Both ECAC teams battled hard in the Frozen Four semifinals, but couldn’t come away with a win. Cornell fell in the first semifinal to Minnesota, 2-0, and Clarkson lost to Wisconsin in the second game, 5-0. Both games were closer than the shutout score lines would indicate, particularly for Cornell.
Here are some quick thoughts on both teams’ performances at the Frozen Four, and over the course of the season.
Clarkson falls to Wisconsin
- This was only the second time in five tries that the Golden Knights reached the Frozen Four and failed to win it all. When they won their first national title, a 5-4 win over Minnesota in 2014 (also in Hamden), it was a major shock to the women’s college hockey world. It says a lot about the growth of the program since then that now, most people expect them to make it this far and compete for a national title.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of programs out there that can say that, that the expectation is to win championships and compete for national championships each year,” head coach Matt Desrosiers said following the game. “[The players] have done a great job putting us in a very good position, now and moving forward, hopefully. The thing I love most about this group is that they don’t take it for granted.
“It’s the expectation, but they also know that they have to work for it. And it’s not just going to happen. And I think that’s a big reason why we’ve been successful over the last few years and won those national championships; we didn’t rest on those laurels. We didn’t just sit back and [say], you know, ‘Yeah, we did it last year, so it’s just automatically going to happen.’ It’s tough to do. And it gets tougher each and every time you get here. And our players have just done a fantastic job kind of competing and battling their way through that.”
- Clarkson’s top trio of Loren Gabel, Elizabeth Giguère, and Michaela Pejzlová, who have been such a crucial part of the team’s success this season, were shut down by Wisconsin. They generated some really good looks, though, and came close to getting on the board on a few occasions. Here are some thoughts from Gabel on her line’s efforts:
“I think they had our line matched up pretty well tonight,” she said. “I think we had to support each other a lot better and move pucks a little quicker and unfortunately, couldn’t get a lot of offensive opportunities. But when we did, we were just unlucky hitting posts, hitting cross bars. And you know, I just really love playing with them.”
It was tough for Gabel to say much else after that. As someone who just appreciates women’s hockey, both as a media member and a fan, that top line is one of the best we’ll ever see at this level. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say a lot of people loved watching them, too.
- Though the final score of 5-0 doesn’t reflect it, senior goaltender Kassidy Sauvé made some key saves all game to keep the difference to just one goal into the third period so her team could stay alive. She came to the Golden Knights for her final year after spending her first three years with Ohio State. I asked her after the game what it meant to her to be able to join Clarkson, even for just one season.
“I wouldn’t trade this year for the world,” Sauvé said. “Obviously, it’s never easy to make a change and to completely shift your life when you’re 21 years old and go to a new environment. But I don’t regret it one bit. And I’m so happy to be a Golden Knight.”
Cornell’s run ends against Minnesota
- Cornell came into the weekend as the only low seed at the Frozen Four. In my mind, they hardly played like it. They were right there with the Gophers for the full 60 minutes; the second goal against didn’t come until the final 35 seconds of the game, when Sarah Potomak nailed an empty-netter. That was largely due to a conscious decision from head coach Dough Derraugh and his staff to let the team play their game, the same type of play that’s brought them success all year.
“I think we had sort of two options as coaches going into this. We could either do what we’ve always done. But knowing the way that they play, we were concerned about their offensive capabilities,” Derraugh said. “In the end, we decided to just do what we always do, and we thought we did a good job of it today. We came in trying to have as aggressive a mindset as we possibly could, but understanding that we had to be smart about it. So I think that overall, we managed the puck fairly well. We played the way we’ve played all year long, which is an aggressive defense.”
- Cornell’s top line of Kristin O’Neill, Maddie Mills, and Amy Curlew definitely stood out, especially as the Big Red pushed to tie things up in the third period. But they’ve had one of the most consistent and reliable top-nine forward groups in the country all season. All three of those lines have been counted on to provide offense when needed, and having that strong depth really helped them match up against the Gophers’ offense.
“We really tried throughout the year to figure out how we were going to achieve that with our lineup. We felt like we kind of figured it out in the last month, you know, exactly what our lines were going to be and how we’re going to be able to do that,” Derraugh said. “We need everybody; we need our D to get involved in the offense as well. We need everybody to contribute offensively because we don’t necessarily have that one line that dominates another team.”
- This was Cornell’s first Frozen Four appearance since 2013, and in a lot of ways it was hard-won. Cornell missed out on the NCAA Tournament last year, despite having a more than capable team; they were just above the cut in the PairWise, in seventh place, and were knocked out by some lower-ranked teams who won automatic bids into the tournament. This year, though, the Big Red were one of the country’s steadiest teams. Derraugh said in the postgame press conference that understanding the importance of every game of the season, and how they each can help or hurt the team’s chances at making the field, helped keep the Big Red more balanced and even-keeled.
“Look at last year, where we felt like if we potentially won one more game throughout the season, we would have had a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “And so I think this team early in the year recognized that, and I think that’s why we were fairly consistent throughout the year because, you know, last year we learned it could be that one loss in October that costs you a chance to have this opportunity at the end of the year.”