March 31, 2010

Women’s Hockey Finishes Historic Season as National Runner-Up

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After 119 minutes and 26 seconds of playing time, the record for both, the longest NCAA national championship women’s hockey game and the longest hockey game in Cornell history was set as Cornell fell to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2. Though a disappointing loss for the team, this signifies the longest run of any Cornell women’s team in history, as no other women’s team has ever advanced to the NCAA finals.

“We started the year saying we had to put our ego aside and play as a team, and we also had to be committed. It helped us to be successful this year because we’re hardworking both on and off the ice, giving us an extra edge over the opposition,” said freshman defender Lauriane Rougeau, regarding how the team made it as far as it did.

In order to progress this far, the Red first defeated No. 1 Mercyhurst in the first round of the Frozen Four. Cornell played tremendously on the penalty kill against the Lakers, making the first mark on the scoreboard at 6:30 into the game with a shorthanded goal from freshman defender Laura Fortino off an assist from junior forward Karlee Overguard. Fortino leads all freshmen in the country in scoring, and was part of a trio of Cornell women’s hockey players to take the All-American honors that were announced in Minnesota. Fortino is the first hockey player in Cornell’s history named to the first 2010 Women’s RBK Hockey Division I All-American team, while Rougeau and sophomore forward Catherine White both received second-team honors.

Cornell held a 1-0 lead for the remainder of the first period following Fortino’s goal, before witnessing a second period of disappointment. The Lakers managed to not only catch up to the Red, but to also surpass it. The period ended in Mercyhurst’s favor, 2-1, after two full-strength goals came within two minutes of each other around the halfway mark of the game.

However, the score going into the third did not deter the Red from playing its best; Cornell bridged the gap between itself and the top seed in the semifinals game and tied at 7:06 into the third. Karlee Overguard made the goal with assists from sophomore defender Jess Martino and senior forward Melanie Jue. The rest of the third period saw no more successful advances from either side, and regulation play ended with a tie, 2-2. Overtime was filled with strong attack attempts from both sides, but neither team was successful for the first half. Finally, at the mark of 13:14 post-regulation, White shot the puck at the net; though she was initially unsuccessful, junior defender and forward Amber Overguard was able to pass back the puck to White immediately. White shot this rebounded puck between the poles for a victory. The goal went under review briefly before the score was official and the Red won over Mercyhurst, 3-2.

The national championship game was set to come at the conclusion of a historic weekend for Cornell athletics, the game started at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, the same day that the men’s basketball team took on Wisconsin. With neither team having the experience of playing the other as it was the first matchup of the two teams in history, it seemed as though the game between the Red and the No. 2 Bulldogs could go in either direction. This possibility continued up until the very last minute of triple overtime.

The first period came and went with no change on the scoreboard. Both Cornell and UMD had one power play chance, but neither team’s penalty kill was going to go down without a fight. Shots (11-9) and face-offs won (6-4) were both in support of the Red but only marginally, and the period ended, 0-0.

The third period of the game saw UMD’s domination, as it was only 18 seconds into it as its own All-American, senior forward Emmanuelle Blais, made the first goal for the Bulldogs, tying the game 1-1. The point came on the power play for UMD, and was only the ninth goal all season that the Red let up during its penalty-kill. Cornell’s penalty-killing statistic worsened even more as another UMD power play goal was made at 14:42 into the third.

With only 5:18 to go, the Red knew it needed another miracle to extend the game in hopes for a win. This miracle came in the form of Jue, who leads the Red senior class in scoring and continued to do so in her second goal of the game. Jue took a hard hit at the end of the second period, but was able to respond to UMD’s goal less than two minutes after it was made, and equalize the score with 3:30 remaining in regulation.

What followed her goal was completely unexpected. The aggressive plays by both teams continued not only for those last three and a half minutes, but they continued on for the length of another hockey game. Two overtimes occurred in which no changing on the scoreboard could be seen, and it was with 34 seconds left in the third overtime that UMD freshman forward Jessica Wong was finally able to follow through on one of her scoring opportunities that arose during the post-regulation playing time. The score was brought to 3-2 in UMD’s favor, and the NCAA trophy was immediately brought out onto the ice, much to the Red’s grief.

“When the game goes into three overtimes, it can really go either way,” Jue said. “I definitely noticed we were gaining fatigue in the end but in all honesty I don’t really think that [the short benches] played a huge factor. I think we played well with the players that we had and I don’t think having a larger bench would’ve changed too much.”

Despite the final score, however, the game still holds historic value for the Red.

“I’m definitely proud of our teammates and our accomplishments this year. I think we were able to show the hockey world that we deserved to be in the final,” said Jue, adding that she felt that the four seniors on the team made large contributions to the game.

Cornell entered this season with an expected finish of seventh by rankers throughout the nation. Its leading scorer from the 2008-2009 season, then-sophomore forward Rebecca Johnston, would be absent from the team to play in the Olympics. The starting goaltender for the year would be a sophomore who was injured throughout her freshman year. Nothing in particular was standing out in favor of the Red, but the women on the team knew that they could go far. And they did.

For a team that was expected to finish seventh overall, advancing to not only the program’s first top-4 ECAC finish, but also a top-2 NCAA finish in the championship game was a great accomplishment. The Red was able to finish its season in front of a crowd of 1,473 in Minneapolis, Minn. in the longest championship game of college women’s hockey history with a record of 61 saves made by Red goaltender Amanda Mazzotta and three players on the roster named to the first two All-American teams. Their coach was named national coach of the year, and the girls couldn’t have been happier.

“We’re really proud, this really reflects our year,” Rougeau said. “He is a really major reason that we were so successful this year –– he made us build trust in the system and in each other –– and so was key component to our wins.”

Even though the final score of the championship read 3-2, the Red still put up a good fight, with every member of the team earning some time on the ice and proving the dispersed talent of the Red as the women played a close game ending with only 34 seconds left in triple overtime.

Original Author: Reena Gilani