HAMDEN, Conn. – For the first time in the history of the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four a non-WCHA team is skating away as NCAA Champions as the Clarkson Golden Knights shocked the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a thrilling 5-4 victory in front of 3573 fans at the High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University.
Clarkson co-head coach Matt Desrosiers was happily stunned: “What do I say?” Just thrilled beyond belief. The girls believed in themselves all year, even coming in to tonight. They weren’t going to back down and I think they proved it tonight. I am just speechless right now.”
-“I’ll point out the white elephant in this room,” Minnesota senior Bethan Brausen said. “Me and Kelly [Terry] are pretty upset here. But that is just a testament to out team. It’s hard to say goodbye to our teammates more than anything.”
Clarkson (31-5-5) clamped down early and forced the Gophers to play keep away, rather than attack. Much of the night featured dump-and-chase versus their run and gun offense that usually shows. The forecheck worked brilliantly. Still, Minnesota (38-2-1) showed their ability and peppered senior netminder Erica Howe with 12 shots in the opening frame. They were rewarded at the 9:40 mark when Sarah Davis took a puck that was coughed up by Rachael Bona in the left circle off a draw. Davis took a few strides towards the slot and let go a wicked backhander that found the back of the net top shelf to make the score 1-0 Gophers. The goal gives Davis an even 20 goals on the year to round out her career.
The Gophers, with sophomore goalie Amanda Leveille coming off a rough outing against Wisconsin Friday, appeared to struggle defensively. it took 18:37, but the Knights finally broke through. Christine Lambert got a rebound in the goal mouth and put it home through Leveille to make it 1-0. The goal was her ninth of the season. Shannon MacAulay assisted with the initial shot to get the puck on net.
Only 1:03 later, Clarkson took their first lead of the night, as they continued to pressure Livelle. With a delayed penalty and extra attacker, Jennifer Shields came in on the left side and let go a hard slap shot that was tipped in the left circle by Shelby Nisbet to make it 2-1 Knights at the 19:40 mark. It was Nisbet’s ninth of the year with Cayley Mercer assisting on the play.
As if that wasn’t enough, on the ensuing powerplay, Clarkson got into the act again, just 38 ticks into the second stanza. MacAulay had a shot tipped in front and stopped by Levielle, but the ensuing rebound went right to Patty Kazmaier Award winner and senior Jamie Lee Rattray, who scored her 29th of the year to increase the lead to 3-1. Brittany Styner also had a helper on a goal that gave Clarkson a 2 goal lead.
The Gophers are not the number 1 team in the country for no reason, though. They made sure to shut the doubters up before the midway point of the game. at the 6:09 mark, Martanne Menefee scored her 18th goal of the 2013-14 campaign as she redirected a pass by Dani Cameranesi past Howe and into the back of the net.
Almost 2 minutes after the Golden Gophers cut the lead in half, Rachel Bona struck again, scoring her 23rd of the year. It wasn’t as pretty as the goal she had Friday (although she did have a great move on Howe early in the first, that the Clarkson goalie stopped), but much like the previous goals, it was a tap in on a rebound from Megan Wolfe’s shot that put the game back to square one at 7:57. It was Bona’s 23rd goal of the year.
The game stayed tied for the next 23:35, as Clarkson began to play a little sloppy, taking penalties and getting outshot 14-5 in the second. Then, at the 11:32 mark of the third period, the Knights were back. Vanessa Gagnon fed Vanessa Plante in the left circle and Plante let it rip, scoring her third goal of the year and untying the game on what could be considered the most important goal in program history.
Coming into the third told the girls; ‘if you had twenty minutes to win a national championship could you do it,” Desrosiers said. “And they all say ‘yeah, absolutely!”
Then, at the 15:44 mark, Clarkson scored what ended up being the game winner, as MacAulay picked off the puck and skated up the ice on a breakaway, she made a move on Leveille and scored her 13th goal of the year to make it 5-3. She went backhand and top shelf on the Minnesota sophomore standout. with 4:16 left, Clarkson appeared to be in the drivers seat.
“I don’t really know what was going through my mind,” MacAulay said. “I guess I tipped it off the girls stick and I had a lot of time to think about the shot. Without my teams energy on the bench I don’t know if I would have made the shot”
Not for long.
Kelly Terry fed Baylee Gillanders at the left point and she let go a hard slap shot that was redirected by the stick of Clarkson’s Jennifer Shields to cut the lead to 5-4.
That was all the Gophers could get, and in the Championship, it was not enough, as Clarkson gets their first NCAA title in any sport, and the first title in Women’s Hockey for an ECAC program.
For Minnesota, they return 17 players and get two American Olympians back from their Sochi leave.
“This was an incredible team and incredible group of four seniors,” coach Brad Frost said.
“I like to hope that we made our mark on the program,” Terry said. “I think all four of us bring something unique to the table. I have no doubt that this program will be successful for all of eternity.”
At least the program will be successful in the near term.
Clarkson, meanwhile played with 15 skaters, and somehow made it look easy during the tournament.
It doesn’t matter how many skaters we have,” Desrosiers said. “We have had a lot of players step up for us.”
They graduate 7 players including Howe, Gagnon and Rattray.
“I hope recruits just line up at the door,” Desrosiers exclaimed. “I think it will do a lot for our community and everyone close to us.”
For those seniors, it was a test not only for the championship, but to beat the team they lost to in their first collegiate game.
“Needless to say we’ve come a long way,” senior captain Carley Mercer said. “We started against Minnesota my freshman year, it didn’t go so well”
Additionally, this win not only puts the Knights back on the map, but, combined with the increased attention put on the Olympic women’s hockey tournament, could shake up the sport completely.
“It shows that women’s hockey in general is coming a long way,” Desroisers said. “You have those powerhouse teams in the west over the years that won those national championships. Its just nice to be the team to bring one back to the east and the ECAC.”
“I think it’s good for hockey to have another team win.”
This was the first time that Minnesota had allowed more than three goals since Feb. 11, 2012 when they beat Ohio State 7-4.
This was their second loss of the season. Previously they had lost and tied North Dakota this season. They snap a 26 game unbeaten streak.
Minnesota fails in their quest to become the second team to win 3 consecutive titles. Minnesota-Duluth won the first three in 2001-03.
This was the sixth time an ECAC team played in the National Championship Game. St. Lawrence, Brown, and Harvard (three seasons consecutive), lost the combined first five tournaments. Cornell lost to Minnesota-Duluth in 3 OT in 2010.
The already decorated Jamie Lee Rattray added two more accolades to her trophy case. With a goal and assist, she finished the season with 66 points, one more than Hannah Brandt. She was also named to the All Tournament Team (listed below).
ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM:
Forward Jamie Lee Rattray from Clarkson
Forward Rachel Bona from Minnesota
Forward Maryanne Menefee from Minnesota
Defense Renata Fast from Clarkson
Defense Baylee Gillanders from Minnesota
Goalie Erica Howe from Clarkson
Most Valuable Player Jamie Lee Rattray from Clarkson