HAMDEN, Conn. — After a furious start and a furious finish, the Clarkson Golden Knights defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 5-4 to win their first even NCAA women’s ice hockey championship.
“The girls believed in themselves all year; even coming into tonight I had a feeling about the way they were going to come out and play,” Clarkson co-head coach Matt Desrosiers said. “They weren’t going to back down and they proved it tonight. I thought they stuck with it very well tonight and I’m just thrilled. I’m speechless right now.”
Not only is it the first women’s ice hockey national championship for Clarkson, but the first national championship in school history.
“We worked hard all year for it,” Clarkson assistant captain Shannon MacAulay said. “We knew coming into this game that we were going to give them a run. I mean, yeah Minnesota’s won two years in a row, but that didn’t mean anything to us. We knew we were going to give them a game and that’s what we did.”
MacAulay scored the game-winning goal with 4:16 remaining in the third period to give Clarkson a 5-3 lead. She entered the offensive zone one-on-one with Leveille and roofed a backhanded shot over Minnesota goaltender Amanda Leveille’s glove.
“We’ve all been preparing for this game for weeks now, so I didn’t freak myself out, I just kept trying to stick with it and I knew I had the team behind me with it 100 percent,” MacAulay said. “Without their energy pumping me up on the bench, I wouldn’t have capitalized on that.”
Minnesota got one goal back 35 seconds after MacAulay’s goal to cut Clarkson’s lead to 5-4 when Baylee Gillanders gathered the puck at the blue line and wristed a shot on net where it deflected off a Clarkson defender in the slot and past goalie Erica Howe.
“It was a battle out there,” Minnesota captain Bethany Brausen said. “I think it could have went either way obviously and that’s exactly the kind of game you want to finish with; you want to see a close game like that.”
The Golden Gophers could not complete the comeback, as the Golden Knights held on for the victory.
“I’ll point out the white elephant in the room, we’re pretty upset obviously, and I think that’s a testament to this team, that’s how much it means,” Brausen said.
Vanessa Plante got Clarkson started in the third period to take a 4-3 with 8:28 remaining when Vanessa Gagnon found her with a backhand pass skating into the offensive zone and Plante ripped a one-timer from the top left of the slot past Leveille’s glove.
The championship started off with an exciting first period, as Minnesota took the lead only to see Clarkson steal it late.
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period to start the scoring after Rachel Bona muscled through to win the faceoff and send the puck to Sarah Davis in the slot, who backhanded it past Howe’s glove.
Clarkson stormed back late in the first period when they tied the game 1-1 with 1:23 left in the first period when MacAulay’s shot bounced off Leveille, who couldn’t cover the puck and Christine Lambert poked it home from on top of the crease.
“The confidence this team has, it hasn’t wavered all season long; even over the last couple of days I haven’t seen once glimpse of them thinking they could not win this game,” Desrosiers said. “Even when we were down a goal, up by a couple and they started coming a little bit, it never wavered.”
Shelby Nisbet gave Clarkson a 2-1 lead a minute later with just 19.5 seconds left on the clock in the first period when Jennifer Shields ripped a shot from the left point and Nisbet redirected it in the slot over Leveille’s shoulder and into the back of the net.
“We normally start periods well and end periods well and this weekend that obviously didn’t happen in regards to giving up big moments in the game,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
Clarkson started off the second period the way it ended the first when Patty Kazmaier Award winner Jamie Lee Rattray one-timed a redirected pass from MacAulay into the wide-open right side of the net to give the Golden Knights a 3-1 lead.
Minnesota weathered the storm from Clarkson in the second period when it fought back to tie the game.
“Obviously we wanted to win the game as much as Clarkson, as much as anyone that was in the Frozen Four, but we all know that hockey is a game of inches; you can play really, really well and lose, you can play really poorly and win,” Frost said.
The Golden Gophers got one back on a power play six minutes into the second period when Hannah Brandt passed the puck through the slot across the ice to Dani Cameranesi, who collected it and fed Maryanne Menefee in the slot to push the puck past Howe to cut the Clarkson lead to 3-2.
Rachel Bona tied the game 3-3 for Minnesota just two minutes later when she tapped home the rebound of a Megan Wolfe shot from the point that kicked off Howe’s pad right to Bona at the top of the crease.
Completing the national championship run after the thrilling third period, Clarkson is the first team to win the tournament outside of the WCHA since the tournament’s inception.
“I think this means not only a lot to the Clarkson community but means a lot to the ECAC community,” Clarkson captain Carly Mercer said. “We feel that we have a very strong league in the east and it’s nice to be able to prove that.”