Unsung goaltenders backstop Badgers, Buckeyes to NCAA women's hockey championship game
Ohio State's Amanda Thiele and Wisconsin's Cami Kronish had to fight to be their team's go-to-goaltender, and to get their team to the Frozen Four
DULUTH — You won’t find Ohio State junior goaltender Amanda Thiele on any All-American or All-WCHA teams this season. The same for Wisconsin redshirt senior goaltender Cami Kronish.
The only goalie awards those two have earned all season long were each nabbed two WCHA Goaltender of the Week honors.
No matter. Thiele and Kronish have backstopped their teams to Sunday’s NCAA championship game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The Badgers and the Buckeyes will drop the puck against each other for the fifth-time this season at 3 p.m. with Wisconsin seeking its NCAA-record seventh national championship while OSU is trying to go back-to-back.
Thiele made 17 saves last year in the Buckeyes’ 3-2 win over Minnesota Duluth on the campus of Penn State to win her school its first NCAA women’s ice hockey championship. OSU fifth-year senior Gabby Rosenthal said Thiele should be on those all-conference and All-American lists.
“What she has done for this program and what she has done in our games, she is definitely a top goaltender. That's no question,” Rosenthal said. “And for us that's huge to have someone back there like that as a rock for us. She gives us all the confidence that we will take care of our job and she will, too. We have her back 100% and we're just so thankful to have her behind us.”
Despite winning OSU a national championship last season, Thiele had to battle to be the Buckeyes’ go-to-goalie in the postseason.
The same goes for Kronish, though she only appeared in six games during her first four seasons as Wisconsin.
Kronish started 29 of the Badgers’ 40 games this season, initially rotating with redshirt sophomore Jane Gervais in September and October, and again in January and the start of February. She’s posted a .929 save percentage and 1.61 goals against average this year in 30 appearances with seven shutouts.
Badgers coach Mark Johnson said when Gervais hurt her ankle this year, Kronish ran with the starting job. Kronish wanted the job, she fought for it all season long and has given the Badgers a chance to win every time she is in net.
“I'm excited for her,” Johnson said. “A lot of athletes might give up and not wait for that opportunity. Or as they go through that process, not work hard enough not knowing if I'm gonna get a chance and when my chance comes. I don't know, and then all of a sudden, here it comes and I'm not quite ready. She's prepared. She's excited. She's accepted the challenge and done very well on it.”
Thiele started 23 games for the Buckeyes last season after playing just three games as a freshman. She finished with a .941 save percentage and 1.28 goals against average in 23 games with two shutouts. This year she has started 24 of 40 games while splitting time with seniors Raygan Kirk and Quinn Kuntz, posting a .912 save percentage and 1.84 GAA.
“We challenged them in January,” Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall said. “We're going to have to come down from one goaltender, where the others are going to be watching while one is playing. So which one do you want to be, what side of the fence? Amanda stepped up.”
Thiele has been the go-to-goalie for OSU since the Buckeyes picked up four of six points at Wisconsin in a 6-5 overtime loss and 3-1 win in Madison to close the regular season and clinch the program’s first WCHA regular season title.
Thiele 15 saves Friday in the Frozen Four semifinal win over Northeastern, with Muzerall calling Thiele’s save in the first period on a breakaway by Huskies fifth-year senior wing Maureen Murphy a momentum shifting play that afternoon.
Kronish finished with 37 saves in the 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota in the second Frozen Four semifinal, including 12 saves in the third period and 10 in overtime. She got scored on with 1:11 to play in regulation as a shot deflected of a fellow Badgers and in to force OT.
Kronish said the goal didn’t phase her. She brushed it off and went right back to work to keep the Badgers’ season alive.
“That last goal, in my view, was just a lucky bounce,” Kronish said. “The puck was going wide and it somehow got redirected into the net. So I just had to take a mental reset. I knew that we were playing the better game and that if we just stuck to our game plan, that things would work out for us in the end. You just have to work through bounces like that.”