Wow, I mean wow. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that I would be sitting her toasting the second Clarkson national championship in my lifetime, I don’t know what I would have said. I think I picked the Knights to finish fourth in the ECAC heading into the season. I thought the departures of Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast would hurt them a lot more than they did. Who knows, if this team doesn’t lose to BC in overtime last year, maybe we’re talking about three NCAA championships in four years.
If I were to contrast Clarkson and Wisconsin, it looked to me like Wisconsin was just going to play their game and dare you to beat them. What Clarkson found, what Katie Crowley largely unlocked for them, was that if you could adjust to neutralize the Badgers’ strengths, they wouldn’t adjust, they would just assume they were good enough to beat you anyway. (Or that you couldn’t neutralize those strengths for a full sixty minutes.)
The game plans between Clarkson and BC were very similar. Pack the lower half of the offensive zone at the expense of maybe yielding more point shots and don’t let Wisconsin work the puck in for quality chances. The best opportunities the Badgers had to win both games came from the point, especially with how much stronger they looked than both teams. With Sarah Nurse and Annie Pankowski going strong into the boards for loose pucks I have to believe Wisconsin wins both games handily if they run their offense through their defenders.
I don’t know if Clarkson was just a bit better or just a bit luckier than BC, but they found the goals and they didn’t give up any going the other way. It also seemed that Shea Tiley got into Wisconsin’s heads. The more pucks she stopped the harder the Badgers seemed to think they had to shoot to beat her and it led to several shots going wide of the mark when there were a few opportunities where they just needed a shot on net.
I think what stuns me most is that that’s not even the best game I’ve seen Clarkson play this season. I thought the Knights were only average with the puck, and at times really struggled to get out of their own end. But everyone showed up and everyone did their jobs and the Golden Knights wrap up their second National Championship in four years.
I’m not going to hand out a season MVP. That award has been given by way of the Patty Kazmaier, and Ann-Renée Desbiens is a very deserving recipient.
Best Goaltender: Ann-Renée Desbiens, Wisconsin
I mean, this one is easy. Even with time lost to injury, Desbiens racked up a ton of shutouts and led Wisconsin to the NCAA final. She allowed just two goals in three games to the best teams in the country and there’s not much more you can say than that.
Runners Up: Kassidy Sauve, Ohio State; Steph Neatby, Princeton; Shea Tiley, Clarkson
Best Defender: Savannah Harmon, Clarkson
For most of the season I thought Kelsey Koelzer was a lock for this award, and then the playoffs rolled around. Wisconsin and Minnesota scored 281 goals this season or 3.5 per game each. They scored three total against the Knights in the NCAA tournament. Shea Tiley played lights out in net, but a fair share of the credit should go to the defense. Harmon also finished fourth overall and first among defenders in NCAA tournament scoring.
Runners Up: Kelsey Koelzer, Princeton; Megan Keller, Boston College; Micah Hart, Cornell; Lee Stecklein, Minnesota
Best Forward: Lara Stalder, University of Minnesota-Duluth
I really felt Stalder didn’t get enough credit for her other-worldy season. Unfortunately a lack of trophies and banners dulls you in the minds of some, but Stalder is my pick even with players like Cayley Mercer available.
Runners Up: Kelly Pannek, Minnesota; Cayley Mercer, Clarkson; Kennedy Marchment, St. Lawrence; Sarah Nurse, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Year: Jaycee Gebhard, Robert Morris
Gebhard led all rookies in points and it wasn’t particularly close. Her 22 goals and 24 assists stand 13 above Boston College’s Caitrin Lonergan and Delaney Belinskas. To add to that, she helped lead Robert Morris to their first ever NCAA birth.
Runners Up: Steph Neatby, Princeton; Jaime Bourbonnais, Cornell
Coach of the Year: Maura Crowell, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Minnesota-Duluth’s meteoric rise had a lot of factors to it, but Crowell’s guiding hand in her second year replacing the legendary Shannon Miller was key. Minnesota-Duluth didn’t have the statistical dominance of the Badgers or Gophers, they just won games.
Runner Up: Matt Desrosiers, Clarkson
Unsung Hero: Geneviève Bannon
Quick, who led the NCAA tournament in points? It wasn’t Cayley Mercer. It wasn’t Loren Gabel. It was Geneviève Bannon, quietly piling up assists and kicking off the scoring against Minnesota. Bannon finished ninth in the country in scoring and second in assists and never really seemed to get the publicity of some of the other forwards.
Bannon will end her career third all time on the Knights in scoring with 49 goals and 101 assists. She is just the third Golden Knight to hit the 100 assist mark (Ambrose, Rattray) and finishes second all-time in assists. She will tie with Cayley Mercer for the most games played of any Clarkson Golden Knight with 160.
Farewell to all the seniors and best of luck in whatever endeavor you choose, whether it is to continue your career in the CWHL or the NWHL, to coach, or to move away from hockey.