MADISON, Wis. — One year ago, Clarkson was 10-5-1 heading into the Catamount Cup holiday tournament. It was there where they got off on the wrong foot and after a tie and a loss, went just 8-11-1 the rest of the way.
One year later, they entered the Badger Hockey Showdown 11-5-1, but they have more to celebrate than just the New Year after beating Lake Superior State 3-2 to capture the tournament’s title Saturday.
“It was probably the tournament at this time last year that took us on the downslope,” Clarkson sophomore Shea Guthrie said. “This gives us some momentum and helps a lot.”
The Golden Knights’ power play was the difference, as they scored two goals on the man-advantage and another just seconds after the end of another Lake State penalty.
“It’s a really good power play and the thing that concerned us was their older forwards against my rookie (defense),” Lakers head coach Jim Roque said. “I was really happy. I thought we played really well.
“I feel really good about our team going home.”
Clarkson jumped out to the 1-0 lead late in the first period despite being outplayed for most of the first 15 minutes of the game.
Lake State had kept the puck away from goaltender Jeff Jakaitis for the most part, but a penalty on its bench for too many players on the ice turned out to be costly.
Golden Knight winger David Cayer cycled the puck deep to Nick Dodge who found Shawn Weller wide open in the left side of the slot. The junior winger buried the puck into the far corner to give his team the lead with less than three minutes remaining in the opening frame.
“They feel every time they step on the ice they’re going to create opportunities,” Clarkson head coach George Roll said. “I thought our execution was very good all weekend.”
Clarkson doubled its lead 59 seconds into the second period with a power play goal that was a near-mirror image of the first one, with the same three players drawing up the same play.
This time Weller returned the favor, setting up the score by finding Cayer deep behind the net. The junior then got the puck to Dodge left of the crease and he stuffed it home for his fourth goal of the weekend.
“The guys just read off each other,” Roll said. “The five guys out there know each other so well and both guys in the slot look for the gray area in the seem and we’ve got guys that can find guys.”
Just two minutes later, the Lakers cut their deficit in half thanks to a fortuitous bounce while killing a penalty.
The puck ricocheted off the official at the blue line and squirted into the neutral zone where Lake State sophomore Josh Sim picked it up all alone. He skated in and beat David Leggio to make it 2-1 at 2:59.
After a back-and-forth battle over the first half of the third period, Lake State knotted the game 2-2 thanks to Sims’ second goal of the night.
He fired the puck from an odd angle in the left circle, but the shot found its way past Leggio at 10:35.
Four minutes later, Clarkson grabbed the lead back for good on what was essentially its third power play goal of the game.
Just seconds after the penalty box door opened, Matt Beca fired a shot at Jakaitis. The goalie stopped the initial effort, but Guthrie stuffed home the rebound for the game-winner.
“Our line is technically second and we usually don’t get much time, but we felt pretty good this weekend,” Guthrie said.
Leggio finished with 27 saves to move to 12-3-1 on the year while Jakaitis fell to 8-5-2 despite 25 stops of his own.
Dodge finished with four goals and an assist on the weekend and seems a sure-bet to be the Most Outstanding Player, though the all-tournament teams will not be named until after the consolation game between Wisconsin and Providence.
“He’s our leader defensively, offensively and can score big goals when he needs to,” Guthrie said.
Clarkson hopes its momentum can carry over through an exhibition with McGill University and back into the regular season in two weeks when it hosts Colgate.
Lake Superior State, inspired despite coming out on the losing end, hosts Nebraska-Omaha next weekend.