POTSDAM, N.Y. -- One of the key reasons the Clarkson University women's hockey team has won two national championships in the last four years and been to three Frozen Fours is a reputation as a strong defensive program.
The Golden Knights have two defensive alums, Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast, currently trying to make Canada's 2018 Winter Olympic team.
And the current squad has continued the trend of excellence led by senior captain Savannah Harmon.
"That's probably one of the big reasons why we've started to become a pretty-solid team year after year, because of the type of defensemen that we've had come through our program," Clarkson coach Matt Desrosiers said. "(Harmon) is just that kind of steady defenseman, but also that type of personality as well. She just kind of keeps things calm, doesn't get overly-excited. She keeps her teammates accountable, but at the same time she's that kid that anyone can go up too and talk too. She just kind of keeps things level-headed for us."
Harmon, who was a co-captain last year with Cayley Mercer, scored 11 goals last year, including the game-winning goal in a 3-0 win over Wisconsin in the national championship game, and she added 25 assists for 36 points in 41 games. She also had a plus-36 rating, following a plus-30 rating as a sophomore
Perhaps most impressive was she took only four penalties all of last season and has averaged only 5.7 a year in her first three seasons.
Harmon's ability to do her job well, and keep her cool, will be a significant aid to Clarkson (32-4-5 overall last year) as it begins its national title defense with a pair of nonconference games at Northeastern this weekend, beginning at 7 tonight.
"Last year I think me and Mercer worked really well together and I think it helped me a lot going into this year," Harmon said. "This year I have great assistant captains with me, so I think it's pretty much a group effort and it will go really well. There's a lot to take from (Mercer). She's an unreal hockey player and her leadership abilities are pretty-strong too. There is a lot to take from her."
Clarkson's defense gave up only 63 goals in 41 games last year and after Oct. 22 the Golden Knights gave up more than two goals in a game just five times. Harmon and sophomore Ella Shelton were chosen the first-team All-ECAC Hockey defenseman by the league's coaches in a preseason vote.
"Our unit is really good," Harmon said. "We are pretty solid and, personality-wise, we all get along real good. We are all pretty similar. I'm excited for the season."
Harmon and Clarkson's starting goalie, Shea Tiley, are close friends, which also produces benefits for Clarkson's defense.
"We can joke around," Tiley said. "If I see something, I can say it without having to worry about anything. If she sees something, she can say something. We have really good communication and it's just fun being able to joke around sometimes and lighten the mood. Before the third period of a 5-3 exhibition win against Guelph last Saturday Tiley was playfully pushing Harmon away from the boards near the bench as the period was about to start as the two shared another laugh together.
"We have a big senior class and that whole class is pretty close," Desrosiers said. "A lot of the time your leadership isn't just from your captains and assistants, it stems from your seniors as well. They are just a great group of individuals. They are all in it together, they understand the way we want to play and they push each other in practice."
Another benefit the senior class has is they have already experienced what it's like to be a defending national champion. They came in as freshman in the 2014-15 season, the first year after Clarkson's first national championship.
"I think it's helpful," Tiley said. "In 2014 everyone was gunning for us and it was a lot of fun to play, being in those high-intensity situations."
This article is written by Cap Carey from Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.