Thursday, April 18, 2024

Cards take conference titles: Platts claims its 10th straight

By Liam Sample

It’s 2012: “Somebody That I Used to Know” was the top song of the year and Barack Obama was re-elected for his second term as president of the United States. This was the last year the No. 2 Plattsburgh State Women’s hockey team (25-2-0) were not conference champions.

The team extended its conference title streak into the double digits by winning the North East Women’s Hockey League Championship March 7, shutting out the No. 15 Cortland Red Dragons (20-7-0) 2-0 at home March 4. The win means an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Plattsburgh’s streak stretches into two different conferences. Before the first season of the NEWHL back in 2017-2018, the team won five straight ECAC West Titles dating back to 2013 before the current conference was formed. The team is the only to win the NEWHL, winning all five years the conference has existed. 

Plattsburgh’s Assistant Coach Julia Duquette, who played on the team from 2013-2017 and was a part of this streak as both a player and a coach, said it can be attributed to culture.

“I think more than anything it speaks to Coach [Kevin] Houle and the winning culture he has been able to build at Plattsburgh throughout his time here,” Duquette said. 

Houle became head coach in 2003, and is in his 20th season. He has now led the program to its 18th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, all of which he was head coach for. 

It was announced March 7 that Houle, Duquette and their staff won NEWHL Coaching Staff of the season. Houle and Duquette previously won the award in 2020, while Houle had previously won Coach of the Year seven times in the ECAC West. 

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

For his current team, Cortland has been a tough opponent. The Red Dragons played the Cardinals to a 3-3 tie last season, the first ever non-win against Cortland in Plattsburgh’s program history, with the team’s playing against each other since 2001. 

This season’s NEWHL Championship was a rematch, with last season’s championship game being neck-and-neck. Red Dragons forward Grace Schnorr scored a game-tying goal midway through the third to tie the game at three, where it would eventually go into overtime. Graduate student Nicole Unsworth scored on the breakaway less than a minute into the extra frame to send the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament.

These close matchups carried into this season, where the Red Dragons handed Plattsburgh its first NEWHL loss in program history, winning 1-0 in Cortland Dec 2. The Cardinals avenged this at home, winning 3-1 and 2-1 Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, respectively. 

Cortland Head Coach Rick Filighera said that Plattsburgh has pushed his team to get better, along with making the NEWHL competition stronger. 

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

“Having Plattsburgh in [the conference] every year really helps,” Filighera said. “What has helped me build my program is they are the best team and I knew we had to get to a point where we could compete with them on a daily basis.”

The NEWHL as a whole has seen tremendous growth this season, with it being the first time that all four teams that qualified for the conference playoffs have had an overall record above .500. Additionally, all four teams were individually ranked or received votes into the USCHO Division III Poll and D-III Hockey News Top 15 Poll at one point in the season. 

“The growth is immense. I’m excited about our NEWHL and hope that it can continue to be one of the best leagues in the country. That helps all of our recruiting,” Filighera said. “If the league’s good, people want to play in the league.” 

All of this came to a head in the NEWHL Playoffs, which opened with Plattsburgh, as the one seed in the conference, taking down the Canton Kangaroos (14-10-2).

The Cardinals knew the challenge going into the championship game. 

“The pressure was on this year for sure because of [the] 10 consecutive [conference titles],” graduate student and Plattsburgh captain Sara Krauseneck said. “Just knowing that and also how bad Cortland wanted it. Of course, we wanted it just as bad, but we knew the circumstances surrounding the game.”

Duquette said it was nice to have a familiar opponent, but knew it was going to be a “really tough game.”

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

The game began defensively, with only 13 total shots registered in the first period. One of the biggest plays of the period came at the halfway point of the period and after a Cortland powerplay expired. 

After a pass from the boards, Cortland first-year and NEWHL Rookie of the year Ainsley Delacourt skated from the blue line and into the slot, where she attempted a wrist shot into the top half of the net. Senior defender Kendall Wasik, without a stick, stepped into the shooting lane and dropped to one knee to use her upper body for a huge block that led to a Plattsburgh clear. 

