Women’s Hockey Hits Road to Face #5 Clarkson in ECAC Semifinals
The Cornell Men’s Hockey team isn’t the only squad playing the defending national champions this weekend.
With the men playing defending national champion Union in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, the Cornell Women’s Hockey team (18-10-3, 9-4-3 ECAC) will travel to Potsdam, NY to take on the defending champion and ECAC top seed Clarkson Golden Knights (24-9-3, 16-4-2 ECAC) in the ECAC semifinals Saturday at 1:00 pm at Cheel Arena. The game is a rematch of last year’s ECAC championship game, when the Big Red beat the Golden Knights 1-0 to claim their fourth ECAC title in five years.
Both teams are coming off quarterfinals sweeps, with Cornell edging out St. Lawrence and Clarkson upending Dartmouth. Even though the Big Red enter the game ranked #9 in the country, they most likely need to win at least this game in order to be one of the eight teams selected for the NCAA tournament. They got off to a great start this past weekend vs. St. Lawrence, sweeping the best-of-three quarterfinal by winning 3-1 and 3-2. Their experience in the playoffs showed, as they scored the game-winner in the third period of both games. This included Saturday’s impressive comeback when they scored three in the final period when down 2-0 to clinch the series. Sophomore goalie Paula Voorheis had a phenomenal weekend, stopping 49 of the 52 shots she faced, including several breakaway and odd-man rush attempts. After a rough start to the season, the Ontario native has come on strong in the latter half of the season, and has the ability to keep the Big Red competitive in any game.
However, if Cornell is to have any success this weekend, they will need to rely heavily on their top line. Olympic gold medalist Brianne Jenner (14-34-48), Emily Fulton (21-23-44) and Jillian Saulnier (17-23-40) make up one of the most potent lines in the country, and are a threat to score any time they are on the ice. They have helped Cornell score 3.29 goals per game, good for seventh in the NCAA. The trio of senior forwards played a big role in last Saturday’s comeback win over the Saints, with Saulnier scoring the game-tying goal, Fulton scoring the game-winner with just under four minutes left, and Jenner assisting with both goals. If this line is able to control the puck and create good scoring opportunities, it will put Cornell in a great position to advance.
However, that is a tall task to fill against a Clarkson team allowing just 1.47 goals per game, the fifth-fewest in the nation. Freshman goalie Shea Tiley has been one of the best in the country this year, with a .944 save percentage and miniscule 1.28 GAA. She has put up these numbers due to having one of the best defenses in the NCAA in front of her. The Golden Knight’s defense is known for giving the opposition very few quality chances to score by clogging up shooting lanes and staying disciplined within their system. This shows in the numbers, as they are sixth in the NCAA in penalty killing and have three players with 50 or more blocked shots, with senior defenseman Daniella Matteucci leading the way with 65. However, Cornell has had success versus this defense already this year, exploding for eight goals in an 8-3 victory at Potsdam in December.
Clarkson, however, is not just known as a defensive unit, as their offensive attack is also dangerous. Averaging just under three goals per game, and containing the fourth-best power play unit in the country, their offense is not something to be ignored. Though they aren’t quite as prolific as the Golden Knights squad that scored 10 goals in two games in last year’s Frozen Four, they are still one of the better offenses Cornell has faced this year. They are led by forwards Cayley Mercer (23-19-42) and Shannon MacAulay (16-17-33), who scored the game-winner against Minnesota in last year’s 5-4 triumph in the national championship game. Similar to St. Lawrence last week, they have a balanced attack, with four players having over 30 points, and seven with over 20.
Even though they are underdogs to the #1-seeded Golden Knights, Cornell has a decent shot to best them on their home ice for the second straight year. Having been to five straight NCAA tournaments, and winning four of the last five ECAC titles, they have a wealth of experience in big games. However, the one thing the Big Red has not done in their dominating five-year run is win the national championship, something Clarkson accomplished last season. They will playing a team that has the same level of experience in these kinds of games that they do. Having beaten Clarkson already in their own rink and tying them at Lynah, the Big Red has the ability to beat the defending national champs. However, they must put forth a terrific all-around effort if they hope to advance and keep their season alive.