By Peter Langella,
Special to D3hockey.com
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – With the largest crowd to ever watch a women's game at Kreitzberg Arena on hand, sophomore forward Sophie McGovern scored a deciding powerplay lightning strike with just under two minutes left in regulation, and the host Norwich University Cadets beat the Elmira College Soaring Eagles 2-1 to win the 2018 NCAA Division III Ice Hockey Championship.
"What a hockey game," said Norwich National Coach of the Year Mark Bolding. "Unbelievable finish. I cannot believe how much energy they had after that marathon with Plattsburgh [yesterday]. I'm very proud of our team. Man, it's a nice way to finish."
"There's really no words to explain," said Norwich senior forward Sarah Schwenzfeier. "Not everyone gets to come out and win at their own barn, and that's the opportunity we had."
"Congrats to Norwich," said Elmira Coach Tim Crowley. "They have one of the best coaching staffs in the nation, and I have a lot of respect for them."
It is the second title in Norwich program history, as the Cadets previously won in 2011.
Norwich (27-1-3) had the better chances of a back and forth first period, including two shorthanded opportunities for sophomore All-American forward Amanda Conway, but the game remained scoreless after twenty minutes, as both goalies held firm.
Elmira senior goalie Kelcey Crawford was named an All-American at Thursday evening's awards banquet, and Norwich senior goalie Laurie King is the Cadets' all-time wins leader.
Norwich outshot the Soaring Eagles 12-6 in the opening frame. The two teams played to a 3-3 draw on January 20th at Elmira's Murray Athletic Center.
The Cadets finally broke the deadlock at 11:58 of the second period when Conway scored her nation-leading 34th goal of the year. Norwich junior All-American defender Robyn Foley won a struggle for the puck and chipped it into neutral ice where Conway collected it and split the Elmira defense before lifting a shot over Crawford's glove.
"I tried to shoot high because Coach kept yelling at us to shoot high," said Conway.
Elmira (25-3-2) pressed hard until they tied it 1-1 at 16:02 of the middle session on a shorthanded goal by senior All-American Sarah Hughson. The East Haddam, Ct. native dumped the puck in and beat a Norwich defender to it before curling to the front of the cage and slipping a score under King's pad.
"I felt like I messed up before the face-off, and I felt like I had to do something to make it up to my linemates," Hughson said. "I dumped the puck in, I saw the opportunity, and I just shot it, and it went in."
"I saw a heart," said Crawford. "I saw a lot of heart. That's all you can ever ask. I saw some classy women. I saw people that really wanted to win a game."
Norwich held the shot advantage after two periods, 20-15.
"We sat in the lockeroom after that period and we said we gotta let it go," King said. "I just knew I had to stop as many pucks as I could."
The final frame began with a flurry of end-to-end rushes and physical altercations, as the refs decided to keep their whistles down. When Elmira earned the first powerplay of the period, King was up to the task in the Norwich net with a series of game-saving pad denials.
"We decided that we wanted to go back at them," King said. "We were determined to go and win one."
When Elmira junior forward Shannon Strawinski took a roughing penalty with 2:13 left in regulation, Bolding called a timeout to go over powerplay strategy, and it proved to be the difference. After Elmira cleared the zone after the initial face-off, Cadet captain Bryn Labbe collected the puck near center ice and passed it to Conway near the visitor's bench. Conway methodically entered the zone and drove wide where she dropped the puck to linemate and Player of the Tournament McGovern, who made no mistake with a laser of a shot to the top glove side.
"We decided to take a timeout, regroup a little bit," Bolding said. "We knew they'd be aggressive. It's fitting, our team's a transition team, and we scored on a transition."
"The whole entire game was just back and forth," McGovern said. "We've practiced those three-on-twos over and over again. I just shot it short-side high. I think I was just trying to breathe and calm down because we still had two minutes left."
"Credit to them" Crowley said. "They made a play on the powerplay."
After a Norwich empty-netter was called back due to an offside, the Cadets weathered the final Elmira push to hold onto the victory, and it was celebration time in Kreitzberg. The bulk of the crowd of 1,242 stayed through the trophy presentations to show their appreciation for both an amazing weekend of hockey and their championship-winning women.
Elmira was looking for its fourth title, having previously won in 2002, 2003, and 2013. The Soaring Eagles beat four-time defending champion Plattsburgh State 3-2 in a double overtime thriller yesterday to earn the right to play for the championship.
The Cadets advanced to the deciding game after beating upstart Hamline University 5-1 in yesterday's second semifinal.
Norwich outshot Elmira 28-24 for the game.
"We're fortunate we had eight seniors who are all determined young ladies" Bolding said. You learn from experiences, and I think the eight seniors really stepped up and they drove the bus. This will be very memorable. They'll have tough moments, they'll have awesome moments, and I know they'll remember this one. It's a small school with a lot of pride, and at the end of the day hockey is a very special thing in our community. We have a very supportive school. We're very fortunate, and we just want to keep it going."