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Clarkson upends defending national champions to win D1 Frozen Four crown

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HAMDEN, Conn. — Despite playing the two-time defending national champions, the Clarkson University women’s hockey team was not intimidated during Sunday’s national championship game.

Clarkson’s confidence helped the Golden Knights to a 5-4 win over Minnesota before 3,573 fans at Quinnipiac’s High Point Solutions Arena, handing the Golden Gophers just their second loss in the last 90 games and winning the first national championship in school history.

“I didn’t think about their record too much,” Clarkson senior Vanessa Gagnon said. “I just went in there thinking it’s just another game, it’s nothing special, we’re going to play our best and leave it all, because it was our last game as seniors.”

Clarkson (31-5-5) did not start off well, falling behind 1-0 at 9 minutes, 40 seconds of the first period on a goal from Minnesota’s Sarah Davis. The Golden Gophers were 29-0 heading into the game when they struck first.

“When it comes down to the last two games, the stats don’t matter anymore,” Gagnon said. “It’s about who is going to win it and who is going to want it more on the ice and who is going to gut it out.”

But like it did Friday, in a 5-1 semifinal win over Mercyhurst, Clarkson did not let early adversity have a negative effect.

The Golden Knights instead stunned the Gophers with a two-goal outburst late in the first period to take the lead, and then added a third goal just 38 seconds into the second period.

Christine Lambert started it for Clarkson by tipping in a shot from just outside the crease at 18 minutes, 37 seconds of the first period.

Shelby Nisbet put Clarkson ahead 2-1 by scoring just 63 seconds later and then a power-play goal from Jamie Lee Rattray early in the third gave Clarkson a 3-1 advantage.

“It was huge,” Rattray said of the spurt. “As a player, when you go into a break with a couple goals, it’s huge. That second goal going into the first intermission was huge, and getting that third goal off the power play.”

But Minnesota (38-2-1), which twice fell behind by one goal against Wisconsin in the other semifinal, scored two goals just 1:48 apart in the second period to quickly tie the game 3-3.

“We knew coming into this game that we were going to have to play 60 minutes, no matter what,” Clarkson captain Carly Mercer said. “There was no point and time we thought we could lay off the gas. It didn’t really change for us, our energy stayed the same. We had the utmost confidence in ourselves.”

Maryann Menefee scored first at 6:09 on a power play and then Rachael Bona tied it at 7:57 on a goal that had to be seen on a video review before it counted.

“Going into the third period we just said at the beginning of the year if we told you guys you have 20 minutes to win a national championship would you take it?” Clarkson co-coach Matt Desrosiers said. “The confidence this team has, it hasn’t wavered all season long. I have not seen one glimpse of them thinking they could not win this game. Even when we were up by a couple and they started coming a bit, it never wavered.”

Clarkson regained the lead for good at 11:32 of the third period on a slap shot from defenseman Vanessa Plante from the point.

Shannon MacAulay scored on a breakaway at 15:44 to give Clarkson a two-goal lead and the Golden Knights appeared to have the national championship at hand.

“We knew we couldn’t let up,” MacAulay said. “Getting the two-goal lead was a motivator for us and got the team going. At no point could we back down from them. We had to keep playing.”

But the Golden Gophers made things tense for Clarkson fans when Baylee Gillanders scored another goal for Minnesota at 16:19 to bring the Golden Gophers within one.

“Clarkson deserved it,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “They played an excellent hockey game. They did what they needed to do and blocked a ton of shots. You score four you feel pretty good about a hockey game. But having to climb back there, down 3-1, what a great job our kids did with that to get it tied up.”

Clarkson’s seniors started their careers with a pair of games at Cheel Arena against Minnesota, losing both, so Sunday’s game was seen as a chance to mark the progress they made as players.

“Minnesota won back to back but we knew what we could do,” Clarkson goalie Erica Howe said. “It showed on the ice. We gave it everything we had. Win or lose it was our last day, so we just gave it everything we had. I’m so excited.”

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