RIT, Plattsburgh St. battle yet again
Tigers edge past Cardinals in teams' fourth meeting of season
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- After a season of running roughshod over the entire Division III women's hockey landscape, the Tigers of RIT wound up with the worst possible opponent for their national semifinal game on Friday.
Given that Plattsburgh State had more losses this season than any of the other seven schools selected for the eight-team tournament field, one could argue that the Tigers had, in fact, drawn the worst team, but head coach Scott McDonald and his Tigers knew all too well that that was not the case.
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After all, while any team the Tigers might run up against at this point in the season is likely to believe that it can beat RIT, the Cardinals arrived at Frank Ritter Arena on Friday afternoon knowing that they could win.
The only two blemishes on the Tigers' 26-1-1 record in 2011-12 both came at the hands of the Cardinals: a 1-1 tie at Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh on January 13, and a 3-1 Plattsburgh State victory a day later. Moreover, while the Tigers were able to avenge that loss in the ECAC West Championship game -- taking a 2-1 victory at Ritter Arena on March 4 -- the Cardinals were responsible for three of the six games this season that saw the Tigers held to two goals or fewer. As a result, the Tigers knew they were in for a long afternoon on Friday.
"It's two very strong teams, two very good teams," McDonald said. "There's a majority of the girls on both teams who know each other from growing up playing with each other. When you're playing against the best teams, that brings out the best in you. There's not a whole lot of mistakes. Everybody's so disciplined out there defensively that you have to make the most of your opportunities offensively."
Naturally, the knowledge that the nation's No. 2 offense couldn't be counted on for its usual prolific production could have been a burden on sophomore goaltender Laura Chamberlain as she prepared for the game. Like the southern California native she is, however, Chamberlain approached the challenge with a sunny disposition.
"It's definitely a stressful situation, but they're fun games," Chamberlain said, who's one of three Californians on the RIT roster along with Kourtney Kunichika and Ariane Yokoyama. "You don't know what's going to happen. It could go either way. You just have to do your best and believe in your teammates, that they'll get the goals, and I just have to do my part and stop the puck."
Through 55 minutes, that plan seemed to be working out quite well, as a first-period goal by Marissa Maugeri was standing up as the lone goal in the game, aided by 33 Chamberlain saves. However, Chamberlain and her teammates weren't the only ones believing in each other.
"Earlier in the season," Plattsburgh State's Emma Rutherford said, "when we beat them…we knew we could do it the whole time."
Rutherford made good on that belief with 4:55 remaining, as she cleaned up on a Jenny Kistner rebound for her 16th goal of the season, sending the game to overtime.
With 60 minutes in the books, both teams geared up for a long struggle, but the extra session proved to be a short one when Yokoyama found Lindsay Grigg with a backdoor pass, allowing her to put the puck past Plattsburgh's Sydney Aveson, who had been tough to beat in her own right.
"The puck got kicked out from our zone," Yokoyama said, "and I actually didn't even know who it was [at the net]. I just put it to the net."
"It was just a really good play by RIT," Aveson said. "They got the girl backdoor and tipped it in. I was in the play entire time, and I knew there was a girl there, and I slid over. It wasn't enough."
The Tigers got the win they wanted, but once again, they found the Cardinals to be more than a worthy match.
"It was a typical RIT-Plattsburgh game," Cardinals coach Kevin Houle said. "Tight right to the wire."
With four games in the books between RIT and Plattsburgh in 2011-12, the cumulative score finished at 6-6. Only the Tigers could move on, but the Cardinals end their season with nothing to hang their heads over, the six goals apiece over four games a symbol of how closely RIT and Plattsburgh played each other all season long.
"Obviously," Houle said, "we wanted to come out on the winning end of this thing, but we've played with RIT all year long. I'm proud of the way our kids played."
On Saturday, the nation will find out whether the Tigers can bring home the first national championship in program history, and the first for the ECAC West since 2008. On Friday, though both Houle's team and McDonald's did their conference proud.