SUPERIOR, Wis. – When your hockey team is an underdog in each game of a postseason tournament, it takes big performances from the goaltender to keep the favored team off the board and secure a victory.
That’s the situation the Elmira Soaring Eagles found themselves in in this year’s NCAA tournament, and they got the spectacular performances they needed along the way from senior goaltender Lauren Sullivan.
The Soaring Eagles were outshot in all three games of the tournament, including Saturday’s national championship against Middlebury. However, Sullivan stood taller than her 5-foot-7 stature would suggest en route to EC’s 1-0 win against the Panthers, thus delivering to the Soaring Eagles their third national championship, and first since 2003.
A native of Toronto, Ont., Sullivan was as busy Saturday as she had been in Elmira’s first two games of the tournament. The Soaring Eagles were outshot 37-25 at Bowdoin in the Eagles’ 4-0 win during the NCAA quarterfinals on March 9 and then Gustavus Adolphus outshot Elmira 41-26 in a 4-3 overtime win in Friday’s national semifinal.
Sullivan was up to the task in each game, staking claim to her school’s single-season shutout record. She ended the campaign with 11 and made sure to stop all 30 shots she faced in Saturday’s title game at UW-Superior’s Wessman Arena.
“Yeah, I was a little tired [Saturday] after [Friday] with the quick turnaround time, but they were pretty easy shots,” Sullivan said minutes after the Soaring Eagles had clinched the championship. “My team played fantastic in front of me and they just make [my job] so easy.”
It’s a good thing her teammates held up their end of the bargain, as well. The semifinals featured two undefeated teams (Gustavus and Plattsburgh State), but although neither made it to the final, Middlebury made things difficult for the Soaring Eagles.
|DIII WOMEN’S HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Recap: Elmira wins third NCAA crown|
|Feature: Sullivan ends career with title|
|Middlebury upsets Plattsburgh State|
|Elmira upends Gustavus Adolphus|
|Middlebury looks to avenge previous losses|
|Gusties hoping for full effort against Elmira|
|Brackets: Interactive | Printable|
|Also: Scores | Champ Info | History|
EC held its back line well throughout the game, but the Panthers were giving little away in their own end of the ice and received a solid 25-save performance from goaltender Annabelle Jones.
Not a lot of those 25 shots came on quality scoring chances. Luckily for the Soaring Eagles, though, they buried one of the few big opportunities they received.
After a Middlebury defenseman blocked an initial EC shot, Soaring Eagles’ freshman forward Taylor Steadman scored the game’s only goal at 12:26 of Saturday’s second period by picking up the loose puck in the slot and beating Jones low from close range.
EC’s chances to then net a second goal were few and far between, which meant Sullivan had to keep the door shut at the other end and she did just that. She got her team out of Saturday’s middle frame with the Soaring Eagles’ 1-0 lead intact before stopping 13 shots in the third period to pick up one final shutout, the perfect way to cap her time tending goal for Elmira.
I love playing under pressure,” Sullivan said. “It just makes it easier for me to play, and I knew that Annabelle Jones over at the other end wasn’t going to let another one in, so I knew I couldn’t let one in, either.”
Sullivan didn’t take all the credit, though. After Saturday’s championship game, she spent time building up the defense in front of her that strived to keep attackers out of the middle of the ice and keep opponents’ quality scoring chances to a minimum.
“They played awesome in front of me,” Sullivan said. “They were so calm, and that’s exactly what I like to see.
“When they’re such a calming influence out there, it’s so easy to play behind them. We cleaned up our D zone, and we were successful.”
Soaring Eagles head coach Dean Jackson, who on Saturday capped his first season at the helm of his alma mater’s women’s team, had nothing but praise for Sullivan after the win.
“Pretty good goaltender,” Jackson said, putting it mildly. “Lauren Sullivan has had a tremendous four-year career for us and holds a lot of statistical [records] for our program, but for what she did for us down the stretch, not just during the [regular season], but down the stretch when it’s one-game elimination — she just came to play.”
Sullivan ended her senior season at the school with a 15-4-1 record, 1.18 goals against average and .942 save percentage.
Most importantly, though, she came through huge in the final weeks of the season, and her play was one of the biggest reasons why Elmira came away from Wessman Arena with the national championship trophy in tow.
“She did everything that she needed to do to keep the puck out of the net,” Jackson said of her play throughout this year’s NCAA tournament.
“She made the saves that she should make, and then she made the extraordinary saves that we hope goaltenders make this time of year, that make the difference. She did the job that we needed her to do to win the national championship.”