ROCHESTER, N.Y. – When the Tigers of Rochester Institute of Technology and the Cadets of Norwich University put themselves in position to play for an all-time NCAA Division III record on Friday, neither side seemed particularly impressed.
When RIT beat ECAC West rival Plattsburgh State and Norwich topped Gustavus Adolphus in Friday’s semifinal games at the 2012 NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship, both teams earned the 27th wins of their respective seasons, tying the all-time record set by Plattsburgh in the 2006-07 season. With one more game to play, the 2012 national champion would also become the winningest team in the history of Division III women’s hockey. That, however, was of little concern to the combatants.
“Records are always broken down the road,” said Norwich forward Julie Fortier, the winner of the 2012 Laura Hurd Award as the player of the year in Division III women’s hockey. “I think we just want to play for the national championship, not the record.”
“I just want to win a national championship,” said RIT forward Ali Mills. “I didn’t even know we tied the record.”
When they returned to Frank Ritter Arena on Saturday evening, though, the two teams played a game worthy of determining the winningest team in the history of Division III women’s hockey.
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|RIT-Norwich: Recap | Highlights | Photos|
|RIT-Plattsburgh St.: Recap | Highlights|
|Norwich-G. Adolphus: Recap | Highlights|
|Plattsburgh St. tops G. Adolphus for third place|
|Olshansky: Rit racks up more than a title|
|Olshansky: RIT, Plattsburgh State battle yet again|
|Olshansky: Fortier’s OT goal sparks Norwich|
“It’s a special game,” Norwich head coach Mark Bolding said. “When you think about how tough it was, and what a seesaw battle it was…it was in the trenches, and to see young ladies competing at that level is pretty impressive.”
For more than 40 minutes, the Tigers and the Cadets were as closely matched as two teams can be. RIT and Norwich entered the third period tied at one goal apiece, a far cry from their October 29 meeting at the Cadets’ Kreitzberg Arena, which saw the Tigers take a 2-1 lead in the first period and never look back.
“We knew we were in it,” Fortier said. “We believed until the end.”
In the end, of course, the Tigers would assert their dominance, just as they have for an entire season (save for a lost weekend in Plattsburgh that they more than avenged with wins against the Cardinals in the ECAC West Championship and the first of Friday’s national semifinals). In the first 12 minutes, the Tigers would score three goals, with freshman Celeste Brown and sophomore Kourtney Kunichika figuring on the scoring of all three. The Cadets would hold their own, putting 11 shots on goal in the third period, but RIT goaltender Laura Chamberlain was equal to the task, finishing the game with 27 saves on 28 shots and the weekend 60 saves on 62 shots to win the Most Outstanding Player award.
“I think it was a whole team effort,” Chamberlain said. “I don’t think that anyone should have gotten most outstanding. Our whole team did really well.”
When it was all said and done, the RIT players and fans alike saluted both teams, with the Tigers’ celebrated “Corner Crew” chanting each player’s name – for Norwich and RIT – as she came forward to accept her individual award.
“It was really nice,” said Norwich assistant captain Sarianne Lynn said. “They’ve got a great crowd for the home team, and it was really respectful of them. You’ve got to respect your opponents. I have unbelievable respect for RIT and the effort that they put in for this game. They brought it.”
In truth, Lynn and the Cadets had their moment here a year ago, when they defeated the Tigers 5-2 to win the 2011 Division III championship. After an entire year of waiting, the Tigers got what they’ve been working for: the right to be called the best in the nation.
“Before the game, we talked about how we’re tired of talking about last year,” McDonald said. “It’s about this year. This team is a different team, and they went out and showed it. They left it out there. We talked about being inspired, playing inspired and inspiring each other. They did that.”
As for being called the best in Division III history, well, it’s a nice bonus.
“I think that the difference in this team was that we took every game one at a time,” RIT captain Kim Schlattman said. “We didn’t start the season off [saying], ‘We’re going to win a national championship.’ We just said ‘We’re going to take it one game at a time,’ and we did that through the whole playoffs. We struggled a bit with Plattsburgh at the start, and then we came out on top, and then we did it again with Concordia, and then we had another tough battle with Plattsburgh. I think the record just came along with all of our efforts all season. I think the record’s just on top of winning a national championship.”
The record may, in fact, be broken at some point in the future. After all, Saturday’s championship game featured not one, but two teams that could have ended the night as the most successful in DIII history. For now, though, the Tigers stand alone, and they know that they had to earn it.
“We were 1-2 all year,” McDonald said. “You couldn’t have scripted it any better: playing yesterday’s game against your archrival, playing the championship game against the team that took it away from you last year. We wanted to go out and show that we were the best team in the country.”
That’s exactly what the Tigers did.