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Clarkson fans turn out to welcome NCAA women’s hockey champions (VIDEO)

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POTSDAM — The ride of a lifetime ended where it started for the Clarkson University women’s hockey team on Monday.

“Coming back home today, through the entire north country and Potsdam, these girls were so proud to bring it back here. This is such a great community; it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t be more excited to be back to Clarkson,” senior assistant captain Jamie Lee Rattray said, addressing the more than 1,000 fans who turned out at Cheel Arena to welcome home the NCAA Division I champions.

By defeating the two-time defending champion University of Minnesota 5-4 in Hamden, Conn., on Sunday, the Golden Knights became the first team in Clarkson history to win a national title, and the first team north of Syracuse to capture any NCAA Division I championship. SUNY Potsdam won the Division III national title in basketball in 1981 and 1986,

“The 2014 national hockey champions — that has a great ring to it,” Clarkson Athletic Director Steven J. Yianoukos said. “A heartfelt thanks goes to all the players and coaches.

“The whole weekend was unbelievable. From beating Mercyhurst in the semifinals on Friday to having one of our players, Jamie Lee (Rattray), winning the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in the country on Saturday, to beating Minnesota in the championship game on Sunday,” he added.

Clarkson President Anthony G. Collins began his remarks to the predominantly green-and-gold colored crowd with a rhetorical question?

“Who wants to be a Golden Gopher when you can be a Golden Knight?” he asked. “Four single words come to mind from this weekend and this team - Be humble, be great.”

Monday’s celebration drew fans of all ages from throughout the area, including two members of the North Country Ice Storm 12-and-under girls hockey team, which recently won a state championship. The two players — Erica Sloan, a seventh-grader at Parishville-Hopkinton and Rose Jeneault, a sixth-grader at Kennedy Elementary in Ogdensburg — are members of the Little Knights Club and actively support the women’s hockey team.

A handful of Golden Knights players recently attended an Ice Storm practice and offered valuable advice.

“They helped us a lot,” Miss Sloan said. “They talked about things like eating fruit and drinking chocolate milk after games and stretching out. It’s pretty cool having national champions coming from a small town like Potsdam.”

“It’s definitely inspiring,” Miss Jeneault said.

Also on hand to witness a moment in history was longtime Clarkson men’s hockey fan John Plonka of Colton.

“I didn’t really follow the women’s team. I’m here today because they won,” he conceded.“This is just great for Clarkson women’s hockey and for Clarkson University as a college. It’s also great for the ECAC. I just might have to start following women’s hockey now.”

The women’s hockey team was formed in 1974 and competed at the Division III level through 1984. After a nearly 20-year absence, the program returned in 2003 at the Division I level, and the Knights finished this season with a 31-5-5 record.

Clarkson advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Frozen Four with a 5-1 victory over Mercyhurst in the semifinals Friday night. In the final, Clarkson beat a Minnesota Golden Gophers team that had gone 87-1-1 in its previous 89 games.

As has been the case since the Knights’ rebirth in women’s hockey, the pep band provided its usual support during the homecoming.

“It was an amazing weekend,” said pep band president Benjamin A. Zwierlein, a senior civil engineering major who plays trumpet. “We have a contingency fund in our budget for playoff games. We lucked out this year because they had so many playoff games at home and there was extra money for us to go to Connecticut. We had around 10 members of the band go down, and we had quite a few alumni join us.

“I’m not really sure what we played after they beat Minnesota on Sunday,” he added. “It was mostly yelling, cheering and screaming at the end. ... “This was my fourth year in pep band. The men’s team had its best season since 2008 and the women’s team won the national title. What a perfect way to end my career as a bandie.”

Less than 24 hours after producing their breakthrough championship, players and members of the coaching staff were still trying to put their historic efforts into perspective Monday.

“There’s been a lot of commotion since we won, so I haven’t had a chance to just soak it all in,” said senior captain Carly Mercer, who majors in innovation and entrepreneurship. “We were super confident going into the championship game. We felt we were just as good as they were. We just had to play our game the whole 60 minutes.”

Co-Coach Matt Desrosiers credited the team’s success to its work ethic and fellowship.

“They always played hard and never wavered from the game plan,” he said. “And you’re not going to win at any level if the team isn’t close-knit. The players on this team had a very high confidence level. They believed in themselves, and they believed in each other. They wanted to win for the player next to them and not just for themselves.”

“This is definitely the highlight of my coaching career,” he added. “It’s pretty gratifying to see the girls enjoying what they’ve accomplished and to see them reap the benefits of all their hard work. The north country has been looking for something like this for a long time. We don’t want to look forward too much right now. We want to bask in this for a little while longer before we start thinking about next year.”

Mr. Desrosiers and his wife, Shannon, both served as assistant coaches at Clarkson before being named co-coaches before the start of the 2008-09 season.

Since they assumed the shared helm, the Lady Golden Knights have steadily evolved into one of the top programs in both the ECAC and the country.

“Six years ago, when we made the decision to hire Matt and Shannon as co-coaches, there were skeptics. I think this proves that we made the right decision,” Mr. Yianoukos said. “We knew they would never get outworked. It didn’t take them long to bring the program from one level to the next.“

“I’d have to say that hiring them as co-coaches has worked out pretty well,” Ms. Mercer added.



Video of the homecoming can be seen at http://wdt.me/Clarkson-homecoming.



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