By Collin Bolebruch
Winning is fun, but it can’t last forever. The Plattsburgh Cardinals women’s hockey team held a regular season conference undefeated streak of 88 games prior to Dec. 2. Now, its streak stands at one.
The No. 4 Cardinals (9-2) lost to the Cortland Red Dragons (5-3) 0-1 Dec. 2 in Cortland and beat the No. 14 Oswego Lakers (8-4) 3-2 Dec. 3 in Oswego. In a tight race for the top of the Northeast Women’s Hockey League, the Cards still stand on top with a 7-1 conference record.
Plattsburgh has finished with the No. 1 seed in the NEWHL in every year of the conference’s existence, dating back to 2017. The Cardinals have a two-point lead over the second-place Lakers. With no more conference games on Oswego’s schedule in 2022, Plattsburgh’s top spot is safe until play resumes in January.
“It’s a big loss obviously in the conference and it puts some pressure on certainly down the road, put some pressure on us certainly in the next game against Oswego to win,” Head Coach Kevin Houle said.
The loss marks the first time Plattsburgh has dropped a game to Cortland across 52 total matchups. The Cardinals led the most recent matchup in shots and faceoff wins. Neither team committed a penalty or had power play opportunities. Houle credits the loss to not showing up “100%” and that Cortland was on the “upswing” and “hungry.” Forward Mae Olshansky agreed.
“It was just kind of like a long day of prep the day before and kind of just sitting around the hotel, because 7 p.m. that’s kind of a late game, especially when you travel the day before,” Olshanksy said. “Not blaming the refs, I know, not at all, but there was certainly a couple of missed opportunities that we could have capitalized on, as we didn’t have a single power play the entire game.”
Plattsburgh defender Kendall Wasik recorded a career-high nine shots against Cortland and led the team, followed by defender Taya Balfour with three. Forward Ciara Wall won 10 of 13 faceoffs and goaltender Lilla Nease saved 26 of 27 shots.
Cortland forward Mia Hlasnick scored the lone goal of the game 10:55 into the second period against even strength, assisted by defenders Beth McArthur and Molly McCabe. Forward Grace Schnorr led the team in shots with six and forward Jayden Kelley won six of 16 faceoffs. Goaltender Molly Goergen saved all 30 Plattsburgh shots.
“I think we had a couple of slow starts,” Wasik said. “In the first period we didn’t really come out hard. We didn’t have a lot of energy.”
Though the loss was historic, the Cardinals shrugged it off. Olshansky said she didn’t know about the magnitude of it until she went on Twitter after the game. Houle said he was unaware of a streak at all, let alone it being broken.
“I didn’t know about [the streak] until the other day and I can guarantee you the girls didn’t know it either,” Houle said. “It’s just a loss and hopefully that’s motivation enough.”
Plattsburgh and Oswego were tied for the top record in the conference heading into its most recent matchup. A win was crucial for Plattsburgh against the No. 15 team in the face of losing the No. 1 spot in the standings.
“It felt real good to come out with the win on that game,” Wasik said. “Everyone came to play and everyone gave their all and never stopped working.”
Forward Nicole Unsworth stepped up to the plate and scored two goals against Oswego, tying a career-high. Forward Julia Masotta added another score. Three Cardinals were credited with an assist. Wasik blocked five pucks and Nease saved 18 of 20 shots.
Oswego forward Ashlyn McGrath and defender Amanda Zenstein each scored a goal and three Lakers earned assists. Goaltender Lexi Levy saved 28 of 31 shots.
The Cardinals led the game in shots with 31 to the Lakers’ 20. Plattsburgh fell behind in faceoffs, losing 27 of 49. Oswego also led in power play minutes with 7:37 to Plattsburgh’s four minutes. Both of the Lakers’ scores came on power plays.
Plattsburgh struck first when Unsworth scored the only goal of the first period after 14 minutes of play. Oswego responded nine shots and over 17 minutes later with a power play equalizer from McGrath. The game stood 1-1 until over halfway through the third period when Unsworth scored again. A Masotta goal just over a minute later sealed the game for the Cardinals.
“We played with confidence, we moved the puck a lot better, we defended a lot better. Everybody was sharp, we came to play and that’s the difference,” Houle said. “Everybody in our league is certainly gunning for us and we have to have our best game and fortunately we were better Saturday than we were Friday.”
The win sends Plattsburgh off on a high note, as conference play resumes Jan. 13, 2023, in back-to-back rematch games against Oswego.
“I think [the games] are massively important. I mean, obviously we saw Cortland drop a couple of games so it doesn’t mean that they’re going to not make those up,” Olshansky said. “Every game is going to count no matter who we’re playing against.”
The Cardinals have just two games left on its 2022 slate, competing in the Norwich East-West Hockey Classic Dec. 10. Plattsburgh will play the No. 8 Elmira Soaring Eagles (9-2) in a rematch of Plattsburgh’s 7-0 win almost two weeks prior.
“I think that’s always the biggest rivalry game for us,” Olshansky said. “It’s just super fun to play with them.”
The Cards’ season will then take an annual month-long hiatus during winter break. The period will give the Cardinals an opportunity to rest and recover before continuing with the second half of its season. Play will resume Jan. 10 against the Middlebury Panthers (4-3) in Middlebury.
“I know a lot of people are hurting, bodies are getting tired,” Wasik said. “It’ll be a nice break and we’ll be ready to bounce back and come out strong.”