The 2018-19 season proved to be a fine one for Cornell women’s hockey. The ECAC regular season champions, guided by their skillful team play and undying grit, soared high to earn themselves spots in both the ECAC tournament final and the NCAA Frozen Four.
The auspicious commencement of Cornell’s season set a winning-inclined precedent that persisted throughout the season. At the onset, the Red achieved a six-game winning streak, which included wins against three Ivy League competitors. After the Red’s first loss to Yale in November, it took another 10 games for the team to drop a game. The team’s consistency was reflected in its stellar record: a dominant 24 wins tarnished by a mere six losses in regulation.
Head coach Doug Derraugh ’91, however, believes that the seeds of success for the Red were planted long before the first game of the 2018-19 season:
“I think it started last year,” Derraugh said. “We felt like if we had had one more win then we would be in the NCAA tournament and I think that really stuck with our team going into the season. That factor going into the summer and fall spurred them to play with more consistency this year.”
In the first half of the season, the Red faced an impediment: Team Canada stole their head coach and three junior skaters to compete in the Four Nations Cup. For a four-game streak in the middle of November, with the team still in its formative stages, the Red was forced to grapple with the absence of Derraugh’s guidance and Kristin O’Neill, Micah Zandee-Hart and Jaime Bourbonnais’ skills. The team, nonetheless, rose to the challenge and turned it into an opportunity for growth.
“It is always hard when you have players with Team Canada — they miss four games in the middle of November and come back,” Derraugh said. “But that also gave some other players opportunities to step up and do things for our team and take on different roles.
“I felt like the weekend they came back, the Clarkson St. Lawrence home weekend, we played two of our best games of the year against two of the toughest opponents in our league,” Derraugh added.
The team’s dedication to teamwork and sharing the puck was evident in their selfless yet strategic play. This especially held true as the season progressed into its latter half, when, according to Zandee-Hart, “the team really started to find their groove.” As the players accepted their respective roles, the team realized that each player’s individual involvement was crucial to the team’s success.
“Cornell hockey takes prides in being gritty and playing tough defense,” said senior forward Lenka Serdar, “but I think something that made us so successful this season was recognizing that every person on the team contributes something for the betterment of the team.”
As the regular season was coming to a close, Cornell and Clarkson, tied for second, trailed Princeton by a mere three points. Nevertheless, the Red found its way to the top of the standings, winning out to collect eight additional points over the season’s critical final two weekends. With the strong finish, Cornell snagged home-ice advantage for the entirety of the ECAC tournament, a true advantage for the Red, which held an impressive home record of 14-3-0.
“Lynah’s atmosphere is hard to beat,” said junior forward Amy Curlew. “Having the support of the fans really makes a difference, especially when the games are close.”
The home crowd at Lynah Rink helped push the Red through an adversity-laden three-game series against RPI in the first round of the ECAC tournament. RPI’s goaltender Lovisa Selander, all-time NCAA leader in saves, gave the Red offense fits. A loss in game two — a 49-save shutout — forced the series to a decisive third game. The Red managed to triumph over the Engineers with a 6-1 win to secure a spot in the semifinal against Princeton.
The game against the Tigers tested the will and perseverance of the Red. It took a grueling double-overtime win to send Cornell to the final against Clarkson.
Even though the team dropped a heartbreaking loss to the Golden Knights in the ECAC final, the Red’s season was hardly over. Rather, the team’s consistent season play earned it a spot in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals among the nation’s finest competitors, all vying for the coveted national title.
“Playoff hockey is always a little crazier than the hockey you play during the season — every team is fighting to keep their season alive and are hunting for that national title,” said junior forward Grace Graham. “Every game after ECACs becomes faster, tougher and more passionate, so it’s really an exciting time to be playing hockey.”
This faster, tougher and more passionate play manifested itself in the Red’s first-round contest against Northeastern. Cornell’s deep lineup and collective work ethic allowed the Red to topple the Huskies and punch a ticket to the Frozen Four, an accomplishment not realized since the 2012-13 season.
“One of my favorite memories from this season was going to the Frozen Four,” Serdar said. “It was a first for my teammates and me, and we were all just so excited to be there and experience it.
The team was slated to take on the Minnesota Gophers, NCAA tournament regulars and a team that tallied an average of over four goals per game. Tensions were high and the competition was fierce. World-class hockey prevailed on both sides of the ice, but the Red unfortunately could not find the back of the net. Their season ended with a devastating 2-0 loss on the national stage.
“We knew goals weren’t going to come easy, but I think we had our fair share of opportunities and we just couldn’t put one in the back of the net,” Zandee-Hart said. “But I don’t think that changed the way we played.”
“We gave our hearts out,” senior goaltender Marlene Boissonnault said. “That’s how we played the whole game.”
A series of individual honors only emphasized the level of skill and success that the team reached this season. Doug Derraugh was named ECAC Coach of the Year, and three players earned spots on all-ECAC teams: Jaime Bourbonnais with first-team honors, Kristin O’Neill with second-team honors and Micah Zandee-Hart with third-team honors.
As a testament to the team’s depth, Ivy League honors were awarded to five members of the Cornell hockey team, and Derraugh was tabbed the Ivy League Coach of the Year.
The Red did not get the glory they it desperately sought as its efforts failed to materialize into the elusive ECAC and NCAA tournament titles. However, the team recorded a historic season and its players will proudly remember their team’s play and growth this season.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished all year long,” Derraugh said. “We have had our share of ups and downs this season, but I really felt that over the past couple of months this is a team that has come together and really played as a team.”
The Red’s returning players, with this outstanding season forever etched in their memories, will no doubt take the ice next year with the same intensity and discipline, looking for more glory.