Last year, the Cornell women’s hockey team took two tough losses in the same week, to the same team, in the same building. The first came in the ECAC title game, when the Red fell short of the conference trophy in a grueling 1-0 defeat at Clarkson.
Six days later, the Red’s 2016-17 campaign came to a heartbreaking end in the NCAA tournament, falling again to the eventual national champion Golden Knights for a second consecutive game.
A new season provided no further luck, as Cornell (12-6-2, 9-4-1 ECAC) returned to the scene of the crime earlier this season only to take a beating at the hands of then-No. 2 Clarkson by a score of 6-0.
This weekend, the Red will look to finally secure a victory over the Golden Knights (21-3-1, 12-2) in its first home game against the squad in nearly a year. The last time Clarkson made a trip to East Hill was Feb. 18 of last year, when the Red lost in an overtime thriller on its annual senior day.
“Clarkson is a very strong team both defensively and offensively,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “We need to be tough defensively [because] you cannot give Clarkson many opportunities to score.”
Cornell’s most recent victory over Clarkson came during the Jan. 20 regular season matchup on the road last year, when the Red ended its conference rival’s 18-game unbeaten streak and handed the Golden Knights their first and only conference loss of the season.
While Friday’s matchup against Clarkson presents the more emotional contest of the weekend, the Red will also face a tough matchup against a different team from North Country in No. 8 St. Lawrence. The Saints will come to town on Saturday for a rematch of the Red’s 3-0 victory earlier this season.
Sitting at fourth in the conference behind Clarkson, Colgate and St. Lawrence, Cornell may be facing its most crucial weekend yet in terms of postseason implications.
“These are two very important games with respect to the conference standings and the conference tournament, and hopefully getting to the NCAA tournament,” said freshman defender Kendra Nealey. “We’re looking forward to home ice advantage and coming in being the team that’s most determined to win.”
Along with its eight shutouts this season, which are tied for the most in collegiate women’s hockey, the Golden Knights also enjoy the nation’s fourth-ranked offense, averaging 4.16 goals per game. All said, the Red will need to play sound hockey on both ends of the ice if it hopes to pull off a win.
“We are focusing on playing team defense,” said junior forward Diana Buckley. “Strong defensive plays will lead to offensive opportunities, and when we have offensive chances, we need to bear down and make them count.”
Creating offensive opportunities is one thing, but capitalizing on them will be difficult against Clarkson goaltender Shea Tiley, who ranks third in the nation in average goals against at 1.27.
“We can continue to improve on burying our scoring chances with poise around the net and creating more dangerous ones with speed and skill,” said junior forward Lenka Serdar.
Despite two top-ten clashes ahead, the team is carrying the mindset that if it sticks to its best hockey for the entire game, it stands an excellent chance at success.
“We’re going to need three periods of consistent hockey,” said senior defender Sarah Knee. “We’re successful when we’re disciplined with our systems but we’ll need that commitment right from the start of the first period.”
Puck drop in this weekend’s homestand will be at 6 p.m. Friday against Clarkson and 3 p.m. Saturday against St. Lawrence.
Smita Nalluri ‘19 contributed reporting to this article.