Friday, June 14, 2024

Plattsburgh finishes 2022-23 as national semifinalists

By Collin Bolebruch

After extending its NEWHL championship streak and taking down the reigning national champions in the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals, the Plattsburgh Cardinals women’s hockey team returned from Amherst, Massachusetts last weekend with its second consecutive finish as national semifinalists. 

The Cards fell 2-3 in five periods to the Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties from St. Peter, Minnesota. The game was a rematch of last year’s semifinal game, when Plattsburgh lost 1-5 to Gustavus Adolphus.

“We just had to match their intensity. We talked about that all week. We know they’re a good team, a physical team. We knew we had to stand up to that, and I thought we did from the drop of the puck,” Head Coach Kevin Houle said. “The girls executed, [it was] a great game. There was nothing else that could have been done.”

This year, the Gusties advanced to the NCAA Championship and beat the Amherst Mammoths 2-1 in triple overtime.

Forwards Julia Masotta and Ivy Boric scored goals, assisted by forward Sara Krauseneck and defenseman Kendall Wasik. Boric, Masotta and Krauseneck all recorded a plus minus of plus-two and Wasik had seven blocks. 

In almost 90 minutes, goalie Ashley Davis tallied a career-high 44 saves, good for the second-most for a Cardinal in a single game ever. Gustavus Adolphus succeeded on one of four power play opportunities and Plattsburgh failed to capitalize on its two.

Masotta got the first score of the game at the 3:31 mark after receiving a Krauseneck pass on the left, putting the puck in from the circle. Seven minutes later, the Golden Gusties responded with a missed shot followed by a rebound that snuck past Davis.

Boric scored the lone goal of the second period. Wasik blocked a Gustavus Adolphus shot and deflected the puck to Boric, who put it in on the right side.

Six minutes into the third period, Krauseneck was sent to the penalty box for a two-minute tripping penalty. In the Gusties third power play attempt, it was able to put the puck in between the legs of Davis while the Cards were a man down. The score tied the game at 2-2.

In the 86th minute, Golden Gustie first-year Lily Mortenson scored the game-winning goal. A Gustie set the puck up for her in the left circle, and Mortenson took the shot from the center, extending the puck just beyond Davis’ left hand and into the goal.

“I mean, what can you say? It was an unbelievable game, an unbelievable effort by both teams. I couldn’t be more proud of our team’s effort all year long and certainly tonight,” Houle said. “We gave it everything we had. It came down to the bounce of the puck.”

Plattsburgh’s semifinal appearance was the consequence of three consecutive playoff wins, including two in the SUNYAC Tournament and the preceding NCAA Championship quarterfinal game.

Benjamin credited the team’s depth this season and Krauseneck highlighted the team’s fight all season. For this season’s success, Houle was nominated for the CCM/American Hockey Coaches Association NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Coach of the Year Award.

The Cardinals’ playoff run began Feb. 25 with a dominant 7-1 home win against the Canton Kangaroos and one of the SUNYAC’s best goalies in Sirena Alvarez. The first round victory concluded a four-game season series sweep against the ‘Roos. Plattsburgh displayed its depth versus Canton, as all seven Cardinal goals came from different players.

A week later, March 4, Plattsburgh hosted the Cortland Red Dragons for the second consecutive season in the Cardinals’ tenth straight conference championship win. The Cards’ 2-0 win was thanks in part to Davis, who recorded her first playoff shutout since 2020, also against Cortland.

Winning the SUNYAC punched the Cardinals an automatic ticket to the NCAA Championship. Plattsburgh hosted its third consecutive playoff game March 11 against the Middlebury Panthers, the team that won the national championship last season. The Panthers were a tall task for a quarterfinal game, but the Cardinals weren’t phased, winning 4-2.

Middlebury was undefeated during the 2021-22 season, completing its run hosting and winning the national championship. This year, the Panthers found trouble against top-ranked opponents during the regular season, finishing with a 17-8-3 record. To advance to the quarterfinal round, Middlebury beat the Suffolk Rams 4-0 at home.

Krauseneck, Boric and forwards Nicole Unsworth and Emma McLean all found the back of the net, with help from forward Holly Schmelzer and Masotta, who had two assists each. 

Defensemen Mattie Norton and Taya Balfour both put in good minutes on the ice, logging a plus minus of plus-three. Wasik tallied six blocks and Davis found success in her third consecutive playoff start, saving 28 of 30 shots.

The Cards didn’t hesitate, opening the game with a score in under two minutes. First-year McLean scored the second goal of her collegiate career after Schmelzer found the needle in a haystack, knocking the puck away from a congested right side of the net to forward Riley Calhoun in the slot, who got the puck to McLean on an uncontested left side of the net.

Eight minutes later, the Panthers had a score of its own on the power play. Halfway through the second period, Krauseneck did it herself, stealing the puck on the Cardinals side of the ice and took it the distance, dangling the puck in front of Middlebury’s goalie before scoring.

Boric ended the second period with the game-winning goal. Masotta got the puck to Krauseneck, who distributed it to Boric for the sealing score. Middlebury scored again, but an Unsworth open-netter buried the Panthers to strip their title as champions.

Plattsburgh finished its season 26-3 overall and 17-1 in conference games. During this year’s slate of games, the Cardinals beat the No. 9 Norwich Cadets 5-4, the No. 4 and No. 8 Elmira Soaring Eagles 7-0 and 3-2, the No. 15 Oswego Lakers 3-2, the No. 3 Adrian Bulldogs 1-0 and the No. 7 Middlebury Panthers 2-1. In 19 seasons as head coach, Kevin Houle has yet to finish a season with under 20 wins. 

The Cardinals’ loss ends an 18-game win streak including the playoffs. During this stretch, the Cards notched three playoff wins, four wins against ranked opponents and 11 of the season’s 17 conference wins.

The streak was sparked by Plattsburgh’s first-ever loss in the NEWHL. Since joining the conference in 2017, the Cardinals hadn’t lost a regular season or postseason game to another NEWHL team. Cortland shut out Plattsburgh 1-0 Dec. 2.

During the Cards’ 18-game stretch, it beat the Red Dragons 3-1 Feb. 3 and again the next day for insurance 2-1. After Cortland beat Oswego 2-1 en route to the NEWHL Championship, Plattsburgh sealed the deal, silenced any doubt and tightened its grip on the conference.

Plattsburgh’s February games against Cortland saw Davis in the net for just the second and third time all season. Davis was Plattsburgh’s primary goalie in her sophomore season, seeing 1119:59 minutes of action and recording a 0.949 save percentage and 0.91 goals against average. She won all 19 of her starts, allowing just 17 goals.

After returning from the team’s canceled season, Davis lost her grip on the starting role. She saw starts in November and most of January, but then-junior Chloe Beaubien got the look as the season progressed. Beaubien started all four of Plattsburgh’s playoff games, but was pulled during the semifinal against Gustavus Adolphus for Davis. Beaubien ended the season with 13 minutes more than Davis in the net.

Davis didn’t play a game during the first half of the 2022-23 season. Senior Lilla Nease saw most of the season’s action, recording 1146:55 minutes. Nease was on a nine-game win streak and allowed 12 goals during that span when her status as top goalie was revoked.

Going forward, into the most important stretch of the season, Davis was the primary goalie. Davis’ first start of the season was a 5-0 shutout against the Potsdam Bears, saving 14 shots. Davis helped win both Cortland games and then four more conference games, including the NEWHL playoffs, and then an NCAA Championship game.

Davis wasn’t the season’s top goalie, and her 544:36 minutes in the goal was her lowest since her first season, but she got the starts when it mattered the most. Her nine goals allowed in nine games, eight straight wins and three shutouts propelled the Cardinals into the NCAA Championship semifinals. Davis stood on her head against Gustavus Adolphus.

As a graduate student in her fifth year of play, Davis spent her college eligibility and cannot return to the team next season. Joining her in departure are captains Krauseneck, Schmelzer and Benjamin, graduate student Unsworth and senior Beaubien.

Krauseneck and Benjamin were both named 2022-23 American Hockey Coaches Association All-Americans to finish their careers. 

Benjamin, named to the First Team East finished the year with a plus minus of plus-28, a team-leading 25 assists and 30 points overall. She was fourth in the country in assists per game with 0.96. Her 87 career points are the 4th most in program history for a defenseman.

“We gave it our all,” Benjamin said. “It just didn’t bounce our way.”

Krauseneck, on Second Team East, was the Cardinals’ captain and top-scorer, recording 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 total points. Her eight power play goals were good for third nationally and her eight game-winning goals led the country. Krauseneck’s 138 career points is the 11th most in Cardinals history.

“A lot of emotions, we’re proud of how everyone played,” Krauseneck said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t come out on top, but I can say we gave it our all.”

The Cardinals, saying goodbye to all three captains and arguably its top two players, now look to its younger players to fill now-open roles. The well-oiled machine that is Plattsburgh does not know what an “off year” is. Just as Krauseneck stepped up when Annie Katonka left and Benjamin did the same for Erin McArdle, Plattsburgh will look to its deep roster in an attempt to capture its 11th straight conference title and semifinal appearance.

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