Friday, June 14, 2024

Champions once again, sealed in overtime

Sure they had done it before, but never quite like this.

The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team won its NCAA record fourth national championship in a row after some late-game heroics to beat Adrian College in the championship match.

Trailing 3-2 in the final minute of the game while down a player on the penalty kill, and with the Cardinals’ championship aspirations about to be dashed, head coach Kevin Houle pulled senior goalie Camille Leonard to even up the skaters.

As if it was scripted that way, senior defenseman Julia Duquette picked up a loose puck near the Bulldogs’ blueline in the dying seconds. As Leonard reached the bench for the extra-player, Duquette netted the tying goal with 21.7 seconds on the clock, and chaos ensued on the PSUC bench.

“I actually didn’t see Julia get the puck,” said Leonard. “When I got to the bench, I just looked up and saw the puck go right in the net, it was unbelievable.”

Duquette had not scored all season, but she certainly chose a good time to show off her offensive side.

“Couldn’t have come at a better time,” Duquette said. “Took me long enough though,” she joked.

Houle remarked that the success of their last-ditch effort was quite the experience to be a part of on the bench.

“At that stage it was kind of our last gasp,” Houle said.

“It looked like we had an opportunity, and she made a good move and was able to put the puck home, so it was just an incredible change of emotions.”

So, of course, the game would go to overtime, this being only the second title match in Division III history to go to the extra period. To hear it from the players, though, the sudden death tilt was seen as just another period to play.

“This is our game,” said junior forward Melissa Sheeran when speaking of the mindset in the locker room between the third period and overtime. “We’ve come this far, it must have been for a reason, so let’s just keep pushing.”

The overtime period started with the Cards down a player due to the remainder of their penalty from the third. After that was killed off, though, the overtime belonged to PSUC. The final shot tally for the OT period was 11-5 in favor of the Cards.

With PSUC’s offence buzzing, Adrian could not have picked a worse time to take a penalty. Just past the halfway mark of the stanza, Adrian defenseman Lexie Tzafaroglou went off for a checking minor, and the Cards’ powerplay set to work.

It didn’t take long. A mere 33 seconds later, junior defenseman Megan Crandell got her third assist of the game as she fed a cross-ice pass to the captain, senior defenseman Erin Brand. Brand danced around a defender before putting it five-hole on Adrian goalie Brooke Gibson to finish the game.

For Brand, it was the cherry on top of what has been a fantastic career as a Cardinal.

“It couldn’t have been better, it couldn’t have ended a better way,” Brand said. “It’s been an amazing ride. Plattsburgh has been, and will always be my second home.”

Brand joins fellow seniors Leonard, Duquette, forward Jordan Lipson, forward Katelyn Turk, and forward Melissa Ames as the crop of six seniors that have been at PSUC for all four consecutive national championships.

Leonard expanded on just how special it has been for her.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Leonard said. “You dream about winning one national championship when you’re a kid, not four in a row. It’s unbelievable, it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

It is getting rather unbelievable when you look at the Cards’ track record in the history of NCAA Division III women’s hockey. Out of the 16 years that Div. III national championships have been awarded in women’s hockey, PSUC has won six, amounting to a 37.5% championship success rate.

The team finished the season with a 28-1-1 record, with the last 22 games all being wins.

And they have no intention of slowing down.

Yes, they are losing some key pieces, namely Leonard, Brand, and the late-game hero Duquette, but there will be plenty of returning faces to lead the way.

Sheeran is coming off of an absolutely ludicrous offensive year with 33 goals and 14 assists for 47 points in 30 games, a 1.56 point-per-game pace. She still has one more year as a Card. Crandell was another standout in her first year at PSUC, amassing 2 goals and 23 assists for 25 points in 30 games as a defenseman. Sophomore goalie Kassi Abbott will look to take the reins as the starter for the first time in her Cardinal career, and all signs seem positive. After only starting in two games and seeing action in three in the 2015-16 season, her workload jumped to four starts, and playtime in six games. Her record was a solid 3-0-1, with a .917 save percentage and 1.18 goals against average.

Along with them will come a slew of other returning faces, with a good chunk of the team core staying, at least for another year or two.

Houle and the players now have a long break, and a lot of time to enjoy another championship win. Come next fall, though, it’ll be time to work again, and history suggests that they’ll be just as hungry to get number five.

As for those who are leaving Houle could not be more proud of their accomplishments, and their sacrifices that have brought them their four rings.

“It’s part of the legacy that we have here,” Houle said. “It’s part of the history and tradition that was started fifteen some-odd years ago by the girls that started the program that maybe weren’t able to win a championship, but passed their efforts on to those who have. We’ve just been carrying their torch here, especially the last few years, and it’s great to be a part of it.”

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