team a chance to upset CSU.
On Saturday night the Rams were the ones who scored first and they held onto their lead for more than 40 minutes of play. The Utes took 5 consecutive minor penalties spanning the first and second periods, making the chance to tie the game fairly grim. But the penalty kill was fantastic and they continued to bail their teammates out. The game was tight, nobody gave anybody much room to make a play and the goaltenders were determined to keep the goal horns silent. Hitting the ice for the third the Utes were only down by one and they knew that a comeback was more than in the cards.
Utah came out moving in the 3rd and they were on a mission. They were skating quicker and generating more chances than they had before, and it soon bore fruit. 5 minutes in Kistner had a great chance off of the faceoff as she swooped in front of the goalie but was stoned by the pad. Seconds later on the opposite dot, Murphy tied up her opponent on the face-off and Kistner snuck in, corralled the puck, and fired it past the goalie. The game was knotted at one and the Utes now had all of the momentum. Finding themselves in penalty trouble and down a woman with just 4 minutes to go in the period the Utes were still determined to score again and finish the Rams off before the game could reach OT. While skating 4 against 5 in the offensive zone, Emel Aichele took a wrister from the point which was tipped on net by Sonia Charman, who then got the puck to Lila Ellsworth who was crashing the net hard. Ellsworth found the puck and buried it on the doorstep. 2-1 Utah!
Scoring short-handed left CSU extremely frustrated and with all of the momentum on their side Utah was able to defend their lead and edge out another win against a very good Rams club. Goalie Miranda de Antunano played fantastically, putting up 30 saves on 31 shots, completely shutting the door after the early Rams tally. Utah’s big third period included 20 shots on net (CSU had only 6), 2 successful penalty kills (a short-hander to boot), and 2 insanely clutch goals. W1 was very impressive this weekend and they played their hearts out for the home opener, walking away with 4 more essential points in the bank and many memories.
The Utes now find themselves tied with the University of Denver atop the WWCHL standings. W1 should be feeling pretty happy with their game right now and carry these great results into next weekend, when they hit the road to play Grand Canyon University (0-5).