Wasik said that “playing her game” and being confident helped her be successful not only in this period, but in the entire game. 

“Just not panicking, not overthinking, just playing simple, hard honest hockey is what came out of that first period,” Wasik said. 

Wasik finished the game with five blocks and has 63 total on the season, 35 more then senior Sierra Benjamin, who has the second most on the team. Plattsburgh had three first-year defenders playing in this game, with the team not letting up any goals. 

Wasik praised the first-year defenders for “playing defense first”, adding that this is the “biggest key,” and for “giving it their all.” Duquette, a former defender, praised Benjamin and Wasik for “leading the charge” with helping the new defenders. She said the group of defenders made big plays throughout the game and added that the entire team got involved with playing defensively blocking shots.  

Duquette said after the first period, the team made a few in-game adjustments and calmed down the emotions. 

It didn’t take long in the second for Plattsburgh to settle in, as a Cortland penalty just 10 seconds into the period jump-started the Cardinal offense. Cortland sophomore goalie Molly Goergen came up with six saves in the two-minute stretch. 

Goergen has played in all eight of Cortland’s games against Plattsburgh since joining the team. She registered a 30 save shutout in these team’s first game this season, while registering over 40 in both appearances against Plattsburgh in February. She finished this game with 29 saves.

Filighera described her as “the ultimate competitor,” adding that she will count how many saves she makes in practice drills.

“I think she’s one of the top goalies in the country. Her numbers show it,” Filighera said. “She’s a Division I talent and we’re fortunate to have found her and got her in our program.”

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

It was just 13 seconds following the powerplay when Plattsburgh was able to get past Goergen, when junior forward Ciara Wall stepped up to the task. 

The sequence began on a Wasik shot that was saved and played back near the blue line, leading senior Julia Masotta to skate past a diving Red Dragon to prevent a clear and get the puck. She took it all the way around the net and into the corner, giving the offense time to get set up, and passed it back to Wasik, who sent it to fellow defender, first-year Taya Balfour. With defensive pressure coming, Balfour sent a pass directly to the front of the net to Wall, who quickly turned around to face the net and shot it into the top left-hand corner.

Wall said her job on the power play is to stand in front of the net to support and attempt to deflect shots. 

“So the powerplay expired and our powerplay unit was still out there. We still had the puck in possession, so I just stayed in the front of the net,” Wall said. “Taya [Balfour] hit me with a good look from the point and I was able to collect it and just turn and put it in a corner.”

This was Wall’s fourth goal of the year and 26th point, she is second on the team in assists with 22. Duquette said Wall isn’t a player who scores every game, but is an “important piece of the puzzle.” She added it was great for Wall to get that goal, and praised both Balfour’s pass and Wall’s ability to finish the play. 

Plattsburgh hit its stride after the goal and outshot Cortland 17-3 in the period, with Duquette describing the Cardinals as “a second period team.” The team had its work cut out for it in the final frame, but delivered in the clutch.

Just four minutes into the third period and on the power play, the two Cardinal defenders on the ice, sophomore Mattie Norton and Benjamin went back and forth with passes. Benjamin decided to skate into the red circle in front of her, playing a pass to senior Ivy Boric, who was on the red line to the right of the net. Boric quickly passed it to the front of the net for an open Krauseneck, who one-timed it past Goergen.

Conference titles was not the only streak extended into the double digits. With this goal, Krauseneck has now tallied a point in 10 straight games, including six goals in her last four games.

“We don’t do that play too often, I don’t think. Normally we got shots off from the point,” Krauseneck said. “On their [penalty] kill, they don’t pressure me much at all. They’re around me but they block off the middle and stay on the surrounds, so it left me pretty open and Ivy [Boric] saw an opening there and made a great pass to me, and I just fired it off as soon as it got to me.”

Krauseneck said she was “a bit more comfortable” after the goal, but was not “relaxed in any way until the game was over.”

