After suffering a broken ankle in an exhibition game Oct. 6, St. Cloud State junior captain Kobi Kawamoto missed seven games and, upon her return to the lineup, was not playing at 100 percent.
Sunday, she showed she’s regained the form that has made her an All-WCHA defenseman the last two seasons when she scored a breakaway goal with 2:42 to play in the game, giving the Huskies (7-15-0 overall, 4-12-0 WCHA) a 2-1 win over Ohio State (7-13-2, 5-7-2) at the National Hockey Center.
Kawamoto’s goal came after she picked up a loose puck behind her own net. She banked the puck off teammate Randie Jelinski, regained it at the top of the right faceoff circle, blew past a pair of Buckeye defenders in the neutral zone and proceeded to tuck the puck under the pads of OSU goalie April Stojak for her first tally of the season.
“I told the girls between the second and third periods that, if I scored, I was coming right to the bench,” Kawamoto said. “They were ready for me.”
The goal was an emotional lift for both Kawamoto and her team, which snapped a seven-game WCHA losing streak. SCSU head coach Jason Lesteberg said that Kawamoto’s return to full strength is a boost for the team.
“She showed me today some of the bruises she’s got from blocking shots,” Lesteberg said. “She’s making the sacrifices that, as an individual, you have to make to help your team out. She’s definitely the kind of player we want our players looking up to and that’s why she’s our captain.”
After Saturday’s 1-0 loss, in which the Huskies struggled through the game’s first 30 minutes, Sunday’s game initially looked like it might be headed in the same direction.
Ohio State dominated the game’s first five minutes, including a two-minute power play just two minutes, 20 seconds into the contest.
However, a successful penalty kill and a power play of their own less than three minutes later seemed to spark St. Cloud State.
“After about the five-minute mark, our kids started moving their feet,” Lesteberg said. “You can’t establish your systems in the neutral zone and the offensive zone if you’re not moving your feet. We realy started moving our feet and established our forecheck, kept the puck in the zone and created some chances.”
Even though they played a better team game than the previous day, the Huskies would have been in trouble if not for the play of senior goalie Laura Gieselman, who stopped 32 shots, including 14 in the final period.
“She’s an amazing goalie,” Kawamoto said. “She does everything well and she comes up with the second effort … and third effort and fourth effort.”
Gieselman and Stojak battled for 28 scoreless minutes before the Buckeyes broke the ice at 8:06 of the second period on the power play. Jennifer Desson’s shot from the right circle was blocked but picked up by Jana Harrigan, who made a quick pass to Jeni Creary at the top of the crease, and OSU’s scoring leader deposited her 14th goal of the season.
A goal with just seven seconds left in the first period on Saturday proved to be the game-winner for OSU Saturday and Buckeye head coach Jackie Barto felt that was a backbreaker for the Huskies. Sunday, her team gave up the late goal, this one with 12 seconds left in the second period, when Ashley Stewart pounded home a rebound from the left of the OSU goal to even the score and set up Kawamoto’s late-game heroics.
“We didn’t play well today,” Barto said. “We didn’t do the little things well that you need to do to be able to control the game. St. Cloud did do some of the little things they needed to do.”
The win for the Huskies moves them into sixth place in the WCHA standings, three points behind Bemidji State, who they will face Friday and Saturday in Bemidji. Ohio State, which remains in fourth place with 12 points, is one point ahead of BSU with seventh-place Minnesota State just five points out of fourth and four points out of fifth place.
Ohio State has a pair of nonconference games next weekend, hosting No. 10 Mercyhurst Saturday before travelling to Findlay for the Ohio Cup game Saturday.