Cornell women’s hockey came into the season ranked sixth in the ECAC in the preseason coaches poll, and with only five seniors to accompany the plethora of underclassmen, this campaign could have been chalked up as a rebuilding year. But the Red (20-9-5, 13-4-5 ECAC) stunned the hockey world, as it nearly won the ECAC tournament and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
Led by Ivy League player of the year, senior forward Hanna Bunton, and Ivy League freshman of the year Kristin O’Neill, the Red finished third in the ECAC. Additionally, Cornell went undefeated against Ivy League competition, and ended up defeating every ECAC team at least once this season.
“Coming into the year, not a lot of people thought that we would have the success that we ended up having,” Bunton said. “We were not rated highly in the preseason coaches poll, and to almost win the ECAC tournament was huge.”
After handily sweeping Colgate in the ECAC quarterfinals, Cornell headed into the semifinals at Cheel Arena as heavy underdogs to St. Lawrence. But behind two power play goals and 31 saves by senior goaltender Paula Voorheis, the Red found itself in the ECAC championship game.
However, Cornell ran into a well-oiled machine in Clarkson, as a first period power play goal by the Golden Knights’ Rhyen McGill turned out to be the difference. Cornell’s usually-potent offense became stagnant against the third ranked team in the country. Not only was Cornell unable to get one past Clarkson goaltender Shea Tilley, it only put 17 shots on net, including a three-shot effort in the third.
Despite the runner-up finish in the ECAC playoffs, the Red’s tournament run was deep enough to clinch the seven seed in the NCAA tournament. Not only did it qualify for the tournament, but it would have its chance at revenge against Clarkson just six days after its loss in the ECAC finals. The game was once again played in Potsdam.
With a spot in the Frozen Four on the line, Cornell ran into the same problem that it had faced just under a week earlier. The Red was unable to get enough shots on net.
With Cornell down 2-0, sophomore forward Lenka Serdar finally got one past Tilley, but Clarkson’s Loren Gabel sealed a hat trick and a win for the Golden Knights, as she put the home team up 3-1 late in the third period.
“As much as we were disappointed with this loss, and we obviously wanted nothing more than to move on, we had to look back and reflect on the great season we did have leading up to this point,” sophomore defenseman Micah Hart said.
While the team was frustrated because it relinquished the opportunity to play in the Frozen Four, and the potential to win a national championship, this season is viewed as a success.
“I am really proud of our team,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “We had a young group, and I don’t think that anybody really expected what we got out of this team.”
Cornell knows what it takes to exceed expectations, and since it is losing only five players to graduation, the Red will have higher expectations to overcome heading into next season.