Thursday, July 25, 2024

PSUC to host NEWHL finals

The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team advanced to the NEWHL finals Saturday with a 7-1 victory over SUNY Oswego.

The No. 2 Cardinals (24-2-0) will host third-seeded SUNY Cortland (15-8-3) in the NEWHL championship game tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.

The semifinal game started slowly for PSUC with only a power-play goal by freshman forward Nicole Unsworth in the first period, despite a 16-5 shot advantage. 

“They came out hard,” Unsworth said. “They came out fighting. It was definitely huge that we got the first goal of the game. That really got us rolling.”

While only scoring once, the Cards restricted Oswego (10-13-3) to five shots, none of which were quality scoring opportunities.

PSUC head coach Kevin Houle said the second period was completely the opposite.

“In the second period, they had some quality chances,” Houle said. “It seemed every time they had a chance, we came back down and scored. I thought we were a little bit opportunistic in that regard.” 

Houle said those chances were the result of defensive mistakes the team made in frustration as they were trying to score.

“When we get in trouble, we get a little too aggressive on the forecheck,” Houle said. “Our D start stepping up when they shouldn’t in the neutral zone. We might get a little too hungry on the offensive end, make some mistakes and give them some breaks.”

Sophomore Kaitlin Drew-Mead scored the game winner on a soft rebound shot from the slot three minutes into the second period. 

Nearly 10 minutes later, sophomore Madison Walker added to the Cards’ lead with only her fifth goal of the season.

“Any time you score, it’s a great feeling,” Walker said. “To put that goal in and really put the foot down and the pressure on them, it was a good feeling.”

The goal marked the end of the night for Oswego’s starting goaltender, Rachael Farmer, who was taken off in favor of freshman Cassie Shokar.

After senior forward Mackenzie Millen’s shot from behind the goal line bounced off Shokar’s leg to extend the lead to four, Oswego’s Skylar Byrne got the Lakers on the board before the end of the period.  

It only took 23 seconds in the third period for PSUC to regain a four-goal margin, when senior captain Courtney Moriarty found the back of the net. Houle said that was the end of any momentum for Oswego.

“At 5-1, you could see the air go out of their sails,” Houle said.

Unsworth scored the seventh goal, marking the first multi-goal game of her collegiate career. 

Sidelined by illness for most of the first semester, Unsworth didn’t score her first goal until January but has already tallied 10 since then.

“She’s an offensive player,” Houle said. “She’s around the net creating opportunities, she goes hard to the net, she’s good with the puck, she’s got a long reach. She’s what we expected.”

Unsworth is one of six Cards with between nine and 11 goals, behind team-leading scorers Annie Katonka and Moriarty. Houle is happy to be able to count on that many players to get the goals.

After Unsworth’s goal, she was immediately shoved to the ice by Oswego’s Avery Webster. Walker stood up for her teammate, and both players were assessed roughing penalties. 

It was an example of what was to come in what remained of the third period.

The game got very physical from there, with both teams committing several penalties late in the game. 

Notably, with four minutes remaining Millen was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for slew-footing — a penalty Houle said he had never seen called before. The NCAA rule book defines slew-footing as pushing an opponent’s upper body backward with the arm while simultaneously using a leg to push their feet forward, “causing the opponent to fall violently to the ice.”

Houle was not happy with the late-game penalties.

“You’ve got to be more disciplined than that at the end of the game,” Houle said.

PSUC’s penalty kill unit and goaltender Kassi Abbott kept the puck out of the net, though, and the Cards skated away with a 7-1 victory.

The win advances the team to the NEWHL finals for the second straight year, which will be played tomorrow against Cortland. 

Like Oswego, the Red Dragons are a team PSUC already defeated on four separate occasions this season. 

With St. Thomas retaking the No. 1 spot in the PairWise rankings, which will determine seeds in the NCAA tournament, the Cards need to get a fifth win over Cortland if they hope to have any chance of hosting the NCAA championship weekend.

“Any time you play a team more than twice, let alone four times in a season, and now have to play them again, it’s hard to get focused,” Walker said. “But it’s the home stretch, so you’ve got to put yourself in the mentality that you’ve never played this team before and you’ve got to put your best foot forward, no matter what the previous scores were.”

While not taking the next opponent for granted, Walker was happy to have the first playoff win out of the way.

“This is one step of, hopefully, many,” Walker said.

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