By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — St. Olaf had turned the tide, and Gustavus Adolphus men’s hockey goaltender Tyler Venne was down on the floor of the Don Roberts Ice Rink, clutching his neck.
“My throat was closing up,” Venne said. “It was a moment of panic.”
He wasn’t the only one who was worried.
With a trip to the MIAC semifinals on the line, the Gusties’ bench watched and waited in anticipation as their only option in goal over the second half of the season took his time to get to his feet. The senior caught his breath after taking the hard shot to an unprotected area under his mask and, after a couple of minutes, put his helmet back on and stayed in the game.
And how’s this for a sigh of relief: Venne went on to stop 29 of 31 shots in a 3-2 first-round playoff victory Friday.
“He battled; he’s a warrior,” Gusties coach Brett Petersen said. “He knows he’s not coming out.”
About five minutes after getting hurt, Venne made the save of the game, diving across his crease to swat down and rob a sure goal by the Oles’ Joel Lundstrom at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.
“If anything (the shot to the throat) woke me up,” said Venne, who was playing in his 14th consecutive game after two other goaltenders were lost for the season with injuries.
The Gusties have lost just two games over that stretch and have won seven in a row, including the last three games against St. Olaf.
After a little more than one period, Venne probably thought he could have taken a snooze and rest up for tonight’s game.
The Gusties dominated the first 20 minutes, putting 25 shots on goal and grabbing a 2-0 lead on goals by Tyler Lapic and Ryan Peterson.
If not for Oles goaltender Henrik Wood, it would have been an early blowout. Wood stopped two breakaways among his 23 first-period saves and finished the game with 37 stops.
“We went for the jugular in the first period,” Petersen said. “That’s the best period we’ve played this year by far, but we were only up 2-0. (Wood) was really good. He kept them in there.”
It looked like more of the same to start the second, as Zach May made it 3-0 just 65 seconds in. But after killing off a Gustavus power play, the Oles charged back.
Lundstrom got St. Olaf on the board at 3:18, and Dan Cecka made it 3-2 with 3:41 remaining in the period — after Venne’s highlight save.
After seeing just three shots in the first period, Venne faced 18 in the second and 10 more in the third.
“After their first (goal), I knew I had to refocus,” Venne said. “It’s tough when you don’t see that many shots early.”
The Gusties (16-7-3) now will play top-seeded St. Thomas at 7:30 p.m. in Mendota Heights. St. Thomas swept the regular-season series, winning 6-0 and 2-1 in November.