No. 1 women’s hockey will have the chance to capture an accolade that has eluded them for the last six years: the ECAC Championship crown. This opportunity comes thanks to a 4-0 decision over Harvard on Saturday afternoon.
“Once there’s a winner declared, we’ll go into our offices and figure out a strategy for whichever team it is that we’re playing [Sunday],” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91 before Clarkson and Princeton faced off to fight for the second spot in the championship game.
With Princeton’s win a few hours later, Cornell will be set to take on the Tigers Sunday at 2 p.m.
In Cornell’s Saturday victory, junior goaltender Lindsay Browning recorded her 12th shutout of the season and forwards senior and captain Kristin O’Neill and junior Maddie Mills notched two goals apiece. Senior defenseman and captain Micah Zandee-Hart had herself a three-point game with a trio of assists on the day.
The first period started with relatively even play for the first 10 minutes before O’Neill got the scoring started. Off assists from junior defenseman Kendra Nealey and senior forward Amy Curlew, O’Neill created a Cornell lead that would only grow over the course of the afternoon.
Then, with a little over a minute left in the period, it was O’Neill again to make the score 2-0 in Cornell’s favor. O’Neill — who also picked up an assist in the third period to make it a three-point afternoon — scored Cornell’s only two even-strength goals of the day.
But the second period told a different story. Harvard recorded 17 shots, which was the most for either team in a single period.
“I didn’t like the second period at all tonight,” Derraugh said. “I thought we were flat-footed. [Harvard] brought a lot of energy to the second period and outplayed us.”
Mills came out three minutes into the frame to record a power-play goal, but after that, the Crimson looked to dominate the matchup, testing Browning in net — by the game’s end, Browning recorded 25 saves.
In Harvard’s lone power play that period, the Crimson barraged Browning with four shots. But nothing could get by the netminder, who kept the game scoreless through that Harvard-heavy second period.
“The good thing that came out of [the second] period is that I saw every single shot that came at me,” Browning said. “So everyone was doing a good job of boxing out and clearing out in front of the net, so it made those shots that did come in a lot less challenging.”
The third period saw Mills put the puck past Harvard goaltender Lindsay Reed for the fourth time in the contest, just under two minutes into the frame. It was Mills’ second power-play tally of the game and the final goal of the night for either side.
“Trusting our defense — I think that was a big part of [the win],” Mills said. “And trusting our systems and … our aggressive selves and the way we play.”
Cornell bounced back to defend Harvard aggressively after that sloppy second period, holding the Crimson to four shots in the last 20 minutes of the tilt.
Any hopes of a Harvard comeback were shattered with just under 10 minutes left, when the Crimson’s Sydney Sorkin was hit with a five-minute major penalty for boarding. Harvard couldn’t get anything going with a man down, and in the last 4:24 of even play, the Crimson couldn’t notch a single score, let alone the four goals needed to force the game into overtime. Cornell sealed the 4-0 win.
“[Cornell] is as good as I’ve seen a hockey team in a long time in this league,” said Harvard head coach Katey Stone, who is in her 25th season with the Crimson. “Hats off to Cornell for supporting their women’s hockey program.”
With the loss, Harvard’s season is almost certainly over. The Crimson’s best shot at making the NCAA Tournament would have been winning the ECAC title, but with today’s elimination, the team ended its year at No. 10 in the RPI. Only eight teams make the tournament.
A win on Sunday will, of course, secure Cornell an automatic bid to the NCAAs, but, as the No. 1 team in the RPI, Cornell is just about guaranteed a trip to the national tournament no matter the outcome of the ECAC Championship match.
Though Cornell’s season is probably not on the line, the Red will not enter the championship game with a relaxed attitude.
“Last year, we got to the Frozen Four, but we didn’t get that ECAC title,” Browning said. “And I think that makes us hungrier this time around.”
Though Clarkson’s loss Saturday afternoon ensured that the Red would not see a rematch of last year’s ECAC Championship — in which the Golden Knights claimed victory — Princeton will be no easy obstacle to surmount.
“[Princeton is] very dynamic,” Derraugh said. “[They have] two of the finalists for top forwards in the league, so obviously very dangerous.”
Princeton set a program record this year with 24 wins and is seeking its first-ever ECAC title.
“[Cornell is] such a great team and they’re so fast, and they’ve moved the puck so well,” said Princeton head coach Cara Morey. “We’re going to try to shut them down.”
Cornell will go for its first ECAC Championship since 2014 on home ice Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Tigers.