This weekend, four of the top eight women’s hockey teams in the country will gather in one place to determine who among them will be champion. But this is not the Frozen Four.
Before the NCAA tournament is to begin, the ECAC must settle its score. And this year, the league’s top four teams — Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell and St. Lawrence — are all national contenders, too.
The Red (21-8-3, 15-5-2 ECAC) is fresh off a gritty quarterfinal series win over Princeton this past weekend and will take on the No. 4 Raiders (31-4-1, 19-3-0) in a win-or-go-home semifinal match at Clarkson’s Cheel Arena in Potsdam.
Despite a recent series victory, the team feels as though the quarterfinal highlighted a few areas where it needs to improve if it is to find success in the ECAC postseason’s final weekend.
“I didn’t think that we played the best game on Saturday,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “I felt like we had a pretty strong first game and then the second game I thought we were up and down. You know, we’ve got to respond better to the ups and downs and ebbs and flows of the game.”
Dialing in despite the ups and downs of each game is something that will be crucial in this upcoming weekend according to Derraugh.
“I think that [our poise] needs to be better if we are to have any success against Colgate,” Derraugh said. “You can’t let the ups and downs of the game sway your focus.”
Colgate’s 3.81 goals per game are fifth-best in the nation. The Raiders’ dynamic offense is not led by one or two superstars, but sports 11 players with double-digit point totals, including eight with 26 or more.
“They’ve got great forwards up front that can score,” Derraugh said. “Their defensemen are very mobile, [and] they like to get involved in the offense as well.”
Earlier this season the Red split a home-and-home weekend against Colgate, winning at Lynah Rink but falling short in Hamilton. Both games were decided by one goal.
“[Our goal] is just to play our game,” said junior goaltender Marlene Boissonnault. “We’ve been working all year for that … Out there we just need to think of our game and come out with what we’ve been working on.”
One of the things the team is working on is discipline, after the Princeton series saw the Red commit 22 penalties in just three games. The Raiders have the fourth-most power play goals in the nation, so staying out of the penalty box will be key for the Red to keep the high-octane Colgate offense at bay.
“You have to have discipline in the playoffs,” Derraugh said. “Colgate’s got some great offensive players, some of the best offensive players in the NCAA. So if you go a man down against them too often, they’re definitely going to make you pay.”
Boissonnault is fresh off an 18-save shutout in the series-clinching game against the Tigers. Coupled with her 30-save performance on Friday, her weekend resume earned her ECAC goaltender of the week honors on Wednesday.
“I was just feeling great,” Boissonnault said. “I knew had a great team in front of me. I knew it was all about confidence and knowing that … we were the best team on the ice.”
Cornell is making a familiar trip, returning to the arena where they secured a conference semifinal victory a season ago.
“We’ve played a lot of games there over the last few years,” Derraugh said. “So we’re definitely comfortable with that arena and comfortable with that environment. I think we’ve got four great teams so it should be a very interesting championship.”
In last year’s game against St. Lawrence, the Red used power play success to score three goals on just 15 shots en route to a 3-1 victory over the Saints. But the Red’s on-ice success in Potsdam since then ended there. The very next day, the team fell short in the conference title game against the de-facto home team Clarkson, the eventual national champions.
Ever since, the Golden Knights have had Cornell’s number, having secured two victories against the Red this regular season.
“When we go to Clarkson it’s always a rivalry that we’ve had for a couple of years,” Boissonnault said. “It’s definitely been a place we go that has a lot of different emotions attached to it.”
Despite the notion of a potential rematch with Clarkson on the horizon, the team is not letting the recent past dictate its approach.
“It’s a new year,” Derraugh said. “If [Clarkson] looked back in their past when we beat them and thought about that, they would have never beaten us. I think the same thing goes for us.”
Even with a talented Colgate team ahead and either Clarkson or St. Lawrence looming behind, Cornell is focused on itself, making sure to perfect the details in its own game and not worrying about anybody else.
“I think [our focus] is going to be on what we need to shore up as a team, where we need to be better,” Derraugh said. “Not so much on the opponents that we’re going to play… There’s three other teams in there, and we just got to focus on doing what we do.”
The puck drops in Potsdam at 4 p.m. Saturday against Colgate. If Cornell wins, it will play in the ECAC title game at 2 p.m. Sunday.