ELMIRA, N.Y. — The second semifinal of the Division III Women’s Frozen Four was very unlike the first.
The early contest was a goaltending battle, a low-scoring affair. The second game, pitting ECAC West champion Elmira and MIAC regular-season champ Gustavus Adolphus, was an offensive explosion in which Elmira finally came out with an 8-5 victory.
“You don’t always want to be in that kind of game,” Elmira coach Jamie Wood said. “But it’s good that we came out on top.”
Leading the way for the Soaring Eagles was freshman sensation Laura Hurd with a hat trick, along with one assist. Hurd’s goals gave Elmira a cushion it would never relinquish.
Elmira came out as if it had a point to prove. Said Michelle Rennie, “I honestly don’t remember the first period. We were so pumped. You couldn’t bring our team down.”
Hurd got the scoring started just 1:08 into the game with a two-on-one rush. Lindsay Palmer passed it to Hurd on her right side, and Hurd ripped it back to the opposite side.
Gustavus came back just 49 seconds later on a goal by Ann Katz, but Elmira jumped back out to a 3-1 lead on goals by Rennie, one of only two non-freshmen on the team, and Charissa Gawant.
Gustavus made it 3-2 at the end of the period when Kenzie Stensland scored the first of her three goals for the night, on a shot from the point through a screen.
Then the Hurd Show began.
“I thought Laura played one heck of a game,” gushed Wood. “She was flying and ready to go.”
Hurd scored twice in a second period that gave Elmira a 5-2 lead. At that point, Gustavus called time out, and replaced starting goalie Molly O’Donnell with Anne Kautzer.
It was also at that point that the seniors on Gustavus refused to give up. The Gusties continued to come back no matter how many times their goals were matched.
The third period saw six goals; each time Gustavus cut the lead to two, only to have Elmira go back up by three.
“After getting off to a sluggish start,” Gustavus coach Mike Carroll said, “in the second half, I felt we really took it to them. I’m proud of our team. We didn’t give up. That was the most puck-smart team we’ve played this year.”
Besides the hat tricks of Hurd and Stensland, Katz scored two goals and Palmer got a goal and four assists.
The result sets up a rematch between Elmira and Manhattanville, which played earlier this year in a 3-0 win for Elmira.
That was the regular season. This is the national championship.
“It’s going to be a battle tomorrow, but we’re ready,” coach Wood said. “At this point, you throw out the previous results. Tomorrow will be a different game.”
“It’s a great chance for our players who have worked hard all year.”
And Hurd understands the chance. “At the start of the season, you always hope for this, but you don’t exactly expect it.”
Playing in front of a strong crowd of 1,854 was also special for Hurd, who said, “[It's] always fun to be in front of a home crowd.”
Saturday very well could see a capacity crowd as Elmira looks to win its first-ever hockey national championship, men or women.
Wood said, “That’s why you play sports. For stuff like this.”