Plattsburgh, NY -- For a second consecutive game, Elmira trailed by two goals in the second period of an NCAA Tournament game. Elmira surrendered two first-period goals tonight and trailed 19:59 into the second period, but a power-play goal by Ashton Hogan '15 with one second remaining in the second period drastically changed the landscape of tonight's game, as the Soaring Eagles went on to score three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 victory against No. 3 Wisconsin-River Falls. With the win, Elmira advances to tomorrow's NCAA National Championship game where they will face tournament host, and top seeded, Plattsburgh State at 7:00 p.m.
"Tonight was certainly a tremendous game on both sides," head coach Dean Jackson said. "It was very fast paced and there were certainly a lot of scoring opportunities on both sides. It was a fantastic hockey game tonight for sure."
Almost getting lost the chaos that was tonight's game was the fact that two historical milestones were reached by a pair of Elmira players. The 2015 Division III National Player of the Year, Ashley Ryan, picked up her 42nd assist of the season, breaking the Elmira single-season record and tying the NCAA single-season mark. Also, fellow AHCA First Team All-American Brooke Wilgosh recorded her 100th career point, making Wilgosh the first defenseman in EC history to reach the 100-point plateau.
Additionally, with the win, Elmira improves to 26-2-1 on the season. Elmira's 26 wins ties the most wins in program history, a mark by the 2001-02 NCAA National Championship team who concluded their season with a 26-1-1 mark.
It only took 6:37 for the game's first goal to be scored. Unfortunately that goal came from the stick of UW-River Falls' Sam Greeley who buried a slap shot top shelf from the blue line to put the Falcons on top, 1-0.
Less than a minute later, it looked as though the Falcons were going to take a 2-0 lead as a loose puck found its way to an unmarked Falcon skater in the slot. Thankfully, Elmira's Kyle Nelson '17 made a last second kick-save to keep it a one-goal game through the first seven and a half minutes of the first period.
However, UW-River Falls' near-goal was a sign of things to come, as the Falcons took a 2-0 lead with 5:54 to play in the first. Carly Moran setup the goal by sending a pass from end-boards to Dani Sibley in the slot, where Sibley would one-time it through the five-hole for the score.
Elmira would hold a 12-to-8 advantage in shots on goal in the period, however, Wisconsin's Angie Hall would make 12 saves to keep Elmira scoreless, as the first period came to a close with the Soaring Eagles trailing 2-0.
A key factor in the first period was Wisconsin's transition game. Elmira had ample scoring opportunities, but Wisconsin was clinical in clearing the puck in their zone, creating a handful of odd-man rushes for the Falcons, which although Wisconsin did not score on a rush, did put an abrupt end to Elmira's ability to create second-chance scoring opportunities.
In the second, Elmira's Ashton Hogan nearly scored twice on a pair of very opportunistic chances, one in the first five minutes on a one-on-one rush that saw her shot ricochet off the facemask of Wisconsin's Angie Hall. The other near scoring chance occurred at the 13:33 mark when Hogan quickly one-timed a shot in the slot, but Hall would make the save and smother the puck to maintain the Falcons' 2-0 lead.
From there, both teams had plenty of chances to score as six penalties were called, creating six power-play chances split evenly between Elmira and Wisconsin. The Falcons put seven shots on goal during their power-play opportunities compared to Elmira's three, however, EC's third power-play shot would be a big one.
With one second remaining in the second period, a loose puck in front of the Wisconsin net was collected by Hogan, who wristed a shot top shelf, beating Wisconsin's Hall glove-side for the power-play score. The scoring chance began with Nelson making a kick save on a Wisconsin rush, which allowed Elmira to gain entry into the Falcons' zone with relative ease. While in the zone, Elmira's forwards worked behind the net before sending the puck into the slot for Hogan to score. Johanna Eidensten '17 was credited with an assist on Elmira's first goal of the game.
Wisconsin fans were lobbying to have the goal called off as the buzzer sounded while Elmira celebrated the score, but the officials stood firm that the goal was scored with one second remaining as the Soaring Eagles entered the third period trailing, 2-1.
Trailing by one goal in the third period, an in-game adjustment by Coach Dean Jackson '03 proved to be key as the Soaring Eagles took a hefty advantage in shots on goal, 16-to-5. The lopsided stat line paid off seven minutes into the third as Erin Weston '15 scored her 11th goal of the season, tying the game for the first time since the first period.
Weston's game-tying goal looked very similar to her game-winner from last week, as a shot from the blue line by Wilgosh made its way through traffic before Wisconsin's Hall turned it away. Just like last week, Weston rushed in on the weak side and buried the puck into the net for the score, tying the game at 2-2 with 13 minutes to play. Eidensten and Wilgosh were credited with assists on the goal.
With the momentum all on Elmira's side, the Soaring Eagles looked to ride that wave of energy to another goal, and did so thanks to senior Cassidy Delainey '15, who scored what turned out to be the game-winner at the 10:22 mark of the period.
Delainey's goal was setup by Hogan who, while falling to the ice, sent a shot on net that would be saved by Hall. However, Hall was unable to collect the loose puck as it dribbled out the weak side of the crease where Delainey was camped out. From there, Delainey put a stick on the puck and it almost looked like Hall was going to come up with the save, but a second effort by the senior would put the Soaring Eagles ahead 3-2, and send Elmira into their second NCAA National Championship game in three years.
Playing a large role in tonight's win was second-year netminder Kyle Nelson. Nelson finished with 21 saves, which on its own is not headline material, however, the quality of her saves tonight were highlight reel worthy. Nelson made several last second kick saves, that at the time either kept Elmira's deficit manageable, or kept EC's lead intact. With the win, Nelson improves to 16-2-1 on the year.