In mid-October, Wisconsin traveled to Potsdam, N.Y. and faced Clarkson in a battle of two of the best NCAA women’s hockey teams in the country.
Clarkson, which won a national championship in 2014, was trying to find itself. The Badgers beat Clarkson 3-2 in overtime in the first game and 4-1 the next afternoon.
The two losses dropped the Knights’ record to 2-3-1.
“They (Badgers) pushed us hard to figure out who we were and what type of team we needed it to be," Clarkson coach Matt Desrosiers said.
Desrosiers soon learned that the 2016-17 Knights were a resilient group. And in an ironic twist, the team that awakened Clarkson is the team the Knights will face in the 2017 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four championship game.
Clarkson, 31-4-5, takes on Wisconsin, 33-2-4, 3 p.m. ET Sunday at Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo. Clarkson is going for its second national title, and Wisconsin is seeking its fifth but first since 2011.
The seniors for Wisconsin have a hunger to bring home a championship banner. In the three previous seasons, the Badgers lost in the semifinals.
“We just wanted to get over that hump,” said Wisconsin senior Mellissa Channell. “We always have a joke, ‘make it to the game, make it to the game.’ This year we are fortunate enough that we actually get to play on Sunday.”
Desrosiers saw a resiliency in the Knights throughout the season to just win the game. Their only loss since dropping two to Wisconsin in October came Jan. 20, falling 2-1 at home to Cornell.
All the wins, though, didn’t come easily.
“We had to come from behind in a bunch of games,” Desrosiers said. “We just keep going about our business and not panicking.”
The resilient trait came in handy Friday evening in Clarkson’s 4-3 semifinal victory against Minnesota, the two-time defending champion.Every time Clarkson took a lead in a period, Minnesota tied the game before the period ended. Even when Clarkson took a 3-2 lead with 15 minutes left in the third period, Minnesota tied it with 5 minutes remaining.
Instead of getting down or showing signs of anxiousness that the defending champion was about to pull out a come-from-behind win, the Knights continued to press the action the way they had the entire contest. And with 90 seconds left, senior forward Rhyen McGill scored the game-winning goal.
“I think that is how our team rolls,” said junior defender Savannah Harmon. “We produce throughout the entire team. We work well in the offensive zone when all five are moving the puck and contributing. That is when our team is rolling best.”
Clarkson is like most teams that reach a championship game. In-game adversity doesn’t rattle them. Championship teams find ways to win. Once again, Desrosiers saw that from his team on Friday.
“We didn’t really fold under the pressure even though they tied the score a couple of times there,” Desrosiers said. “I thought the group did a really good job of not panicking there and going about our business. I am really proud of this group.”