PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — A season can turn on a bounce.
Friday’s NCAA semifinal between Plattsburgh and Wisconsin Stevens-Point was locked 1-1 into the 3rd period. Both teams were fighting hard, playing “grind it out, get the puck deep and go to the net” hockey when Plattsburgh’s Jessica Moreau came out from behind the Stevens Point goal for a wraparound. The attempt was well wide of the goal, but took a fluke bounce off a defender’s skate and skittered into the net past Point goalie Amy Statz, who was tightly holding the near post.
The goal and the bounce threw momentum to the Cardinals (26-2-1), and they went on to defeat Wisconsin-Stevens Point (20-5-4) by a 4-1 final. Plattsburgh will play two-time defending champion Middlebury in the final.
“I thought we played what we’re capable of.– a 1-1 game going into the third against the No. 1 team in the country,” said Stevens Point coach Brian Idalski. “A bounce one way or another can dictate the future.”
“We were able to dig down deep in the third and pull it out,” said Plattsburgh Coach Kevin Houle. “It is a testament to the way these girls played all year.”
Plattsburgh took the lead at 9:41 on Moreau’s first goal of the evening. Plattsburgh was grinding down low, in back of the net and Sharis Smith got the puck to Moreau, who came around and out from Statz’ stickside, and slid the puck into the net off the goalie’s skates.
An indication of the tough, close checking positional play of both teams is that the first shot on goal by either team was not recorded until Plattsburgh’s Jenn Clarke got a backhand on net at 7:48. The period ended with Point outshooting Plattsburgh by 5-3. Plattsburgh was outshot 17-13 total for the game.
The second period featured more of the same. Stevens Point drew even on a power play goal by Jackie Drews at 11:43. Jamie Lewandowski drove a long shot from the right point that All-American Plattsburgh goalie Breanne Doyle blocked. The rebound was not cleared and Madison Darud’s stuff was stopped by Doyle, but Drews fought for the rebound and found the five hole to knot the score 1-1.
Following Moreau’s second goal on the lucky bounce, Plattsburgh All-American senior captain Jenn Clarke added to the Cardinal lead. She parked herself in front of the crease, fought off a defenseman, got her stick on a shot by Keltie Jones from the left wing circle, and deflected the puck low past the screened goalie’s stick.
Stevens Point mounted serious pressure on a powerplay following a penalty on Jones at 13:28. The Pointers pulled their goalie and attacked six-on-four, but Doyle came up big in net for Plattsburgh — despite losing her stick at one point. She stopped 16 of 17 shots.
Plattsburgh’s Jenn Clarke spoke of the importance of playing for the title at home.
“We’re in Cardinal Country,” she said. “We feel [the fans'] excitement, we hear their cheers. Lacing up your skates at home in your own locker room, you just can’t beat it. To be hosting a National Championship is unbelievable. I am excited, maybe there will be some other feelings for tomorrow when I lace ‘em up for the last time, but I can’t wait to go.”
So the D-III season ends with a No. 1 team hosting a No. 2 team that is the two-time defending champion. Who wouldn’t be impatient waiting for that matchup?