14 Feb 19
The University of St. Thomas women’s hockey team hasn’t lost a game since December 2017 and is riding a 36-game winning streak.
The Tommies don’t have a MIAC playoff championship or national title to show for it. They were banned from tournament action last season after what its sports information department described as a “self-imposed penalty following an alcohol incident in the March 2017 postseason.”
The Tommies are ranked No.1 in NCAA Division III with a 21-0-2 record — 29-0-7 since last their last loss — and are eligible for conference and NCAA postseason games this season. They play fourth-ranked and once-beaten Hamline, a Frozen Four participant last season, in Friday and Saturday games at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights and St. Paul’s TRIA Rink, respectively.
The Pioneer Press talked with Tommies coach Tom Palkowski about his team’s winning streak and the upcoming postseason.
Is your team good enough to win a national title?
I believe we are. Any good hockey team starts with a goalie and through the blue line. We have arguably the best goalie in the nation (Kenzie Torpy) and a couple of really good defenders. Our defensive core is pretty solid.
Is Hamline as tough as any team in Division III?
I have not seen them play yet this year, but they’re one of the top scoring teams in the country. It’s going to be offense versus defense, so we’ll see how it plays out.
How much has the self-imposed penalty from last season played a role in the unbeaten streak?
I really think that’s where it started. I give credit to last year’s seniors. We had one goal last year and that was to win the MIAC regular season, which we did. They wanted to get it done and they did. This year’s team has rallied around that and kept the streak in mind. We’re trying to keep it rolling.
Are you players itching to show just how good they are?
They have a workmanlike attitude every day in practice. They don’t let adversity affect them. It kind of goes back to last year. We had adversity to deal with and they didn’t let it bother them.
Was this self-imposed penalty a big learning experience for all teams on campus?
I think it was a big learning experience for not only our campus but a lot of teams in the MIAC, and also throughout the country. Be careful what you do. There are consequences for actions that probably weren’t the smartest.
Was the penalty your idea or did it come from the administration?
That was the athletic department’s call.
Are any players still with the team from the 2017 incident?
We still have a few players that were part of the team. Nobody that was involved in the incident is with us. We had two senior players and a student manager who were involved and they graduated in 2017.
It is not easy to play 36 games without a loss in hockey. Is this the best team you’ve had?
I think so. It is our most well-balanced team. It’s the fastest team we’ve had, and the depth we’ve had (has been strong). We’ve lost two kids to season-ending injuries but haven’t missed a beat.
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In women’s college hockey, because there are not that many options, is there much of a drop off from a Division I to a Division III player?
The high Division I schools, like Minnesota, have the top-end kids. I know there are plenty of kids on our team and other D-III teams who didn’t get the opportunity (to play D-I) or chose the education of a D-III school. Some D-III schools could play against some D-I schools.
You’ve been coaching more than 30 years, the last dozen at St. Thomas. Any interest in coaching a Division I or Division II program or are you content where you are?
At my age — I’m 54 — I think I’m pretty content. I’ve always left it that as long as I’m having fun and enjoying going to the rink every day, I will keep coaching. I’ve always had a good time at St. Thomas.
Bob Sansevere can be heard Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on the KQ Morning Show and his daily podcast can be downloaded atthebsshow.net.