BOSTON — For the fourth straight year, Providence won a conference championship. For the first time, though, the Friars’ season is not over.
With a 3-1 win over scrappy No. 10 Connecticut (16-12-8), No. 9 Providence (21-10-5) successfully defended it’s Women’s Hockey East postseason title, and remained the only team to ever win the crown. The Friars won the previous two Hockey East titles and the ECAC East title the year before that but never advanced to NCAAs. This year the Hockey East title came with an NCAA autobid, so the Friars will keep playing.
“We have six seniors who have four championships,” said Rush Zimmerman, one of those seniors and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “Not many people can say that.”
Zimmerman had two assists in today’s game, in addition to a hat trick in yesterday’s win against Boston College. Her first assist today came on the most important goal of the game, which came off the stick of defenseman Kristin Gigliotti with just over five minutes remaining in the third period. The goal snapped a 1-1 tie between the teams and gave the Friars a lead they would never relinquish.
“Did you see that? It was a slapshot with her [Gigliotti's] head up inside the post to win a hockey game,” said Providence coach Bob Deraney. “It doesn’t get any more dramatic than that. I don’t care what kind of hockey you watch.”
On the play, Zimmerman cycled the puck back to defenseman Kathleen Smith, who shot the puck to the other corner, where Gigliotti roofed a shot over the shoulder of Connecticut goalie Kaitlyn Shain (27 saves).
“I saw the puck coming out,” said Gigliotti, who was also named to the All Tournament Team after amassing five points in the two games. “I put everything I had into it. I knew if I got the puck up high it had a chance to go in.”
“I would have had it,” joked Deraney, who was a goaltender with Boston University in his playing days. “The goal was glove side. I keep telling her not to shoot glove side. Luckily she didn’t listen.”
With the momentum firmly in their camp, the Friars added an insurance goal before the end of the game to account for the final margin of victory. Forward Karen Thatcher poked a puck into the net, after it had fallen at Shain’s feet in the goal crease.
The exciting finish was only possible due to an earlier Providence goal that tied the game at one. Connecticut had taken a lead in the waning moments of the first period when Jacquelyn McGuire took a rebound of a Tiffany Owens shot and put it past a sprawling, out of position Amy Thomas (14 saves).
At the midpoint the second, PC’s Cherie Hendrickson took a puck from out of the corner and backhanded it past Shain for the score.
“In a championship game, it comes down to special teams,” said Heather Linstad, Connecticut head coach. “They didn’t get a power play goal, but we had just gotten a man back when they scored.”
In point of fact, Connecticut had just killed off three straight penalties in the beginning of the period, before Hendrickson’s goal. That effort, combined with the lengthy overtime that Connecticut had played in the late game the day before, had an effect.
“All the marquee players were tired,” said Deraney. “I just wanted to get some fresh legs out there, and [Cherie Hendrickson] has produced points wherever she has played.”
Providence will travel to No. 1 Minnesota for the NCAA tournament next weekend.
“When I think about playing the top teams, they’ve got superstars on those teams. They’ve got Olympians on those teams,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t have that on our team.
“We don’t have one or two players who’ll take over the team. We have a full team. We have a group of 20 girls who play the game. I think that if you match us up against any opponents, and if we’re playing the game and have our heads on right, I’m completely confident that we can play against any team in the country.”