A trio of new contenders finished off conference championships with flair, gaining automatic NCAA bids in the process. For a pair of ECAC entities, the script remained unchanged.
Lake Forest (17-5-3) No.9
Lake Forest, propelled by a 3-2 comeback overtime triumph over St. Norbert, reaped its first NCAA tournament slot in program history. The newly minted NCHA champs responded to a 2-1 deficit late in regulation on a score by senior defenseman Sarah Gilbride. Junior Emily Wybo capped the win 4:04 into the OT period when she beat Green Knights goaltender Kaley Gibson.
Williams (15-9-3) No.10
Williams put an end to a decade-long absence in the NCAA tournament with a 4-1 victory over Bowdoin at the NESCAC championship on Sunday. The last winning season for the surprising Ephs materialized in 2009-10. Current Polar Bears coach Marissa O’Neil guided Williams to a 12-11-2 record that season before heading north to take her spot behind the Bowdoin bench. The Ephs built on a 2-0 first-period lead 59 seconds into the middle period on Gabrielle Vukasin’s eighth goal of the year. Bowdoin closed to 3-1 just 29 seconds later on Ariana Bourque’s bid past Williams’ goalie Chloe Billadeau. Billadeau finished with 28 stops in gaining her eighth win.
St. Thomas (19-5-3) No. 6
Alise Riedel’s 2-0 shutout over No. 8 Gustavus Adolphus in the MIAC title game automatically advanced St. Thomas to its first NCAA tournament since the 2002-03 season. Riedel, who dropped her initial start of the season in a loss to Wisconsin-River Falls last November, has run off a stellar unbeaten string of 20 contests. The Tommies’ defensive effort ended the Golden Gusties’ brilliant streak of 10 consecutive conference titles. Megan Juricko and Paige Baldwin registered the two opening period scores for the No. 7 Tommies.
Plattsburgh (25-1-1) No. 1
Plattsburgh scored a pair of third-period goals in a span of less than three minutes to overtake No. 3 Elmira, 4-3, in the ECAC West title match at Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals received markers from Shannon Stewart and the game-decider from Tyne Gove midway through the final stanza. Elmira grabbed a 3-2 advantage early in the third on a goal from Erin Weston. In earning its third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, Plattsburgh outshot the Soaring Eagles 43-20.
Norwich (25-3-0) No. 2
Norwich nabbed its sixth straight ECAC East title in a 4-0 whitewash over Castleton Saturday at Kreitzberg Arena. Tori Charron scored twice for the Cadets, as did senior forward Emily MacKinnon. Charron’s two goals gave her 27 for the season. Charron’s game-winning goal at 5:55 of the second was her team-leading ninth of the season.
Wisconsin-River Falls (21-4-3) No. 4; Wisconsin-Stevens Point (19-5-4) No. 3; Elmira (21-5-1)
Wisconsin-River Falls secured the prestigious O’Brien Cup with a 5-1 triumph over Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Saturday. From a historical perspective, the Falcons became the initial champion of the WIAC in the process, but the accomplishments did not end there, as head coach Joe Cranston’s club earned a coveted at-large slot in the NCAA’s as well. The Falcons got all they needed in the first period on the strength of a pair of goals by Dani Sibley. The freshman forward from Monticello, MN, hit the back of the net, just 37 seconds into the game. Sibley collected the game winner at the close of the period, with a helper from Ashley Olson. UWF goalie Ashley Kuechle finished with 22 saves. The Falcons will host Lake Forest (17-5-3) in the first round of the playoffs, Saturday at 3 pm. Despite the loss, the Pointers head to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven seasons. USP will play host to MIAC champions on Friday. Elmira travels to Norwich for a first round matchup on Saturday.