ELMIRA, N.Y. — What a start to the first NCAA Division III Women’s Frozen Four.
A tightly-contested goaltenders’ battle between NESCAC champion Bowdoin and ECAC East champion Manhattanville went to overtime, where on a shot from the point through a wall of players, Manhattanville’s Melanie Grover scored the game winner at the 3:20 mark, giving the Valiants a 2-1 victory in the first semifinal.
It was Grover’s second game on defense in her college career. With Manhattanville short on defensemen, the Valiants had been moving forwards back all season. The timing couldn’t have been better for Grover.
After a scrum in front of the net, where Bowdoin’s Emily McKissock made some big saves, the puck sneaked out to the point where Grover was waiting.
“When it came out to me,” Grover explained. “I just thought, ‘At least get a piece of it. Please don’t whiff. Please don’t whiff.’”
She did anything but whiff firing a bullet that McKissock didn’t have a prayer on.
“I saw her stick, but I didn’t see the puck,” McKissock said. “So, I thought I would just go down. It was a good shot.”
“The biggest shot of my life,” Grove agreed.
From the get-go, this was a game destined for overtime. The first period ended in a scoreless tie despite a number of opportunities, including Manhattanville’s Nicole Blais hitting the crossbar on a breakaway.
Early in the second period, Manhattanville finally broke the ice. After the initial save by McKissock, Emily Duer pounced on the loose puck in front and banged it home.
That goal seemed to inspire Bowdoin, and the Polar Bears picked up the intensity of their game. However, Renee Kirnan was equal to the task, and stymied them every time.
The pace of the action intensified as the game went on, and the third period was no exception.
Manhattanville picked up an early penalty, and Bowdoin pounded the net. Kirsti Anderson’s blast from the slot was stopped by Kirnan, and Shelly Chessie missed a wide-open net. Afterwards, two point-blank shots were stopped by Kirnan.
Just when it seemed like Bowdoin wouldn’t get on the scoreboard, the Polar Bears finally scored the moment a too-many-men penalty against them expired.
“We’re real aggressive in our man-down forechecking,” explained Bowdoin coach, Michelle Amidon.
That forechecking enabled Marissa O’Neil to skate across the slot area and let one go that eluded Kirnan.
“The lighting is kind of wierd in this rink,” Kirnan said afterwards. “I guess I lost sight of the puck briefly, and my stick wasn’t on the ice.”
With the score tied at one apiece, the action got even more furious. With under six minutes remaining, Manhattanville’s Ali Annunziato took a point blank shot that was stopped by McKissock, but not before McKissock looked behind her, not knowing she had it between her legs.
A minute later, Melissa Hawkins, the Valiants’ best player in the final period, raced down the left side, letting go a shot that required a great save by McKissock. Hawkins never slowed down, and one-timed her own rebound, on which McKissock made an acrobatic save.
Manhattanville coach Rick Seely wasn’t surprised at McKissock’s play. “She stoned us last year up in Bowdoin.”
With a minute and a half left, Bowdoin found itself on the Valiants’ doorstep, but Kirnan turned the Polar Bears away.
Manhattanville had golden opportunities with 20 seconds left and again with two seconds left, but couldn’t end the game.
In the locker room before the extra period, Seely reminded his players of their goal. “I told them all week our goal was to get into overtime. They were hanging their heads after letting up the lead, but I said it doesn’t matter how we got to overtime.”
While Bowdoin is relegated to the consolation game, Amidon is still expecting a strong effort from her team. “We want to go out on a strong note. An upbeat note. Beating any of these teams is an accomplishment.”
Meanwhile, Manhattanville looks forward to the title game against Elmira, an 8-5 winner over Gustavus Adolphus. Seely expects the same strategy from his Valiants.
“We’re going to come out and play an aggressive, forechecking game,” he said.
Manhattanville will get that opportunity thanks to a forward turned defenseman’s best shot of her life.