SUPERIOR, Wis. — More often than not, overtime game-winning goals in playoff hockey games aren’t particularly aesthetically pleasing and they aren’t scored by the teams’ stars. On Friday against Gustavus Adolphus, Elmira forward Samantha Curk, one of the Soaring Eagles’ unsung heroes, bucked that first trend.
Late in the game’s overtime period, Friday’s second Division III national semifinal game looked destined to go to a second extra frame. It was just then, though, that the Soaring Eagles picked up a fantastic winning goal off Curk’s stick.
Flanked by Gustavus defenders along the bench-side half wall in the Gusties’ zone, sophomore forward Cassidy Delainey found senior linemate Samantha Curk wide-open in front of the net. Delainey then saucered a picture-perfect pass onto the tape on Curk’s stick, and the senior buried only her fifth goal of the season in between Gustavus goaltender Lindsey Hibbard’s legs.
“I was seeing a wide-open zone and no one in front of me, and, as my teammates can attest to, I’m not the kind of person that usually scores,” Curk said after the game. “I’m usually the one that passes, so the only thing in my mind was that, ‘This puck had better go into the net.’”
“But you take a leaf out of your teammates’ book, and three of their goals had gone in the same way, so I thought I may as well try it. Obviously it worked, so I can thank my teammates for that one.”
The crowd on hand at Wessman Arena had seen its fair share of pretty goals during the game, too. In fact, Ryan had contributed to another one earlier in the game at a point when Elmira was down by a goal and needed a change in the momentum.
Gustavus’s Amanda Cartony had put the Gusties ahead 3-2 at the 11:40 mark of Friday’s third period, and at that point it was beginning to look as though Elmira’s luck had ran out.
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Not so, though. The Soaring Eagles kept knocking on the door, and EC junior forward Tanis Lamoureux netted a big shorthanded goal to tie the game at three apiece with 2:51 remaining in regulation.
Ryan picked up an assist on that goal, too, to go along with a goal she’d scored at the 14:01 mark of the third period. On EC’s third goal, though, Ryan broke out of the Soaring Eagles’ zone with Lamoureux on a 2-on-1 before the latter beat Hibbard.
The Wessman Arena crowd had to wait a long time for the next and final goal of the night to come. However, Curk said that she and her teammates never doubted that they would eventually win the game.
“We are a third period team, and we play our strongest period (at the end),” Curk said. “Our coach believes in us and we believe in each other, and we knew that we were about to score. That’s when things go wrong – when you have self-doubt – and obviously we had none of it, persevered and won the game.”
With Curk’s game-winner, Elmira upped its record on the season to 23-5-1. The Soaring Eagles will now face Middlebury in Saturday evening’s national championship game at Wessman.
Friday’s loss was the first of the season for Gustavus (27-1-1). Top-ranked Plattsburgh State was also undefeated going into Friday, but the Cardinals lost the day’s first national semifinal game to Middlebury by a 4-1 count.
EC head coach Dean Jackson was proud of his team’s ability to stay with and eventually upend the Gusties.
“Gustavus Adolphus is an absolutely amazing, tremendous hockey team, and to hang in there with them for as long as we did is a testament to them,” Jackson said. “They’ve got great team speed, tremendous offensive capabilities and very elusive defensemen that use the puck well.
“Hats off to them. They played a tremendous game and had an unbelievable season, as we all know. On the flip side, it’s sad to see them have to finish their season as they did, but, for, us, it’s fantastic.”
Neither team’s season is over. EC will play Middlebury for the championship after Saturday’s third-place game between Gustavus and Plattsburgh State. However, if the Soaring Eagles can again show their talent and stamina on Saturday, they could end the night as national champions.