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The Clarkson Golden Knights have gone undefeated in 18 straight games to return to the ECAC Championship, defeating the Colgate Raiders 5-2 on Saturday in Connecticut.

“I thought it was a game that had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotion in it,” Colgate coach Greg Fargo said. “For us, to get down early and then we seemed to get into some penalty trouble, that really I think affected the game. In particular, their five power plays to our one, that’s a momentum swinger. In the end, we couldn’t find that next goal we needed.”

Colgate ended the first period leading 2-1 after two even-strength goals 20 seconds apart, the first by Megan Sullivan, the second by Annika Zalewski. The duo ended the season tied for the team lead with 16 goals each.

“I think that the goals late in the first gave our group a sense of confidence, that we belong; I think at the time it was great,” Fargo said. “We were just looking to find that next one, that third goal was so important. Tonight’s another example of three and you win, and we couldn’t find that third one we needed.”

Colgate’s second-period lead was short-lived, as Shannon MacAulay potted a power-play goal two minutes into the period. Clarkson put up three more from there.

Clarkson went 2-for-5 on the power play, with both coming from senior captain MacAulay. The first goal came a minute into the power play, the second 11 seconds in. The impact of converting on the advantage was key for MacAulay and the Golden Knights.

“I think it’s a huge thing this time of year,” MacAulay said. “The games are tight and special teams are huge. I think for us to get two goals on there, two PPs, was huge for us and just a confidence builder going into tomorrow, for sure.”

For Clarkson coach Matt Desrosiers, being able to use defensive turnovers to create offense and thrive in transition has been a sticking point in his team’s success and was a compliment to their work on special teams.

“I think that’s one of our strong points, especially come this time of year,” Desrosiers said. “We focus on making sure that we’re on the right side of the puck. If we’re able to turn pucks over, to be able to transition quickly on offense. I think we have a pretty good skating team, we move the puck fairly well. That’s a big part of the game, we did a good job with that tonight.”

In the second period, Colgate struggled to deal with Clarkson’s success in the transition game and work in the neutral zone, something Fargo noted was made more difficult for the Raiders with the long change.

“They started to stretch the zone and made it really tough for us to get out of it when we did. We got caught a couple of times not being able to get pucks deep,” Fargo said. “For us, I don’t think we came out of our end as well as we wanted to in the second. Therefore we didn’t get any pucks deep, or not enough pucks deep where we could get fresh bodies out there and keep the momentum on our side.”

The problems with getting the puck in deep also stymied the Raiders offense, which was only able to put up a meager 17 shots on goal.

“When you can play back and forth and up and down and get fresh bodies it helps, but I think we had to dump pucks in and give up possession at times just to get fresh people out there,” Fargo said. “Not being able to get to (Shea Tiley) enough was certainly a factor. In order to win a game like this you have to throw more than 17 shots on net.”

Colgate, an underclassmen-laden team, made strides to end up at fourth in the conference and seventh in the national poll. The team will lose three seniors to graduation, including starting goaltender Ashlynn Rando.

“This has been an incredible year for our program; I think we’ve come a long way,” Fargo said. “There weren’t too many people that expected us to be here at the beginning. I couldn’t be more proud of the way we approached every single day and wanting to get better and to do what was best for the team in any situation we faced.”

With the win, Clarkson advances to play host Quinnipiac in the ECAC Championship. Both are seeking the first conference title for the program and have played to two close games this season, a 3-0 Quinnipiac win in November and a 2-2 tie on Feb. 13. For Desrosiers, defeating the conference regular season champion is an exciting challenge.

“It’s going to take a lot, to be honest with you. Like I said, you have two pretty good teams going at it here, that to be honest with you there’s a pretty decent chance that we see each other next week or so as well. Both teams are pretty good defensively and can kinda kill you off the attack as well. It’s just gonna take a couple bounces here and there.”