The Cornell Big Red Women’s Hockey team has extended its season with a series victory over the Rensselaer Engineers to advance to the ECAC semifinals this coming weekend.
After successfully capturing the top seed in the ECAC Women’s Hockey Tournament two weekends ago, the Big Red took to their home ice on Friday night to take on RPI in a best-of-three series to determine which team would keep the dream of playing for an ECAC and national championship alive.
In the previous two meetings during the regular season, Cornell had dominated the Engineers, winning both games by a combined score of 13-2. Despite the odds stacked against them, the Engineers came into the series determined to reverse their fortunes.
Friday night’s game would present a very clear picture as to how the series would look for both teams. From the very beginning of the contest, Cornell fired chance after chance on RPI goaltender, Lovisa Selander, forcing save after save from the Swedish National Team member and 20th overall pick in the 2018 National Women’s Hockey League Draft.
Cornell found itself frustrated on numerous occasions, searching for answers in the opening contest, despite being far superior to the Engineers in every aspect of the game except netminding.
After trailing after the second period of action thanks to a redirected shot that snuck past Marlène Boissonnault, the Big Red tied the game on a nifty goal by Gillis Frechette, before winning it in overtime with a goal from Pippy Gerace. Despite the narrow result in game one, the stage was set for the Big Red to ride its suffocating offensive pressure to a 2-0 series win. Entering Saturday afternoon, however, the Engineers looked to ride the heroic efforts of their goaltender and live to fight another day.
The Big Red went to work in game two, setting up its offense, but found itself reeling after a long outlet pass found the stick of Blake Orosz, who netted a breakaway opportunity to put the Engineers ahead just five and a half minutes into the contest. Orosz would add to her tally with an empty net goal in the final moments of the third period to bring the score to 2-0 and force a decisive game three.
The Big Red would send 49 shots on the RPI net and would come away with nothing to show for the efforts as Selander, once again, proved to be headache-inducing for Cornell.
“It was definitely frustrating, throwing all of those pucks on net,” said junior defenseman Jamie Bourbonnais. “We didn’t play poorly, we just couldn’t put the puck in the net.”
With the series tied at 1-1, the third game of the series meant that the winner would advance and the losing team would see its season come to an end. With the home ice advantage and a large contingent of Cornell faithful in attendance on Sunday afternoon, the Big Red looked to win the quarterfinal series in game three for the second year in a row, having beaten Princeton last season.
The Big Red, still frustrated from the previous day, came charging out of the gate, once again throwing shot after shot on net. Unlike in the previous two games, Cornell would be rewarded for the early barrage as Lenka Serdar took a pass from Bourbonnais past the stick of Selander, making it a 1-0 Big Red lead. With a follow-up goal from Frechette, Cornell took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
In the second, the Engineers cut the deficit in half with a powerplay goal with Cornell’s captain, Kristen O’Neill in the penalty box. Moments later, O’Neill took the puck and netted an even-strength goal to restore the two-goal lead.
“It was a really big moment for us as a team and for us younger players,” said Frechette. “We saw that bounce-back mentality and that was huge for all of us.”
The Big Red would go on to net three more goals, a second goal coming for both O’Neill and Frechette, and would top the Engineers 6-1 to advance to the semifinals.
With the series win, the rest of the conference tournament will be held at Lynah Rink, a scenario that is refreshing to the Big Red.
“We went to Clarkson the last two seasons, and now we get to be at home and sleep in our own beds,” Bourbonnais said with a smile. “We get to play on our home ice, which others hate, but we love.”
The series finale also provided a memorable night in program history as the Big Red won its 600th game in program history.
Cornell will take on fourth-seeded Princeton in the semifinal on Saturday. The Big Red are 0-1-1 against the Tigers during the regular season.
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