Howe wins NCAA title in upset

Matthew Gourlie
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Clarkson stuns two-time defending champs from Minnesota

It was a classic David versus Goliath matchup.

The Clarkson Golden Knights had never won an NCAA Division I championship in any sport. The Minnesota Golden Gophers were looking for their third straight NCAA women's hockey title.

Clarkson has 3,500 students; Minnesota has nearly 52,000.

The Gophers had a 79-1-1 record over the past two seasons and no team from outside of their conference — the WCHA — had ever won the women's NCAA title.

In the end none of that history mattered. On the ice Sunday, the Golden Knights made history and beat the Gophers 5-4 to win the NCAA women's hockey title.

"It's pretty crazy. We have seven seniors and we're going to have a good time enjoying this with them," said Moose Jaw's Olivia Howe, a sophomore on the Clarkson, team following the win. "No one really knows too much about Clarkson. Our hockey program is really what's going to put us on the map. Minnesota is known for hockey. They have strong programs in men's and women's and they've been ranked No. 1 in both all year. I think they underestimated us a little. We're from the middle of nowhere in northern New York and they're this dominant team. I think that gave us a little extra motivation to put them away."

The game was going to script early as Minnesota grabbed a 1-0 lead and were enjoying a territorial advantage.

Then Clarkson swung the momentum in a big way. With 1:23 left in the period, Christine Lambert jammed a puck home to tie the game.

Howe's line drew a penalty and on the delayed call Shelby Nisbet, the pride of Wiseton, Sask., scored with 19.5 seconds left in the period. Not only did the Golden Knights score with their goalie pulled, but they also got to go on the power play right after taking the 2-1 lead.

"That goal sparked the whole bench and we knew we had the power play after that as well. We talked about how important it was going to be to capitalize on that power play in the intermission," said Howe.

Capitalize they did. Leading scorer Jamie Lee Rattray scored 38 seconds into the second period. Rattray won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top women's player in the NCAA earlier in the week. Clarkson's three goals came in 2:01 as they took a 3-1 lead.

"We didn't underestimate them at all. We started to get our stuff in order at the end of the first period," said Howe as Clarkson played with renewed confidence.

Minnesota tied the game before the end of the second period thanks to goals by Maryanne Menefee and Rachael Bona.

Minnesota saw their 62-game winning streak snapped earlier in the season by North Dakota. The Gophers' streak was an NCAA record that lasted 639 days. The Gophers aren't accustomed to losing, but Clarkson has been just as hot as the Gophers in the second half of the season.

"We were pretty confident that we were going to out-work them. We knew we had to come out determined, but we were still giggling and joking around too," said Howe of the mood before the start of the third period. "Knowing we had nothing to lose really helped us. They had lost one game in two years, but we were going break that streak for them."

Clarkson's forecheck and tenacity were their hallmarks for much of the season and it served them well in the the third period. Howe and her linemates Carly Mercer and Cayley Mercer generated some early chances, but weren't able to score.

Vanessa Plante gave Clarkson a 4-3 lead before Shannon MacAulay's breakaway goal with 4:16 remaining gave the Knights a 5-3 lead.

Baylee Gillanders, from Kyle, Sask., scored for Minnesota with 3:41 remaining to close the lead to a goal.

Clarkson had won close games all season thanks to their sound defence and standout goalie Erica Howe. Olivia Howe said there was no panic as the Gophers threw everything they had at the Clarkson goal in a bid to equalize.

"At the end we knew we were going to do it. We were so calm and so confident playing with the lead," said Howe.

Clarkson won the title without their top defenceman Erin Ambrose who had 50 points and was one of the nation's leading scorers. She was injured during the Knights' ECAC conference championship semifinal.

Organizations: NCAA, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Geographic location: Minnesota, Sask., Moose Jaw New York Wiseton North Dakota

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