PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — As the clock struck 0:00 on the Division III women’s hockey season, the Plattsburgh State Cardinals mobbed goaltender Bree Doyle, celebrating their first ever National Championship. The Cardinals, 27-0-2, completed an undefeated season by defeating Middlebury 2-1 in the National Championship game at the Stafford Ice Arena.
Helmets, gloves, and sticks filled the air as all of the painful memories from the final loss a year ago were wiped clean. The Cardinals became the first ever collegiate women’s team, of any level, to finish a season undefeated in the NCAA era.
In the final minutes, All-American goaltender Bree Doyle, time and time again, denied the Panther’s quest for an equalizer. It was just not meant to happen. The Cardinals’ magical season is complete. They are the best team in the country.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling right now. I’m so proud of these girls,” said Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle. “I couldn’t be happier for every single one of them.”
From the drop of the puck, it was obvious that tonight’s Plattsburgh team would step above its NCAA semifinal performance against Amherst. Plattsburgh came out strong, not allowing Middlebury to register a shot on goal until halfway through the first period.
With 60 seconds left in the first period, the Cardinals opened up the scoring. Danielle Blanchard and Lindsey Brown skated into the Middlebury zone on a 2-on-1 break. Blanchard carried the puck into the right faceoff circle and centered a pass to a hustling Brown. Brown deked once and backhanded a shot around the right skate of Middlebury goaltender Lani Wright. The Cardinals took the 1-0 lead into the first intermission, outshooting the Panthers 10-6.
“Giving up a goal with one minute left in the first period is not an ideal thing,” said Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo.
In the second period, with 13:22 to go, the Cardinals’ offensive leader set up another goal. Blanchard, with a Panther defender on her back, carried the puck into the Panther zone, down the boards into the left faceoff circle. She centered a pass to the slot where a charging Shay Bywater blasted the puck past Wright to lift the Cardinals to a two-goal lead.
The momentum was in the Cardinals’ favor, until they started marching to the penalty box. On the power-play, the Panthers got on the board and cut their deficit in half. Karen Levin let a wrist-shot go from the right faceoff dot, and through a crowd the puck was deflected by Panther captain Shannon Sylvester into the back of the net.
The goal brought the Panthers momentum as they were the better team for the remaining minutes of the period. The shots in the second period were 14-7 in favor of Middlebury.
The third period saw no scoring, but in the final minutes, the Panthers were relentless. Nevertheless, Doyle stood strong. The Cardinals worked as a team and prevented the Panthers from tying the game.
When the final buzzer sounded, it was elation on one side of the ice, and sadness on the other.
“I couldn’t be more proud of any group of people,” said Mandigo. The senior class for the Panthers won the previous three National Championships, but this year was not meant to be.
“I think the worst thing is that’s the last time I put on the skates,” said Panther captain Shannon Sylvester.
The sea of red and white that covered the other end of the ice erased last year’s memories and created new ones.
“I think it’s a feeling you can never explain to someone, you just have to feel it for yourself,” said Plattsburgh All-American defenseman Julie Devereux.
“I’m happy, I’m overwhelmed right now,” said Cardinal Captain Jessica Moreau. “I’m happy, I’m excited; it just hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m really proud and happy. It’s more than what I expected. I feel great, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
That pain from last year helped the players this season. They did not want to feel that way again.
“Getting to the finals last year at home and losing, a feeling like that of defeat, it sticks with you,” Houle.
For Moreau, winning a National Championship in her final collegiate game, it was more than she could’ve asked for.
“It’s the best way to end a career.”