By Ray Biggs
D3hockey.com Managing Editor
As Saturday's title game unfolded, plenty of challenges stood between Plattsburgh State and a historic fourth straight national championship, but the Cardinals dug deep and found a way to get it done to become the first Division III women's team to claim four titles in a row.
"I couldn't be prouder of everyone, especially the seniors on this team," said Plattsburgh head coach Kevin Houle said. "Hats off to them for not giving up tonight when there were a lot of opportunities to do so. We just kept plugging away and found a way to win."
Fourteen minor penalties were scattered about the contest for the Nation's top ranked team, leaving them exposed for more than ten Adrian power play chances that included a full two minute five-on-three. Add in a two goal swing in the third period that saw the Bulldogs jump from trailing by a goal to leading with just under five minutes to go, and the Cardinals were seemingly on the ropes against a Bulldog team attempting to win the war after losing two previous battles with Plattsburgh this season.
They were on the ropes until a few seniors decided they weren't leaving without another first place trophy. While it wasn't always pretty, the Cardinals succeeded in a race against the clock to buy extra time out of the late deficit with an unlikely hero, in an unlikely situation. With her team shorthanded and the extra attacker on for netminder Camille Leonard, senior defender Julia Duquette slipped the puck inside the right post with 20.9 seconds to go for just her fifth career goal to erase a 3-2 deficit and force the game past sixty minutes.
From there, it all fell on the stick of Syracuse transfer Erin Brand. She wasn't at Plattsburgh to start the historic NCAA run by the team's four-year seniors, but she was in the right spot to finish it for them. Past the midpoint of the extra period, Adrian's Lexi Tzafaroglou was given the gate for a body check minor. 33 seconds later, Brand turned a once-withering dream into reality. Megan Crandell fed the puck across the top on a rink wide stretch pass to Brand, who sidestepped the high defending forward and teed off from the left circle past Adrian goaltender Brooke Gibson for a 4-3 overtime win and Plattsburgh State's sixth NCAA Division III Women's Ice Hockey National Championship at Arrington Arena.
"I'll definitely never forget it," Brand said. "I kind of blacked out to be honest -- I just saw the puck go in the back of the net and that was it. I fell to the ground and everyone tumbled on top of me. It was such a great feeling I can't even explain it -- it was awesome."
Plattsburgh was given plenty of opportunities to plug away off the opening draw, as they rode three power play opportunities to carry the play through the opening twenty minutes, with a favorable
|Plattsburgh celebrates Erin Brand's title-clinching goal in overtime at Arrington Arena. Photo: Eric Kelley, D3photography.com|
shot count of 10-4. Leonard and Gibson proved strong, stopping everything in their general direction to close a stalemate after one period of play.
Penalties would become Plattsburgh's chief nemesis in the second period, a precedent that would carry almost into the end of regulation. A pair of early infractions were weathered by the Cardinal kill, and when the penalties recurred, the degree of difficulty doubled. Jordan Lipson and Mackenzie Millen served simultaneous minor penalties at 13:28 to put the Bulldogs on a full two minute five-on-three advantage, and the threat intensified briefly when a Duquette boarding penalty extended the Adrian power play.
The difficulties were temporary. The additional five-on-four advantage for Adrian was negated by a Kaylyn Schroka minor, and converted into a Cardinal power play shortly thereafter. Plattsburgh wouldn't cash in at that point, but an additional penalty on Sarah Shureb put the Cardinals in position to go against the grain of the period and take the lead on the icebreaker.
After a brief five-on-three, and a shorthanded rush chance for former Cardinal Olivia Fox, Plattsburgh delivered on a transition chance of their own with the Shureb minor still on the board. Top point getters Kayla Meneghin and Melissa Sheeran combined to take the lead, with Meneghin coming down the left wing and feeding Sheeran straight across, who pulled back to the right and jammed in the backhand cut shot to put the defending champs ahead with two minutes left. The lead lasted all of 53 seconds. Hannah Kiraly became the penalty box's latest occupant at 18:33, and 20 seconds later, a Brooke Lupi point shot hit off the arm of a screening forward and skipped past Leonard to square the matchup after two periods.
|Adrian's Brooke Gibson stares down the puck during NCAA Championship Game action in Adrian, Michigan
Photo: Eric Kelley, D3photography.com
An even strength goal to start the third planted the Cardinals back in front when Courtney Moriarty lobbed a backhand chip shot over the left leg pad of Gibson. Successive minors on Kiraly would tip the ice back in Adrian's favor, and would embark the Bulldogs towards a two goal swing to take a late lead. With the freshman serving her second penalty, the rarely-heard-from Maggie Mitter pounded in her fourth of the season on a net mouth scrum to tie it up. Sarah Shureb wrapped up a breakout season with the go-ahead, snapping a hard angle shot from the right wing boards. That lead vanished on the Duquette goal, which set the table for Brand's overtime winner.
Leonard picked up the win in net, the final win of her NCAA Division III record total of 75, with a 28 save effort. Leonard finished the season at 25-1-0, and her career at 75-4-0. Brooke Gibson finishes the season at 15-2-0 after taking the loss in the championship. Adrian was 2-of-11 on the power play, while the Cardinals were 2-of-7.
Individually, Crandell was a force on the offensive blue line for the Cardinals with three assists on the team's four goals. That included the lone assist on the game-winner by Brand. Lupi posted a goal and assist in the final game of her sophomore campaign at Adrian.
In the third place game, Gustavus defeated Norwich by a 3-1 score. Erica Power scored twice for the Golden Gusties.