HAMDEN, Conn. Its been a dream trip so far for the Clarkson University womens hockey team, which is playing in the Frozen Four for the first time.
The team had a nice send-off in Potsdam, with about 75 fans cheering them on as they left campus with a police escort. Then the Golden Knights won their semifinal game 5-1 over Mercyhurst Friday night, and on Saturday morning senior Jamie Lee Rattray became the first player from either Clarkson or St. Lawrence University to win the Patty Kazmaier Award.
For the trip to stay a dream Clarkson (30-5-5 overall) will have to think big as it faces two-time defending national champion Minnesota (38-1-1) at 3 p.m. today at Quinnipiac University for the national championship.
How big a test are the Golden Gophers?
In the last 89 games Minnesota is 87-1-1, a .983 win percentage. The Golden Gophers average nearly five goals a game (4.78) and allow just 1.10. Minnesota is so good that it lost leading scorer Amanda Kessel (46 goals-55 assists last season) for the entire year to the Olympics, yet still is 38-1-1.
The only film we really have (on Clarkson) is from last night, Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. They are very similar to our team. They have three lines that can play and they are really deep. Their first line is really what makes them go. They have some big strong defensemen and a goaltender who is good as well.
As if the Golden Gophers credentials arent good enough, Minnesota comes from the Western College Hockey Association, which happens to have won the national title in every Frozen Four. The Golden Gophers have four titles. Minnesota-Duluth has won five and Wisconsin has won four.
Our teams are always so prepared because of the schedule that we play, Frost said. Playing our league teams four times and often times five or six times prepares you and makes it difficult. Our seventh place team split with Mercyhurst when they played them. Its a battle, its a grind every weekend. I think our players understand the magnitude of every game and showing up for every game.
One thing Clarkson will have to do to have success against Minnesota is play with a lead. Scoring first doesnt guarantee success against the Golden Gophers, but when a team lets Minnesota score first its all but over. In the last two seasons Minnesota is 64-0 if it scores the first goal of a game. If Minnesota leads after one period over the last two seasons it has a 36-0 record.
Clarksons seniors opened their careers against the Golden Gophers on Oct. 1-2, 2010 at Cheel Arena. Minnesota swept the nonconference series 5-0 and 3-0 and the teams have not met since. To begin my career against Minnesota, and to be here in the national championship and play against them my last game, is pretty special, Rattray said. It shows how far the program has come. Im really excited. I think its going to be a great game.
Clarkson goalie Erica Howe was not the starter in 2010-11, but she saw her first playing time in the third period of that opening game and stopped nine of 10 shots. Starting with Minnesota and ending with Minnesota, thats kind of a cool thing that not everyone gets to do, and we kind of get to measure how far weve come, Howe said. Said Clarksons Brittany Styner, I think we are pretty excited to see how far weve come. We want to see that weve made a difference in the program. We know that they are a very skilled and talented team thats going to bring their best every day. We need to come out with our best as well.
Minnesotas lineup features three players with 20 or more goals and two others who are at 19. The top player is sophomore Hannah Brandt, who has 23 goals and 42 assists. Rachel Bona (22 goals-37 assists) and Kelly Terry (22-30) are two other top threats. Freshman forward Dani Cameranesi has 19 goals, including eight on the power play.
Clarkson will look to just do what its been doing for most of the season and see if it can add one more big trophy to bring back on the ride home, along with Rattrays Patty Kazmaier Award.
Weve done a lot of great things this season, so theres no reason not to go out there and give it everything weve got to try and bring home another first for the program, Clarkson co-coach Matt Desrosiers said. Theres been a lot thats gone on the last few weeks and the last couple days. Its a lot of stuff happening for our program in a short amount of time. I kind of view it as a good thing that it hasnt sunk in yet and were not reading too much into it. Were going into (todays) game with an open mind. Weve never been too high and weve never been too low, and thats what you want out of your team, especially going into a weekend like this. They are confident in their abilities, as well.