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Matthew Semisch | | March 22, 2014

Clarkson looks to make history against defending champs


HAMDEN, Conn. – In the 15 years that the NCAA has sanctioned women’s ice hockey, only teams from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association have won the national championship.

Minnesota’s won the past two and has four NCAA titles in all. The No. 1 Golden Gophers (38-1-1) will shoot for a third in a row and fifth all-time Sunday, but standing in their way is a third-ranked Clarkson team seeking not just glory for itself but for its’ university’s Potsdam, N.Y. community at large.

On Friday, Clarkson won its very first national semifinal by downing seventh-ranked Mercyhurst 5-1. Now, though, the Golden Knights (30-5-5) are entering their school’s first national title game in any NCAA-sanctioned sport since 1970.

Back then, Clarkson’s third national championship game was in men’s hockey, where CU’s only hockey team at the time lost 6-4 to Cornell in Lake Placid, N.Y. On Sunday in Hamden, Conn. on the campus of Quinnipiac, the much younger women’s program will look to make its own history.

Is it a lot to live up to, though, trying to become the first eastern team to win a Women’s Frozen Four?

“I think it’s exciting, actually,” Knights senior forward Jamie Lee Rattray said Saturday, shortly after being named the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner as college hockey’s top female player.

Rattray had also previously been named the ECAC Hockey women’s player of the year for the 2013-14 season.

“You look at the people who have won the national championships and it’s all west, west, west, but we’ve got support from all over our league saying, ‘Be the first east team to win it.’ Nothing would mean more to me than to bring the trophy back to Potsdam and back to the ECAC, and I think it’s neat, you know, it’s exciting.

“It’s a good opportunity for us and I couldn’t ask for more in my senior year than to be playing in the last game of the year, so it’s definitely something very special.”

Clarkson co-head coach Matt Desrosiers was asked that same question. For him, it’s less about carrying the banner for the east coast and more about trying to do the Knights’ own university proud.

“It’s a tough question,” Desrosiers said. “Obviously it’d be great to be the first eastern team to win it, but that’s not your main focus going into these games.

“You want to focus on just putting your best foot forward and then hopefully good things happen, and it’s more about winning it for Clarkson University, the hockey program and the players within it, because they want to win it for themselves.”

That’s something WCHA teams have been doing, too, for as long as the NCAA’s been involved. However, Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said it’s not something for them that only happens in the postseason – It also happens weekend after weekend in league play.

“I was talking last night with another WCHA coach, and that game you saw yesterday, we see those every weekend regardless of our opponent,” Frost said, also referring to the Gophers’ 5-3 national semifinal win Friday against Minnesota’s arch-rival, No. 4 Wisconsin.

“We say it every year, but our [league’s] teams are so well prepared because of the schedule that we play, and playing our league teams four times at least and oftentimes five and six times prepares you and makes life difficult.

“Our seventh-place team in our league this past year split with Mercyhurst when they played them, so it’s a battle and a grind every weekend, and I think our players understand the magnitude of every game and show up for every game, and [Sunday] is no different.”