Women’s hockey advances to MIAC championship

MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. – Led by senior forward Tara Baago’s team-leading 15th goal of the season, the second-seeded St. Thomas women’s hockey team defeated the third-seeded Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers 3-2 Saturday afternoon at Saint Thomas Ice Arena to advance to the MIAC championship game.

Scoring one goal in each period, the Tommies took a decisive lead with goals late in the second period and early in the third. The Cobbers were able to claw back after the Tommies committed six penalties in the second period.

“The good thing is that we do a good job of killing penalties,” coach Tom Palkowski said. “The hard part is that you are using up a lot of your key players trying to do it. But we were able to fend them off and get the W.”

The Tommies jumped out to a 1-0 lead three minutes into the first period on a power play goal by junior defender Tori Bailey. Bailey deflected the puck past the Cobber goalie Madison Denny for her fourth goal of the season.

Cobber sophomore defender Morgan Burns returned the favor with a power play goal of her own midway through the second period. Burns’s third goal of the season evened it up at 1-1.

But Baago took back the lead to give the Tommies a 2-1 lead going into the second intermission.

“It was kinda lucky,” Baago said. “I basically just drove hard down the side and saw my linemates going to the net. I threw it in there somewhere, and somehow it went in.”

The game was Baago’s 99th in a Tommie uniform. The win means that she will get to lace up her skates for her 100th career game next Saturday.

“It’s been really fun every year getting to play,” Baago said. “These girls become your best friends no matter who they are every year. It’s just your best friends playing together. It’s been really fun to get a hundred games in.”

Sophomore forward Hannah Bird added an unassisted insurance goal one minute into the final frame to extend the Tommie lead to 3-1.

“The whole goal tonight was to just put everything on net,” Bird said. “I got it kinda low in the corner and just shot it and saw the rebound. Luckily it came out to me”

With the win, the Tommie women advance to the finals of the MIAC tournament and will face the Bethel Royals at Saint Thomas Ice Arena on Saturday March 7.

“It will definitely be a good one. We always play well against them,” Baago said. “They have goal scorers, but we’re going to play good defense. We’ve got a good goalie in Taylor (Neisen). We’ll shut them down and get our own goals.”

With an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line, Palkowski said he also likes how the Tommies match up against the Royals in next week’s game.

“They’ve got some offensive weapons, and they seem like they’re starting to click and play pretty well these last couple weekends,” Palkowski said. “We’ve traditionally played them pretty tough in our rink, so hopefully we can hold home ice advantage, but it will be tough.”

Zach Neubauer can be reached at neub0009@stthomas.edu.