MINNEAPOLIS — Cornell and Mercyhurst were no strangers to each other, having met twice during the regular season. In Cornells opening weekend of play, Mercyhurst improved their record to 6-0-0 with a pair of 4-1 wins. Since that series, Cornell has gone 20-6-6 while Mercyhurst has gone 28-2-3, leading up to this NCAA semifinal matchup.
Things would end differently this time around, with Cornell posting a 3-2 win in overtime to advance to the national title game this coming Sunday.
Its often said that speed kills, and it was the Lakers speed that was much talked about coming into this game. They certainly earned the reputation, posting the best record in the nation and scoring an astounding 21 short handed goals on the year. However, Cornell also has plenty of speed to burn along with a stingy team defense.
No team makes it this far in a season based on luck or accident, and anyone expecting a blowout was in for a rude awakening.
Both teams were somewhat tentative in the games early going, as it appeared they were trying to feel each other out. Mercyhurst had the best looks in the games opening minutes, as Laker captain Lacroix had a clear look from the low slot, which she backhanded just over the crossbar. Shortly afterwards – with Cornell on the power play – a Mercyhurst two-on-one rush resulted in a great scoring chance that was turned away at the last moment.
Neither teams power play was able to generate much offense early on, and in fact it seemed as though the penalty killers had the advantage. Mercyhurst was on the power play around six minutes into the game, but it was Liz Zorn of Cornell who had the best chance, as she walked in all along on Lakers goaltender Hillary Pattenden. Zorn made her move, and had net to shoot at, but Pattendens skate got enough of the shot to push it into the corner.
Still shorthanded on the same penalty, Cornell had another shorthanded opportunity as a two-on-one rush was initially stopped by Pattenden. The Laker netminder was unable to smother the puck though, and Laura Fortino chipped the rebound into the open net to put the Big Red on top 1-0, with 6:30 into the first period.
The game slowed down after that goal, with both teams looking to avoid the odd man rushes that characterized the start of the game. Mercyhurst controlled play slightly, keeping the puck in the Big Red zone for stretches , but would mostly be limited to shots from the outside, which were either blocked or easily turned aside by Cornell goaltender Amanda Mazzotta.
Mercyhursts speed was on display all period, with several odd-man rushes generating chances. Cornells defense bent, but did not break, forcing several rushes into the corners, forcing shots outside, and clearing out rebounds quickly.
Cornells offense may not have controlled the puck the majority of the time, but they were opportunistic to say the least, generating good scoring chances on several rushes and maintaining pressure for stretches. The Big Red were able to force Pattenden to give up rebounds, creating second-chance opportunities.
At the end of the first period, Cornell held on to their 1-0 lead and were outshooting the Lakers 13-7.
Mercyhursts speed benefited them early in the second, as an offensive rush up ice forced Cornell to commit a penalty just 23 seconds into the period. Despite several good looks, the Lakers were yet again unable to convert with the extra skater.
After dealing with the Laker forecheck for the first half of the game, Mercyhursts relentless pressure finally got the better of Cornell. A defensive turnover gave the Lakers possession deep in the Big Red zone, and after a flurry in front of the net, the puck was finally batted in unassisted by Kylie Rossler to tie the game at 1-1 with 11:17 remaining in the middle frame.
The goal seemed to have woken up the Lakers, as it was not long before they scored again. Another defensive zone turnover kept the pressure on Cornell, and a pass to the backdoor found Mercyhursts Meghan Corbett open in front of an undefended net. She buried the chance and gave her team their first lead of the game with 9:22 left to play.
The Lakers speed showed up again with just under four minutes remaining, as Lauren Jones took off on a breakaway. While she wasnt able to score, she did draw a Cornell penalty, putting Mercyhurst back on the power play.
The Lakers were able to generate significant pressure on the advantage for the first time this game, forcing Mazzota to make several huge saves to keep it a one goal game.
While the power play did not result in a goal, the pressure and momentum generated by the Lakers carried over for the remainder of the period. As the second period came to a close, there was a feeling that the ice had tilted in Mercyhursts favor. Two unanswered goals had the Lakers leading 2-1 on the scoreboard as well as holding a 20-19 advantage in shots on goal.
While Mercyhurst seemed to control the second period, the third would be characterized by much more even play, with both teams being afforded scoring chances.
We knew we would be able to get chances, said Cornells Lauriane Rougeau. In the locker room when it was 2-1, we stayed positive. We knew if we kept playing our game, kept applying pressure, then wed get the tying goal.
Mazzotta stole the show early in the 3rd, as she made several key saves to keep her Big Red in the game. Her effort would be rewarded as Cornell tied the game with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game. A rush up ice was stopped by Pattenden, but she again gave up a rebound, this time into the slot, where Amber Overguard knocked it home to knot the game at 2-2.
The rest of the period would see the teams continue to play evenly, with very few good scoring chances. Both teams defenders played extremely well, forcing attackers into the corners, sacrificing themselves to block shots, tying up sticks, and making their opposition earn every scoring chance.
The third period ended with the score still tied 2-2, and Cornell holding a slight advantage in shots, 25-23. With these two teams so evenly matched throughout the first three periods, it seemed only fitting that the game would end be headed to overtime.
As overtime started, it seemed that things had tilted in Cornells favor. The Big Red controlled play in the Laker end of the ice for the most part, cycling the puck, keeping possession, and looking for rebounds. Mercyhurst on the other hand, used their speed in transition, looking to break up ice on rushes whenever they could.
Through the first ten minutes, neither team was able to seriously challenge their opposing netminder, and both sides appeared evenly matched. 13 minutes into overtime though, Cornell received a golden opportunity and made the most of it. Overguard put the puck on net, and Pattenden left a rebound that capped off a mad scramble for the puck directly in front of her. In the end, Catherine White got her stick on it and slid it past the Mercyhurst goaltender to send her Big Red to their first ever national title game.
I felt it was a real team effort said Cornells White. We didnt really rely on an individual to carry us through.
Cornells team defense really did carry the day, forcing Laker shooters to the outside and giving Mazzatto plenty of room to make saves. When she did leave a rebound, her teammates were usually there to clean things up and move the puck up the ice. This game was only the fourth time this season where the Lakers failed to score at least three goals.
Laker coach Michael Sisti was not pleased with his teams performance.
My hats off to Cornell, they played hard and theyre a very good team, he said. I didnt feel it was our best night, we didnt perform well and we paid the consequences.
Mercyhurst fell to 30-3-3, and sees their season fin