HAMDEN, Conn. -- Clarkson won its university’s first NCAA national championship in any sport Sunday thanks to the Golden Knights’ 5-4 national title game win against Minnesota.
The Knights’ victory brought upon the Golden Gophers their first loss in 27 games. Even more staggering, though, is that this is the first time any team from outside the Western Collegiate Hockey Association had ever won the NCAA women’s ice hockey national title.
Minnesota, which had won both of the previous two national championships and has four NCAA women’s hockey titles all time, finished its 2013-14 campaign 38-2-1 after having won both the WCHA regular-season title and the league’s playoffs.
“What do I say,” Knights co-head coach Matt Desrosiers said after the game, looking surprised to be sat sporting a national championship cap in front of the gathered media in the bowels of High Point Solutions Arena.
“The girls believed in themselves all year, even incoming into [Sunday], I just had a feeling about the way they were going to come out to play. They weren’t going to back down, and they proved it [Sunday], and I thought they stuck with it very well [Sunday].
“I’m thrilled. I’m just speechless right now.”
Clarkson initially did a great job Sunday of sticking to its system of keeping the Gophers out of the slot in front of the Knights’ net.
When one of them got through the wall 9:40 into the game, though, it led to the game’s opening goal.
Seconds after forward Sarah Davis was kicked out of faceoff in the Knights’ zone, linemate Rachael Bona won the draw and pushed the puck out into the slot. It was there, just a handful of feet in front of CU goaltender Erica Howe, that Davis got in and backhanded a shot over Howe’s glove.
Despite only having 15 healthy skaters, though, Clarkson then got more aggressive than before, and that gutsy decision against a Minnesota team bigger in numbers ended up reaping serious benefits.
The Knights tied the game up at 1-1 at 18:37 when forward Christine Lambert found the back of the Minnesota net inside a scrum in front of Gopher goaltender Amanda Leveille’s crease. CU then took a lead of its own 1:03 later when defenseman Shelby Nisbet deflected a long bomb from fellow blueliner Jennifer Shields just inside the Minnesota zone in past Leveille.
Things got even better for those in green and gold just 38 seconds into the second period when Clarkson doubled its lead. This time, it was Knights forward Jamie Lee Rattray picking up her 29th goal of the season only some 30 hours after being named the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner as college hockey’s top female player.
The rest of Sunday’s middle frame, however, belonged to Minnesota. Gophers forward Maryanne Menefee picked up her second goal of this Women’s Frozen Four at 6:09 before Bona put away the rebound from an initial shot from Megan Wolfe in past Howe at 7:57.
Come the third period, though, the Knights took over and hardly let their grasp weaken a second time.
Minnesota hadn’t given up three goals in a game in just more than two years, but it happened Sunday. Clarkson took its second lead of the night with 8:28 remaining when defenseman Vanessa Plante hammered a shot from high in the slot low past Leveille to the goalie’s glove side.
Forward Shannon MacAulay then added what seemed like an insurance goal on a breakaway with 4:16 left.
That ended up being the game winner, however, after Minnesota defenseman Baylee Gillanders pulled a goal back less than a minute later with her second goal of this year’s Women’s Frozen Four.
The resulting 5-4 scoreline held up, though, and Clarkson became the first women’s hockey team not named Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth or Wisconsin to hoist the NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey national championship trophy.
“Congratulations to Clarkson,” Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. “They played a great hockey game and earned the win here [Sunday].
“I’m just so proud of our players and our team, and obviously it’s tough to be in this situation when we’ve been on the other end of it and know how great it feels, but I’m very blessed to have the players that we do and the staff that we do.”
Minnesota will have a chance to wrest the national championship trophy back next year when the 2015 Women’s Frozen Four takes place in Minneapolis. However, it’s safe to say that after Sunday’s game, the Gophers and the rest of the WCHA has been put well and truly on notice.