Late-game heroics send Clarkson to NCAA final

It was a back-and-forth battle, but Clarkson’s Rhyen McGill came in clutch with the GWG late in the third.

The Clarkson Golden Knights knew that their time sitting on a bus and then a tarmac in a snowstorm in Syracuse would be worth the wait, and their long journey paid off handsomely at the Family Arena on Friday night.

Clarkson defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 4-3, employing a relentless offensive attack that culminated in a rebound goal by sophomore Rhyen McGill with only 91 seconds left on the clock.

While the night’s first game between Boston College and Wisconsin featured close checking and sublime goaltending, the matchup between Clarkson and Minnesota was more wide-open, showcasing each team’s top offensive players.

The second semifinal of the night featured just as much drama as the first, however, with the back and forth goal-scoring leaving the fans in attendance and the raucous Minnesota band on the edges of their seats.

“Exciting game, like we thought it was going to be,” said Clarkson head coach Matt Desrosiers.

Clarkson’s top line of Cayley Mercer, Genevieve Bannon, and Loren Gabel were a danger every time they were on the ice, and they were on the ice often. Desrosiers ran a short bench from early in the game, and the trio seemed to appear on the ice nearly every other shift.

His gambit paid off and all three players were involved in the scoring, with Bannon recording a goal and two assists.

The defense received a similar treatment and the pairing of Ella Shelton and Savannah Harmon was up to the task. Shelton in particular had a strong game, firing one shot off the crossbar and getting several more through to the goaltender.

It was Harmon, however, who delivered the game’s strongest individual effort. With the score tied early in the third period, the Golden Knights defender wove her way through the neutral zone and picked the top corner with a wrister whose angle she subtly altered at the last instant, deceiving Minnesota goaltender Sidney Peters.

Not to be outdone, Minnesota’s Sarah Potomak, Kelly Pannek, and Dani Cameranesi made substantial contributions. Cameranesi, who missed a large portion of the season with an injury, created time and space for her teammates that Potomak was able to cash in on.

The flow of the game was largely uninterrupted by penalties, and quick passes replaced the physical board play that was a central feature of the evening’s opener. Those passes created havoc for the goaltenders, each of whom was fighting a dynamic attack.

Clarkson’s focus was on generating as many shots as possible, as Peters was vulnerable to substantial rebounds, including the one that created Bannon’s first period goal. She did, however, make the game’s best save – a toe stop in full splits that kept the Gophers within one in the third.

Eventually, of course, it was a rebound that proved to be fatal. Rhyen McGill’s game-winning goal with 90 seconds remaining in the game followed a tremendous glove save that Peters was unable to fully snag.

“We were really emphasizing testing this goalie out,” said McGill. “Our players did a great job getting the puck to the net.”

The Gophers employed a more lateral attack. Their cycle was designed to get the Clarkson defenders moving and force goaltender Shea Tiley to move post to post. She was largely successful in that task, though she displayed some weakness over her glove side.

The Gophers took advantage of that in the third period- Sophie Skarzynski’s tying goal came on a rebound that she was able to pull over Tiley’s glove hand, which was slow to react.

The exchange of goals, however, landed in Clarkson’s favor. Neither team held a multi-goal lead at any point during the game, but the Clarkson netminder stood strong as the clock wound down.

“She’s really even-keel,” said Desrosiers. “She’s made big saves when we’ve needed them. Even though a couple might get past her, she doesn’t let it phase her.”

Desrosiers is likely hopeful that that trend continues. Though the trip here was long, the journey is not yet done for the Golden Knights. A matchup with Wisconsin awaits on Sunday, and the return trip will feel a lot more smooth if it includes a National Championship.