By CAP CAREY
HAMDEN, Conn. For the first time in 45 years a Clarkson University hockey team will be playing for a national championship.
Clarksons womens team gained its first appearance in a title game with a 5-1 victory over Mercyhurst in a semifinal before 3,171 fans Friday night at the High Point Solutions Arena on Quinnipiacs campus.
The Golden Knights (30-5-5 overall) will meet two-time defending national champion Minnesota (38-1-1) for the title at 3 p.m. Sunday. Clarksons last appearance in a national title game was in 1970 when the Clarkson mens team lost to Cornell University in Lake Placid.
It was an exciting night for us, said Clarkson co-coach Matt Desrosiers of Fridays win. It was the biggest win in the programs history. I thought the girls did a good job just sticking with it tonight. I thought we came out maybe with a little bit of jitters and all that.
Clarkson started strong in the first period and sent a lot of shots at Mercyhurst goalie Amanda Makela, but couldnt get anything past her. Then the Lakers (24-9-4) took a 1-0 lead at 8 minutes, 2 seconds of the opening period when Jaclyn Arbour put in the rebound of her own shot while positioned next to the crease.
We were very excited after the first goal, but we were still disappointed after that period, Mercyhurst captain Christine Bestland said. We knew we had to keep working our systems and keep working hard. We knew we got lucky on that goal there. We knew they were going to come out hard in the second. Tonight they did push us out of our comfort zone.
Clarkson, which had been 0-5 when behind after one period this season, came out inspired in the second period and tied the game at 5:00 on a shot from the point by defenseman Renata Fast, for just her second goal of the season.
A hustle play by seniors Jamie Lee Rattray and Vanessa Gagnon made it 2-1 Clarkson at 9:16 of the second period.
Rattray was trying to get to a loose puck behind the Laker net and tussling with two different players. Even after the puck squirted toward a Laker player, she kept hustling and got it back and then sent a pass in front of the net, which was put in by a diving Gagnon.
We both went for it, Gagnon said of the goal. Jamie Lee pretty much did all the work. She got in the corner and made sure I got the puck and I saw it at the last second, so I dove for it and got the goal. I just had to finish it.
The third goal of the period was off another shot from the point by Fast, only this time it was redirected in front of the net by Christine Lambert to make the score 3-1 at 16:24.
My main goal was to get the puck on net, Fast said. Whether it gets tipped, or it just goes in, I had some big screens up there, so there was a lot of help.
Clarkson has missed All-American defenseman Erin Ambrose (14 goals-36 assists) in its last three games after she suffered an ankle injury in an ECAC Hockey semifinal against Quinnipiac. Fast, and Clarksons other defensemen, have had to pick up some of the production to compensate.
Its been great, a lot of our players have stepped up over the last couple weeks to fill in the void of Erin not in the lineup, Desrosiers said. Our defense has done a great job holding some pretty good teams to not very many scoring chances and not very many goals.
The Golden Knights extended the lead to 4-1 at 6:39 of the third period when Rattray skated into the Lakers zone along the boards and sent a quick pass to Brittany Styner, who put a shot past Makela.
The Lakers had not allowed more than two goals in their last 11 games prior to Friday.
Tonight wasnt one of our best efforts, and I think part of that is because of how well Clarkson played, Lakers coach Michael Sisti said. We looked like a young team today. A lot of it had to do with how well Clarkson played.
An empty-net goal by Shannon MacAulay with 14 seconds left closed out the scoring.
Were going to appreciate what weve done, but our main goal is not done yet, Gagnon said. Weve got a big game coming up and were not backing down. They are going to get a hell of a good game.