|Co-captain Kim Schlattman, a second-year biomedical sciences major, and Kolbee McCrea, a first-year undecided, get into a third period scrap with the Cardinals. The Lady Tigers tied the score at 1-1 less than 1:30 later with 6:24 to go.
As the door on the penalty box shuts on RIT’s side, marking the beginning of a power play for SUNY Plattsburgh, the puck hits the ice and the players are off. The Tigers’ defense weaves across the center of the ice, protecting their precious goal from the attacking Cardinals. Plattsburgh, with an extra player to counter RIT’s defense, have the advantage in this short exchange.
In an instant, everything changes. The puck rebounds across the ice. Plattsburgh’s defensive players are caught off guard in their apparent advantage, and they struggle to retrieve it. The white blur of RIT’s Katie Stack, a fourth year Psychology major, weaves through the maneuvering defense-women. Keeping hold of the puck while she fights for an opening, Stack is in her element. Three defensive players from Plattsburgh seem to surround her, and she lacks an immediate opening for assistance from her teammates. Miraculously, she breaks free. She shoots, and... The puck nicks the goalie’s glove and is stopped by barely an inch.
This type of excellent play, which took place at the beginning of the second quarter, was a common sight throughout the first two-thirds of the Sunday, March 6 match against SUNY Plattsburg in the ECAC West Women’s Hockey Championship. The talent and strength of RIT’s team was clear, and they executed many spectacular plays during this portion of the match. Every time, though, they were missed that crucial finish, a puzzle piece which would not fall into place until the last ten minutes of the game. The match, however, would end with a score of RIT 2, Plattsburgh 1, a round of “We Are the Champions” by Queen, and smiling faces amongst the 22 athletes on RIT’s team.
Before the game, Head Coach Scott McDonald before expressed optimism, saying “I feel good.” He went on to say, “The girls are all healthy, we’re at home. We’ve got a great crowd. I think we have the advantage. Plattsburgh’s a good team, and we have a score to settle.”
The two teams have faced each other twice this season, tying on both occasions. This game initially appeared no different, remaining scoreless until a Plattsburgh goal in the first half of the third period. Plattsburgh’s goal, which ricocheted off the ice a few feet in front of RIT’s goalie, Laura Chamberlain, a first year Business Administration major. The puck bounced underneath her outstretched arm, resulting in a deafening roar from Plattsburgh fans. The Plattsburgh players threw their sticks in the air and cheered like they had already won the championship. As RIT fans stared in disbelief, it appeared as if it was game over. Head Coach McDonald glanced up at the time on the clock, seeming to share in the same disbelief that momentarily held the crowd, before clapping his hands together and rallying his team up to continue the game.
Slowly a cheer of “R - I -T” began to ring out and the melancholy of defeat seemed to recede. The Corner Crew, as if taking a cue from McDonald, joined together to break Plattsburgh’s cheering dominance. There was time left in this game, and the pace of play accelerated to remind everyone present that RIT was not going to give up easily.
A game that was tension-filled from the beginning, with numerous penalties on both sides, became unmistakably violent after Plattsburgh’s goal. The rivalry between these teams was strong, something evident by the high number of penalties in the game. An intense desire to win seemed to couple with the desperate struggle of a disadvantaged team. Checking became more frequent and more than a handful of penalties were distributed in the minutes following Plattsburgh’s goal. Quality of play on RIT’s side began to seriously degrade. The subtle team cohesiveness on the ice that is crucial to victory began to dwindle as the game became rougher and rougher.
This trend came to a climax when, in the final seven minutes, the second and largest fight of the night broke out. As the players were separated, the team seemed to visibly calm while captains and referees argued the penalties to be assessed.
RIT’s team seemed reinvigorated as they moved past this fight, rebounding with a power play. Passing quickly and moving the puck rapidly around the ice, Forward Tenecia Hiller, a second year Biology major, found herself in a position to score with six and a half minutes left in the game. After a rebounding shot from Traci Galbraith, a fourth year Marketing major, found its way to Hiller. Finishing the play with a score, Hiller broke the team fully out of their slump and brought the game back to a tie.
Co-captain Sarah Dagg, a fourth year Hospitality major, commented on this moment in the game. She agreed that Plattsburgh’s goal affected the team saying, “We were feeling sorry for ourselves” Eventually things started to look up. “We all came together and really rallied each other,” added Dagg.
Less than four minutes later, with 2:26 remaining in the game, Kourtney Kunichika, a first year Packaging Science major, brought the Tigers ahead with a quick shot to the corner that overcame Plattsburgh’s goalie.
Standing behind the bench at an RIT timeout with 48.4 seconds left on the clock, bright eyes and smiles abound, the Tigers could taste the victory that would make RIT Women’s Hockey history. As Plattsburgh pulled its goalie in a final offensive attempt against RIT, the Tiger’s defense remained solid and held them off. The buzzer sounded, the crowd roared, and the players stormed their net in celebration. A dog pile ensued around goalie Laura Chamberlain.
Head Coach McDonald, who was named coach of the year for the ECAC West conference, has nothing but praise for his team. “They’ve come out every game and worked so hard. They’ve done everything I’ve ever asked and gone way beyond,” he said.
Underneath a hastily written game plan in the team’s locker room were the simple words “Little things = Championship”, a true assessment of what this championship match would come down to. McDonald went on to reiterate what had been written on that board, saying that it was all the small nuances of their game coming together that ultimately let them win in the final minutes of the game.