By Bill Brophy for WCHA.com
MADISON, Wi. – Janine Alder says she is a "nerd for goaltending." Like many in the sorority and fraternity of netminders, she can be quirky.
Despite being only a rookie in college hockey, Janine has played in the Olympics and won a bronze medal for her native Switzerland. She can speak five languages and has already written a book.
She added quite a chapter last Saturday. Alder made 59 saves, third-most in the history of the St. Cloud State women's hockey program, and the 21-year-old freshman provided her epilogue in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a National Collegiate Athletic Association women's game -- 15,359.
"That was just amazing. I say I try not to care if there are seven people or 15,000, but it was like 'oh my god'," said Alder. "I was smiling when they (the fans) got loud. It was a dream come true. I was just so stoked to be here and to have the opportunity to play here. This is just awesome for the whole of women's hockey itself and for our team."
Alder was smiling, almost euphoric as she spoke about the game and noisy, towel-waving crowd. And her team lost the game, 2-0. Wisconsin attempted 99 shots at Alder and, in stretches, rarely let St. Cloud State touch the puck. The shots on goal wee 61-12. But because of Alder's acrobatics, Huskies' coach Eric Rud got to pull his goalie with the hopes of stealing a road win in the final 90 seconds. The tactic was not successful and the Badgers, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) leaders and top-ranked team in the country, won their sixth-straight game.
"In key moments, she really seems to step up big for us," Rud said. "It doesn't get any bigger than that one."
Even before the game, Rud was talking in superlatives about his freshman goalie, who stands only 5-foot-5, but has played big this season. She has three shutouts and has already been named WCHA Rookie of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week. The Huskies are currently in the second division of the WCHA, but it's been their lack of consistent goal-scoring, not their defense and goaltending, that has led to the 6-16-2 record. Alder has put up good numbers -- a 2.50 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.
The Huskies' coach credits his assistant coach, Steve McDonald, for finding Alder on a recruiting trip years ago, and Rud and McDonald followed her after via video. When Katie Fitzgerald, now an all-star in the National Women's Hockey League, graduated, the Huskies' coaches went to the tape and brought in Alder without seeing her play last year.
"Steve was familiar with her, and when we were in a situation where we were looking for a goalie, we were digging up names and got video out," said Rud, now in his third year as coach at St. Cloud State. "I liked her footwork and her skating was elite, and at her size it has to be. We rolled the dice and took a chance on a kid we never saw live.
"She is usually square to the puck. She is compact. The one thing I love is that she is calm and doesn't panic. I love goalies who stay and wait people out. She isn't sprawling all over the place. She is a bright kid, speaks a bunch of languages. She is a fascinating character."
McDonald says he first noticed Janine because of her goalie mask, an oversized helmet.
"She had a goofy helmet on and she stuck out that way," said McDonald, who was recruiting for Minnesota Duluth at the time and landed Lara Stalder, Alder's teammate, on his European recruiting mission. "She was playing for the Swiss U-18 national team as the starting goalie. We have followed her ever since. It is great having her around in the room. She is very bright academically, one of our higher GPAs."
Alder is outgoing and smiles a lot. When told her coach said her oversized, goofy helmet got her noticed, she said, "Exactly. Everyone hates it but me.
"It was a Swedish helmet with a big cage. It helped me in men's hockey because they shoot so hard. They don't even produce it anymore. But I loved it. It was my identity. No one liked it. But I am going to bring it over here with me."
Alder got to meet her goaltending hero, the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundquist, at the Sochi Olympics when her Switzerland squad beat Sweden to win the bronze medal in 2014. Then she played for EHC Winterhur in Switzerland's second-highest men's junior league prior to joining St. Cloud State. She said she never considered playing women's college hockey in the U.S. until McDonald contacted her.
"I was luckiest girl ever that he saw me and they asked me to come over here," Alder said. "I never thought about it because I was going to play men's hockey in Switzerland. This is best decision I ever made because this is best women's hockey I have ever seen. I am so happy to be here."
Alder plans to be a communications major. She is fluent in French, Italian, German, English and German Swiss. As part of her prep school work she authored a book.
"I analyzed the competitive sports sphere with my life experiences," Alder said. "I wrote about how it psychologically is important, how it makes you a mentally strong person in life. To graduate in Switzerland, you have to do a project and this was my project. I want to continue writing this because it's like my memoirs."
Rud said on the ice Alder has been inconsistent at times, like all freshmen. Exhibit A might have been last Friday when the Badgers scored six goals on Alder in just over 33 minutes during a 9-0 victory at LaBahn Arena. But when the record crowd showed up at the Kohl Center on Saturday in a game televised in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, Alder shined. She kept her team in the game and exceeded her busiest game this season by 19 saves.
The crowd was the eighth-largest ever for a women's hockey game – all others were international games played in Canada. In fact, the Badgers and Huskies outdrew two National Hockey League games played in Florida (14,795) and Arizona (12,015) on Saturday.
"What a special event," said Rud. "It was truly a thrill for our kids to get out there and play and compete in that environment. It was a special day."
Alder said she wanted to redeem herself in the series finale after getting pulled in Friday's loss. But she maintained her confidence.
"I am super confident because I had played with the men," she said. "I am just a nerd for goaltending. That maybe helps me.
"I had hard games in Switzerland, but nothing like this -- the scenery with the crowd in a new stadium. I was happy it was close because we are a good team and we needed to show it today."
The "Fill the Bowl" promotion at Wisconsin will be recalled as a great moment for the growth and exposure of the women college's game. For St. Cloud fans, it likely will be recalled as the coming-out party for a multi-lingual, acrobatic little goaltender named Alder.
"She has showed the ability to play in big situations," said Rud. "She has had some big wins. She has been inconsistent at times, like all young players, but we are excited about the future with her."