The emotions on the ice ranged from sad, to angry, to confused. These Cardinals had never been here before.
The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team lost the third-place game in the 2018 NCAA Division III National Championships last Saturday, falling to the Hamline Pipers 5-4 in overtime.
This came after the Cardinals fell to the Elmira Soaring Eagles 3-2 in double overtime Friday in their semifinal matchup, marking the first time since 2013 that PSUC did not win a national championship, as well as the first time they have lost two games in a single weekend since being swept by Elmira in a conference series in 2015.
The Cards were no strangers to overtime action, having won last year’s title in the extra frame but were unable to use that experience to their advantage.
“These are games we’ve been able to finish off in the past, but we just couldn’t quite do it tonight,” head coach Kevin Houle said following the loss to the Soaring Eagles.
Houle’s prerogative for his team all season had been to start strong and score early, and PSUC didn’t disappoint in that regard against Elmira.
Forty seconds into the opening stanza, senior right wing Kayla Meneghin deposited a rebound at the right side of the Soaring Eagles’ net after junior left wing Courtney Moriarty backhanded the puck on to open the scoring.
All three of Elmira’s goals were scored by forward Shannon Strawinski, with her hat-trick goal coming 16:10 into the second overtime.
Both of her regulation goals came after defensive lapses by the Cards, with Strawinski left uncovered in the slot on her first goal and with PSUC missing several chances to clear the zone on her second.
Senior goalie Brooke Wolejko fell one save short of the Cardinal women’s hockey program single-game record, stopping 43 of Elmira’s 46 shots.
“Going into the game I just wanted to remember why I started playing in the first place,” Wolejko said. “I just wanted to have fun, let loose and soak it all in. Unfortunately, we didn’t want the outcome we got.”
The Cards’ start against Hamline was the polar opposite.
The first period against the Pipers was one of the most disastrous of PSUC’s season as it was outshot 19-12 en route to Hamline taking a 3-1 lead.
Junior goalie Kassi Abbott stopped 16 of 19 shots to keep the Cards in the game during the first period, as the Pipers had several odd-man rushes in the frame.
“I had about 12 shots probably in the first six minutes of the game, but I know the goalie that I am and that I can keep my team in the game,” Abbott said. “I knew that they would pick it up, so I had no worries.”
Houle reined in the focus of the team during the first intermission.
“Our message was, ‘Hey, I don’t care if we go out and lose the game, we just have to go out and compete and play hard’,” Houle said. “You don’t want to go out and get beat six or seven to one on a national stage.”
PSUC tied the game 3-3 in the second with freshman center Annie Katonka and senior left wing Melissa Sheeran each netting their own goal.
Sheeran had a simple response when asked what was going through her head as she shot the puck.
“Please don’t hit the goalie in the chest,” Sheeran said. “At that point, I was just trying to get it on net, and thinking, ‘Please just go in.’”
Katonka also gave the Cards a brief lead 9:32 into the third period as she tallied her second on the game before Hamline’s Becca Zarembinski knotted the game up once again, this time 4-4 with 4:44 left.
The overtime period proved to be all Hamline, with the Pipers outshooting the Cards 7-1 before finally notching the winning goal with 6.2 seconds left on the clock.
Though it came under less than desirable circumstances for Abbott, her 47-save performance earned her a place in Cardinals’ women’s hockey history the day after Wolejko fell just shy.
Abbott beat alumna Sydney Aveson’s 44-save performance for the new PSUC single-game save record.
“I guess that’s pretty cool,” Abbott said. “It’ll keep driving me to be a better goalie for my teammates, and just to be back there and make saves.”
Moving forward, the Cards will lose key pieces of their offense in Meneghin and Sheeran, as well as pieces of their back end with defenseman Lizzy Viola and goalie Brooke Wolejko also graduating.
Meneghin and Sheeran each left their names all over the record books in their careers as Cards, finishing with 188 and 186 points respectively, good for fourth and fifth all-time in NCAA Division III history.
Sheeran also won the 2017-18 Laura Hurd Award, which is given annually to the top player in NCAA Division III.
Katonka was confident that despite these players’ importance to PSUC, the returning Cards will be able to step up in their absence.
“It’ll definitely be hard to fill in the positions of Kayla, Sheeran, Lizzy and Brooke but I feel like our team can do it,” Katonka said. “We have the talent and the mentality.”
So the season comes to a close, a close that will feel unfamiliar to most of the PSUC community.
There will be no parade. There will be no national championship trophy. But there will always be next year.
Email Ben Watson at email@example.com