ELMIRA, N.Y. — Elmira needed to depend on its defense instead of its heralded offense to squeak by Wis.-River Falls, 2-1, in the second semifinal of the NCAA Division III Women’s Frozen Four in a hard fought, physical, and defensive battle.
“If our defense hadn’t played well, we wouldn’t have won,” Elmira coach Jamie Wood said. “That was the hardest working team we faced this year.”
At first it appeared Elmira was going to run away with the game as it jumped out of the gates at full speed. Pressuring the River Falls net finally paid off at 4:21 when Lindsay Palmer converted a two-on-two. She one-timed a pass from Shannon Sargent, who brought it into the zone down the right side.
“We were hoping we wouldn’t come in and be a little star struck,” River Falls coach Joe Cranston said. “Once we got the jitters out, we were okay.”
After those jitters were gone, the Falcons took it right to Elmira. It resulted in a tying goal at 9:50. Mandy Stokes powered it by Edith Racine from the slot area. The play started due to an Elmira turnover that allowed River Falls to keep the puck in the zone.
It wasn’t just defense in normal situations that Elmira had to depend on. It was also its penalty-killing abilities. Elmira picked up two consecutive too many player penalties in the first period. Later in the game, another too many players penalty would result in yet another five-on-three for River Falls.
“It’s a good thing we practiced our five-on-three penalty kill this week,” Wood said.
Elmira was able to kill off each and every shorthanded situation.
“They [River Falls] had a lot of chances to score,” Racine said. “They got good shots off. My defense played real, real good. I give them credit for the win.”
Elmira again came out strong in the second period, but River Falls once again weathered the storm. Elmira did get the winning goal later in the period, at 11:09, off a rebound.
Laura Hurd skated the puck to the right faceoff circle, moved in, and fired a shot.
“It snuck through the five-hole,” goal scorer Jaclyn O’Neil explained. “And I saw it, and knocked it in.”
After that goal, defense and goaltending was the order of the day for both teams, despite many offensive rushes.
“It was real frustrating for awhile,” O’Neil said about the many failed chances. “You just have to keep concentrating on trying to get more chances.”
“It was up and down,” Cranston said. “The chances came when they did.”
Whenever those chances did come, the goaltenders foiled them. Sometimes, it didn’t get that far, as defenders backchecked to knock the puck off of players’ sticks.
Chances in the third period included Elmira striking the post, Meghan Wahlstrom-Ramler of River Falls just missing a breakaway while shorthanded by two players, an Elmira goal waved off because it was kicked in, Racine stoning a Falcons’ player at the doorstep, an Elmira two-on-one stopped with a great save by Marlene Yaeger and then made another strong save on the rebound, Elmira passing it right through the crease but with nobody there, and a River Falls three-on-one that it failed to properly execute.
The third period also became very physical, but that didn’t bother the much smaller River Falls team.
“That’s the style we play,” Cranston said. “It gets physical, but we wanted to play five-on-five, because our power play wasn’t clicking.”
One of the reasons he didn’t get to play five-on-five is because there were many well executed body checks. However, in women’s hockey, that is not allowed. A total of eight body checking penalties were called.
River Falls pulled its goalie in the last half minute, but were unable to tie the game.
The Falcons now play Bowdoin in the consolation game Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. ET. Their strategy won’t change.
“Our goals don’t change for every game that we come in,” Cranston said. “Our goal is to outwork the other team.”
Which is what they nearly did to Elmira.
Meanwhile, the championship game will be an encore performance of last year, pitting Elmira against Manhattanville.
“I think it’s going to be a great game,” LeAnne Denman said. “For the national championship to have the two best teams in the country is great.”
“We know it’s going to be a tough game,” Wood said. “This year both our teams are better. The big difference this year for both teams is depth. We’re looking forward to playing them. They have so many good players to keep an eye on, we’re just going to play our game. It’s going to be a great game.”
That “great” game will take place Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.