ROCHESTER, N.Y. — There may have been a men’s national playoff game down the road at RIT, but those fans didn’t get their money’s worth. The best playoff game in the Flower City took place at the ESL Centre between Gustavus Adolphus and Williams College in the semifinal round of the AWCHA Division III Women’s Hockey Championship.
Gustavus pulled out a heart-stopping win over Williams, 2-1, on a fluke goal by Nikki Norton with 7:15 left in the game. However, the contest was far from over as both teams continued to skate with extreme intensity, climaxing with a Williams power play in the final minute and a half in the contest.
Though the action picked up quickly, both teams felt they came out slow.
“We felt like we were uptight in the first period,” said Williams coach Joe Milan.
Gustavus coach Mike Carroll concurred. “Our nerves were a little tight early on.”
That didn’t prevent the teams from trading goals. Gustavus got on the board first at the 9:36 mark as Sarah Moe fired a hard shot on net. Williams’ Monelle Quevillon made the save, but the rebound came right out to Molly Venter, who sent it in glove-high.
Less than two minutes later, Williams tied it up. Freshman sensation Molly Wasserman had a step on the Gusties’ defenders as she received a pass across the blueline. She skated in deep, perhaps too deep, and sent a backhander towards the net. Goalkeeper Molly O’Donnell misplayed it, and the puck found its way into the net.
“I had a step on the defenders because I was skating towards them,” Wasserman said about the goal. “The goalie bobbled it, and I got a good bounce.”
The action in the second period was at a furious pace as both teams came out fired up.
“We said, ‘Let’s go out there with a bit of swagger,’” said Milan. “It was probably our best second period of the year.”
Agreed Carroll, “Both teams played better in the second.”
Despite that, nobody could light the lamp. O’Donnell and Quevillon were matching each other save by save, defenders were clearing rebounds away, and the forwards were initiating quick counterattacks. Even breakaways couldn’t be converted.
The third period saw an increase in penalties, but nobody was able to get a power-play goal all night.
After successfully killing off two penalties, Gustavus finally broke the deadlock on a flukish goal.
The goal-scorer, Norton, explained.
“I got a great pass from Ellen [Doyle], shot it towards the net, and it hit a shoulder and went in.”
Quevillon also saw it that way, but wasn’t so happy about it, “One goal was scored on a good opportunity, one on bad luck. It bounced on girl’s shoulder and bounced in.”
Williams then applied intense pressure to try and get the equalizer. With 2:22 left, Williams had its best opportunity, but O’Donnell made a sensational kick-save to preserve the lead.
Shortly afterwards, the Gusties’ Kirsten Olson was called for interference with 1:42 left in regulation, and after a fruitless minute of power play, with 30 seconds left, Williams pulled the goalie for a six-on-four. Still, though, no goal was forthcoming, giving Gustavus the win.
“We were sloppy moving the puck around,” said Milan.
Looking towards the consolation game, Milan said, “The girls love to compete. They love to win.”
Quevillon added, “It’s always better to end the season with a win than a loss.”
Meanwhile, Gustavus prepares for the championship game which will pit the best team from the West against the best from the East, Middlebury College.
“One of the strengths to our team is our skating,” says Carroll. “We have to be able to use that against Middlebury.”
For those folks in Rochester, or the vicinity, who are considering going to the second RIT men’s game, Williams’ coach Milan explained why they may want to change their minds.
“The ladies really wear their emotions on their sleeves. They come to battle every game, whether it’s a national playoff game or a pickup game in North Adams. It’s an incredible game.”
This last incredible game, between two powerhouses for all the marbles, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.