ELMIRA, N.Y. — Elmira’s Stefanie McLean raced into the Plattsburgh zone with Jaclyn O’Neil on her left side and one defender back. McLean carried the puck in as long as she could, faked a shot and slid it over to O’Neil.
O’Neil didn’t waste the opportunity and one timed it past Carolyn Roy with 3:23 left in the game, giving Elmira the 4-3 victory in the second semifinal of the D-III women’s national championship.
“I saw Stef go,” O’Neil said. “And I had the open side. She made a nice fake shot and gave it over to me.”
“I don’t even remember the last goal,” a distraught Roy said after the game. “I put it out of my mind already.”
The large crowd of 2,059 at the Murray Athletic Center will not be putting that goal or the game out of their minds for a long time. In what was billed as the semifinal game not to miss, it lived up to all its pre-game hype.
This heated rivalry between Elmira and Plattsburgh entered its fourth act for 2004-5, and this game proved to be no different. The two teams played a hard fought, physical, back and forth contest.
“It’s always exciting to play against them,” Elmira’s Edith Racine said. “It’s always a big game.”
“Tough game. Such a tough game to lose,” said Plattsburgh’s coach Kevin Houle.
Plattsburgh went ahead just 2:21 into the game on a power play goal courtesy of a Chantalle Rye screen shot that found the five-hole.
Near misses on both ends kept the score at 1-0 for most of the first period. AHCA Player of the Year Laura Hurd hit a post for Elmira around the three-minute mark, and Rye missed on a shorthanded breakaway opportunity midway through the period. But with the clock ticking down, Stacey Calic dug the puck out from the side boards and centered the puck to Charissa Gawant in the slot for the finish 12 seconds before the first intermission.
“I think after watching the first period, that was the biggest goal up to that point,” Elmira coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson said. “Scoring a goal at the end from our mindset really calmed us down.”
The second period picked up in intensity as both teams were not afraid of playing the body, despite the resulting whistles. Seven penalties were called in that period with five on Elmira, but there was no scoring until there was 1:09 left on the clock. A Rye shot from the left point 10 seconds into a Plattsburgh power play was deflected over the goalie’s shoulder by Kelley Moore for a 2-1 lead.
Even after this go-ahead goal, the teams didn’t let up on the physical play. In fact, it increased as a scrum in the last minute resulted in offsetting penalties.
Entering the third period down by a goal was not an unfamiliar spot for Elmira.
“We’ve practiced this,” Nemetz-Carlson said. “We’ve been down by a goal in the third four times before, and we’ve come back. This group has more heart than any that I’ve known.”
Action did not slow down for the third period and due to two quick goal by Elmira. The crowd did not quiet down either.
McLean tied the game on the power play at 2:20 of the final period. Wysomierski’s shot from the left side was tipped on the way in by McLean, beating Roy just inside the outside post.
Just over two minutes later, Elmira grabbed a 3-2 lead. LeAnne Denman’s shot from high on the left side was blocked by a defender. It came right back to Denman who fired it again. It went to an unmarked Charissa Gawant in the high slot who deflected it into the corner of the net.
“One of the best feelings in the world,” Gawant said. “Feeling that was the goal that was going to win it, it was such a great feeling.”
That feeling didn’t last long enough for the Soaring Eagles as Jamie Longo tied it 3-3 for Plattsburgh at 10:44 of the third period on a play many thought was dead. Plattsburgh kept playing as no whistle sounded and Elmira was caught flatfooted.
A scrum in front of the net had resulted in an Elmira player falling on the puck.
“The [Elmira] girl jumped on the puck, and her teammates yelled at her it was going to be a delay of game,” Jamie Longo said. “Everybody thought it was dead, and I just jumped on it.”
When the player got up, the puck came right back out to the front. Longo fired the puck past an unprepared Racine.
“I didn’t really see the puck,” Racine said. “I thought one of our players was laying on it. I was waiting for the ref to blow the whistle.”
“It’s amazing how we handled it,” Nemetz-Carlson said.
How they handled it was scoring the winning goal six minutes later.
Plattsburgh goes to 21-6-1 and will play Gustavus-Adolphus in the consolation game. Three of those losses have been against archrival Elmira.
The Purple Eagles move to 24-3 and into the national championship game against Middlebury, the defending D-III champion who ended Elmira’s run in last year’s quarterfinals.
“We’re not looking back to last year,” Racine said. “We’re just looking forward. What we are going to think about is playing hard.”
It will be hard to top this thriller, but Nemetz-Carlson is not concerned.
“If you enjoyed today, tomorrow will be better,” he said.