PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — The Plattsburgh State Cardinals are one step away from claiming back-to-back NCAA titles. Plattsburgh defeated their archrival Elmira College 2-0 in the national semifinals and now move on to the championship game, where they will meet the Manhattanville Valiants.
Plattsburgh improved to 24-3-1 on the season while Elmira dropped to 22-6-1.
After a back and forth, high intensity 37 minutes of hockey, Plattsburgh finally broke through with what would prove to be the game winning goal with just under three minutes to go in the second. Laurie Bowler scored her 20th goal of the season on the power play with an assist from Danielle Blanchard.
Blanchard shot the puck from the point and it deflected up into the air off of Elmira goaltender Allison Cubberley’s shoulder. Bowler found herself alone in front of the net and was able to connect after a few swings in the air and put the Cardinals on top 1-0.
“Coach (Houle) stressed all week that we needed to make sure we go all the loose pucks,” Bowler said. “That’s what I was trying to do and I was able to finally put it in after a few swings after (Blanchard) put it on net.”
Plattsburgh State head coach Kevin Houle thought the team did a much better job bringing the puck out of the zone and winning the one on one battles that they didn’t win two weeks ago in the ECAC West championship game (1-0 Elmira win).
“I thought it was a extremely hard fought game by both sides,” Houle said. “Both teams played well, especially on the penalty kill. Often times these games have come to a bounce of the puck and that’s what happened tonight. I thought we moved the puck very well on our power plays and created a lot of good chances. ”
Claire O’Connor sealed the game with a empty net goal with 21 seconds left in the game for her 10th goal of the season and in turn, set the home Stafford Ice Arena crowd into a frenzy.
“It’s awesome to get back to the championship game,” O’Connor said. “It’s always a good feeling to beat Elmira and it makes us all a little bit happier being able to do that in such a big game.
However, before O’Connor’s goal, the game’s final result was up for debate. Elmira had a two-man advantage power play for nine seconds after Plattsburgh took a too many players on the ice penalty and then Danielle Blanchard followed up with a two-minute minor for body-checking.
However, Elmira was never able to put the puck past Danielle Beattie and O’Connor added the game clincher moments later after a misplay by an Elmira defensemen.
Senior captain defensemen Julie Devereux led the Plattsburgh defense and was a major factor in controlling the pace and shutting down Elmira’s offense while she was on the ice. Playing in her last Elmira/Plattsburgh game, Devereux was able to get the last laugh against her archrivals.
“It feels awesome,” Devereux said. “As a freshman, we lost the ECAC West finals and the NCAA semifinals during Erin O’Brien’s senior season and I didn’t want mine to end like that. I told my defensemen that you have to want it every time you go out on the ice for your shift. You have to do the little stuff that’s going to make a difference in the end.”
In goal, Danielle Beattie played exceptionally for the Cardinals, making 23 saves and earning her eighth shutout of the season while improving to 20-3-1 on the year.
“Danielle (Beattie) has played extremely well for us all year long,” Houle said. “When she sees a lot of pucks she plays great and tonight she was outstanding.”
Allison Cubberley stopped 30 shots for Elmira and dropped to 15-4-1 on the season.
Elmira head coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson echoed Houle’s statements on the intensity of the rivalry and pace of the game.
“Whenever these two teams get together it’s always pretty heated,” Nemetz-Carlson said. “Both teams skated hard and both fan bases were really into it. We didn’t lack with chances and we were pretty confident all game long we were going to score until the clock struck zero.”
In the penalty filled second period, Elmira came out on the short end of the stick and was penalized seven times to Plattsburgh’s four.
“Our penalty kill was great, even though we were on it forever,” Nemetz-Carlson said. “It kept us from gaining any sustained momentum.”
Plattsburgh handed Elmira their first loss in a national semifinal game in program history. The Soaring Eagles were 3-0 in national semifinals before Friday’s game winning in 2002 and 2003 en route to back to back National Championships as well as 2005 before losing to Middlebury in the finals.
Elmira will now play in the third place game against Wis.- Superior Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in a rematch of a early season game last year where the Soaring Eagles fell to the Yellow Jackets 4-3.
“We’re going to be up for the game,” said senior forward Tory MacNeil. “We lost to (Superior) last year early on in the season and it came back to bite us in the butt and was one of the reasons we were left out of the NCAA tournament.”