The powerplay has been pivotal for the Cardinals against Cortland multiple times this year. During these two teams’ game Feb. 3, Boric scored the go-ahead and eventual game winner on the powerplay midway through the second period. Norton also tallied a game winner on the man advantage the next day against Cortland, scoring a long shot from the point with less than six minutes left in regulation. The Plattsburgh powerplay has a 31.3% success rate on the season, good for third in the nation. 

Plattsburgh would go on to hang on to the two goal advantage with the help of a nine save third period from graduate student Ashley Davis. This was her second career win in a NEWHL Championship game, getting the win back in the 2019-2020 season before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID. Davis picked up her 12th career shutout and moved to a perfect 7-0-0 on the season. 

“I put a lot of work into the week going into a game. I prepare specifically for opponents, whether that’s video or anything like that and I was excited to get another crack at Cortland,” Davis said. “Anytime you can roll through and have that confidence during a game and keep it going into the next is huge.”

Davis appeared twice this season against Cortland, making 24 and 21 saves Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 saves respectively and allowing only two combined goals in the pair of games. She said that while she just wanted to see the win, it was “big for me personally” to get the shutout. 

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

One of the changes the team made to start the season was bringing in former Plattsburgh goalie Kassi Abbott to be the team’s goaltending coach. 

Abbott is a former first-team ACHA All-American goalie and national champion.

Abbott said Houle reached out when she was on vacation in Florida. Once they talked and she realized it worked for both her schedule and the team, she accepted. According to her, “a simple text message started the whole process.”

The team currently has three rostered goalies, Davis, senior Lilla Nease and senior Chloe Beaubien, all of which have seen improvements in their goals allowed average from last season. 

“From the start of the season to now, they have definitely evolved over time and they all have the capabilities, they have been playing hockey for 10 plus years,” Abbott said. “They know how to play goalie, I am just here to give them a little sense of direction and support.”

Davis, who was a first-year on the team when Abbott was a senior, said having someone in the coaching staff that understands “what goes into the position more than on the ice,” has been “really helpful.”

Abbott emphasized that Davis is “the person in net,” but it’s good to see her “pick those tools out of the toolbox” and use them against Cortland. 

In preparing for the NCAA Tournament, Abbott says it will be “basically the same routine.” 

“The first game of the season is no different from the last game,” Abbott said. “As of right now it stays the same. We keep everything the same with our routines.”

Duquette emphasized that Abbott has been a huge asset for both the physical practice with the goalies, but her focus on the mental side of the game. 

Following the championship game, the next step was the Selection Show, which took place the next day and is where the NCAA announces the official tournament bracket. It is released on the NCAA website, according to Krauseneck, the “majority” of the team got together waiting for the official release of the bracket.

She said since her first season at Plattsburgh, there has been a tradition where the team uses a napkin and pen to write out what it thinks the bracket will look like.

“I think most years are at least pretty close to what [the bracket] is supposed to be,” Krauseneck said. 

She said the team was expected to be placed in a play-in game, but “were happily wrong,” when it was announced the team had received a first-round bye. 

Plattsburgh will officially host a game in the NCAA quarter-finals, taking on No. 7 Middlebury (16-7-3), who beat Suffolk  (18-8-2) 4-0 in the first-round of the NCAA Playoffs March 8. The Cardinals also hosted a quarter-final game last year, eliminating Colby College before finishing third nationally. 

Middlebury is the defending national champion and got to the tournament this season via an at-large bid, which is picked by the NCAA for team’s who do not receive automatic qualifications for the tournament. Plattsburgh took down the Panthers this season, winning 2-1 in overtime on the road Jan. 10. 

Krauseneck, in her final season and being the captain, said with this being her last shot “puts a different perspective” on going to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s amazing to be at home and to play in front of our fans. The atmosphere is second to none,” Duquette said. “Couldn’t be better to be at home at the Ronnie B., we wouldn’t want to be on the road. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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