Clarkson’s retribution came quickly Saturday afternoon, as the Golden Knights shut out the Quinnipiac Bobcats 1-0 to return to the Frozen Four.
Renata Fast’s tally 10 seconds into the game was the fastest in NCAA tournament history and gave the Golden Knights the jump they wanted to get past their conference foes.
“Right off the opening draw we kinda went after exactly what the game plan was for us, being aggressive; we won that faceoff, got it in deep, and our players did a great job forechecking,” Fast said. “I kinda saw an open lane to the net. It’s always good to get the first shot of the game, and I wanted to get it on net, and there was some open seams, so I picked a corner.”
The fate of these Golden Knights echoes much of the 2013-14 team that won the program’s first national championship. Both had 30-win seasons, a 1-0 loss in the ECAC Championship game, and a win at Quinnipiac.
“It’s just exciting; I thought the team came out and battled hard,” Clarkson coach Matt Desrosiers said. “We talked about getting that first goal was going to be important tonight. We didn’t expect it to come 10 seconds in, but we’re glad it did.”
Clarkson’s (30-4-5, 14-3-5 ECAC) jump seemed to catch Quinnipiac (30-3-5, 16-2-4 ECAC) off guard, forcing the Bobcats to scramble and catch up defensively. The speed and positioning, as well as winning 20 of the 32 battles at the dot, let Clarkson maintain strong puck possession.
“We talked about this week, wanting to be more aggressive on them, especially on the forecheck, making them have to fight, to get to our end a little bit more,” Desrosiers said. “I think that was a huge key for us, and then obviously in the defensive zone, we’re pretty good at being aggressive in our own zone. Obviously we wanted to play more aggressively, the whole 200 feet.”
For Quinnipiac coach Cassie Turner, the pressure was great on the ice, but she felt the decorum on the bench was what she wanted from her team.
“I think we were on our heels a little bit, but I think on our bench we got to a really good place; I said to our team after the game that I was happy with our bench,” Quinnipiac Turner said. “I was excited about the people that we were today and how we supported one another. Take out the plays, just who we were and how we were looking to respond.”
Turner felt the pressure as the opportunities in the offensive zone came in ebbs and flows for the Bobcats. Quinnipiac tossed a season-low 14 shots on goal on Shea Tiley.
“I think Clarkson, they’re such a tough defensive hockey team; they came out today with an edge and a battle that was really impressive,” Turner said. “I thought we had trouble putting one shift to the next together. We had difficulty putting pucks on net. … They were on us and how little space they gave us to really create opportunities to create shots.”
Tiley still maintained a keen eye on off-angle shots and rebound opportunities, saying that staying active and on the angles supported her pursuit of the win. In her second year in the college ranks, Tiley is now 1-1 in NCAA tournament appearances.
“I find it’s really important, especially in games like that, to really keep mentally focused and keep moving,” Tiley said. “Especially in the first period, they weren’t able to generate too much at the time. They could have had a breakaway or something so I gotta make sure I keep moving, like stay in the game that way.”
The Bobcats graduate six seniors as part of the most winning class in program history, with two NCAA tournament appearances as well as an ECAC Hockey regular season and playoff championship to their name.
“I knew they were getting better every year and I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” senior forward Nicole Connery said. “I feel like that’s such a big accomplishment and that they’re just going to keep going.”
Clarkson will play Boston College in Durham, New Hampshire, on March 18 as the Eagles work to complete a perfect season.