A pair of wins this weekend secured the ECAC regular season title for Cornell women’s hockey — the program’s first since the 2012-13 season.
On Friday, Cornell defeated RPI in a blowout victory, 8-2, and the Red earned a 2-1 win the following day against Union which ultimately locked up the title. Cornell, which finishes the regular season with 36 league points, held off Princeton, Clarkson and Colgate on the last day of action after all tied for second at 33 points.
As the top seed heading into playoffs, the Red will face off on its home ice against eighth-seeded RPI in the ECAC quarterfinals this weekend. If Cornell wins the best-of-three series, it will host the conference semifinals and finals the following weekend.
“We are excited about this accomplishment. The group has worked hard all year,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “For the regular season title you have to be consistent over the year to earn it, and this year especially — with the ECAC having a number of teams in the top 10 and being so tight throughout — it is a testament to our consistency.”
The title-clinching weekend got off to a quick start when the Red found its way onto the scoreboard just 14 seconds into the game Friday against the Engineers. After gaining possession from the faceoff, a series of skillful passes and dodges landed the puck on junior forward Kristin O’Neill’s stick, who buried the puck in the back of the net for her first goal of the weekend.
“The last time we were on the road, our first periods were not very good and we knew we needed to come out with better starts,” Derraugh said. “So it was really important that we came out with the first goal and got ourselves on the right foot.”
Later in the opening stanza, the Engineers gained the offensive edge. Off a faceoff in the Red’s defensive zone, RPI forward Aimee Raithby blasted a shot toward the Red’s goal. The puck, initially deflected, managed to trickle into the net and close the scoring gap.
But just minutes later, the Red regained its offensive momentum and answered the opposition with another post-faceoff goal. Once O’Neill secured possession, sophomore forward Maddie Mills took control of the puck who sent a quick pass to junior blueliner Micah Zandee-Hart. With the Engineers collapsing on the slot, she skated towards the goal mount and sniped a top-shelf goal to give the Red the 2-1 lead.
Senior forward Pippy Gerace added another insurance goal with 1:52 remaining in the opening period. Sophomore defender Kendra Nealy sent a pass toward Gerace, who netted the puck before the offensive domination on the Red’s part continued into the second period.
Six minutes into the middle frame, junior forward Amy Curlew struggled to gain possession of a pass from O’Neill, which landed just ahead of her. As she — and the puck — trudged toward the net, Curlew poked her stick at the puck, just barely sliding it past RPI goaltender Lovisa Selander.
The second goal of the period came off the stick of junior blueliner Jaime Bourbonnais, whose initial shot was denied by an opposing defender. She found her way back to the puck at the goal line and lifted another shot into the top shelf, widening the advantage to 5-1.
The Engineers substituted Kira Bombay for Selander, who proved unable to hamper the Red’s offensive prowess. With 10 minutes left in the second period, senior forward Diana Buckley pulled Bombay to the left side of the goal and sent a quick pass to junior forward Grace Graham, who was positioned right in front of the net. Graham slid the puck past Bombay to make it 6-1.
Senior forward Lenka Serdar increased the score to 7-1 with the last tally of the second period. Freshman forward Sam Burke stole the puck from the Engineers in the offensive zone and sent it to Serdar, who brought it toward the net. She blasted the Red’s seventh goal of the night past Bombay.
Freshman forward Gillis Frechette found the puck in front of the net and buried the final Cornell goal of the day.
The Engineers did manage to secure one more tally: Jaimie Grigsby redirected a rebounded shot past senior goaltender Marléne Boissonnault, but the goal proved too little, too late. As for the Red, eight different players added a goal to the scoreboard, demonstrating the depth of the team, Derraugh said.
“One thing we have been talking about all year long is the importance of having a balanced attack and balanced scoring, especially if want to have success,” he said. “We asked players to step into some roles, and they have done a nice job in the last couple weeks.”
The Red sustained its winning energy in the following day’s game against Union.
The game started slowly and remained at a standstill for over 39 minutes. The Red blasted 44 shots at the goal, but goaltender Amelia Murray turned them all aside before Cornell found any scoring touch.
Union clinched the first goal of the game as Katie Sonntag sent a shot from a tough angle into the goal, placing the Dutchwomen ahead by one.
“We weren’t able to capitalize on some early chances. They got the first goal against us so we just tried to stay patient and stick to the plan,” Derraugh said. “We were able to get a couple of goals later in the game and that ended up being the difference. Union played tough defensively and made it difficult for us to get opportunities to score.”
Quick to respond, Graham directed the puck into the goal in the 39th minute of the game. Buckley sent a shot towards the goal, and Graham was positioned at the net to tip it past Murray to close the scoring gap.
Just 40 seconds into the third period, Gerace added the insurance — and ultimately game-winning — goal. Gerace gained control of the puck following a denied shot from Serdar and fired it into the goal. The Red went up 2-1 and was staved off further scoring to cap off the win and secure the ECAC title.
Despite the closer 2-1 win, Cornell outshot Union by a remarkable 62-13 margin on Saturday.
Now solidified as the paragon in the ECAC, the Red will host RPI at Lynah Rink for the first round of the league tournament in a best-of-three series. Games one and two will be held at 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m Saturday, respectively. If the teams split results, the third game will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday.