The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team made a statement about this season Wednesday night with a 2-0 win over No. 2/3 Norwich, the defending Division III national champion, in a game decided by special teams.
The No. 3/2 Cardinals (3-0-0) got the early-season win over the Cadets (2-2-0) at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena despite accruing 28 minutes of penalties on the night. The PSUC penalty kill unit and senior goaltender Kassi Abbott, who stopped all 32 Norwich shots, kept the Cadet powerplay scoreless on nine opportunities.
“I just keep saying, ‘Stay in the now. Don’t focus on what’s ahead or what you did in the past. Just keep staying focused and focusing on what’s going on right now,’” Abbott said.
The tone for the very physical game was set early, as a race for the puck in the Norwich zone in the first minute of play led to senior center Mackenzie Millen and Norwich’s junior forward Kirsten Watts both falling hard into the boards head-first. Both players appeared shaken up, but play continued while they both skated to their respective benches.
“I just wanted to get that puck bad,” Millen said. “My bell was definitely rung a little bit, but I just shook it off and went out on the next shift.”
Norwich was able to control five-on-five play for much of the first period and forced Abbott to make several key saves to maintain the even scoreline, including one sequence eight minutes into the game in which the Cadets directed several shots Abbott’s way during a frenzy in the crease.
“She played great,” head coach Kevin Houle said. “A couple different times in the game, she was tested. We had a bad turnover in our own end, and they certainly had a good scramble in front and a couple great chances. Those are the saves you need your goalie to make to keep things even.”
After the Cards began to build some momentum with their one power play of the first period, they held a 10-8 advantage in shots at the end of the first period.
With as much time as PSUC spent on the penalty kill on the night, it was fitting that the first puck past Norwich’s sophomore goaltender, Emily Lambert, was a short-handed goal. Millen’s quick backhand pushed the puck around a diving Lambert, and the puck found its way into the net.
Senior captain Courtney Moriarty provided the assist on the play.
“Courtney did all the hard work on the boards there, battling one-on-one, and I just saw the puck pop out,” Millen said. “I had a lot of free range up the ice, so I just took advantage of that.”
While the Cards were excited to take the lead, they knew they needed to settle down and refocus in order to maintain it.
“It’s obviously a pretty big goal, but after it goes in, and after everyone’s done celebrating, we just have to get back and go like it’s 0-0,” Abbott said.
Despite PSUC continuing to occupy the penalty box for much of the game — the Cards were called three times in each period — it was a power-play goal in the third period that sealed the win. Sophomore forward Annie Katonka jammed home a rebound in front of the net for the tally.
“We took advantage of that opportunity,” Houle said. “It gives you breathing room, certainly, down the stretch.”
The win is a big statement for PSUC, joining 2018 runner-up, No. 1/1 Elmira College, in knocking off the defending national champion in the opening weeks of the season. It was especially important for the Cards, as they remembered losing this early-season matchup one year ago.
“Definitely, we were like, ‘We’re not going to let that happen again,’” Millen said. “We wanted to prove everybody wrong this year.”
Getting this win allows PSUC, who is idle this weekend, to approach the new season with an added confidence.
“I have a really good feeling about this group,” Abbott said. “I think it’s going to be something special this year.”
Email Nathanael LePage at firstname.lastname@example.org