By Peter Langella,
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – In the third and deciding game between traditional New York rivals this season, junior forward Shannon Strawinski scored the final three goals of the game, and the Elmira Soaring Eagles came from behind to beat four-time defending champion Plattsburgh State 3-2 in double overtime at host Norwich University’s Kreitzberg Arena. The win earns Elmira a place in tomorrow’s Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship game, their first trip to the final since losing to Plattsburgh in 2015.
“We have a great leadership group, and going into the third we understood what it would take,” said Elmira first-year Head Coach Tim Crowley. “All year we’ve been able to play through adversity. I’ve been saying it all year, I don’t think anyone has the depth that we have.”
“I said going into this weekend that we weren’t going to lose,” Strawinski said. “It’s pretty surreal.”
Plattsburgh failed to make it to the final for the first time since 2013. “All the credit to Elmira for working hard in the third period to force overtime,” said Cardinal Head Coach Kevin Houle. “That’s hockey, that’s a bounce of the puck. We’re proud of every single one of our players, especially the seniors. There’s no shame in losing. We love them all. We’re proud of everything they’ve accomplished. Not too many athletes get to play in four final fours.”
Plattsburgh (24-3-2) dominated the first shift of an otherwise back and forth first period, and senior Kayla Meneghin gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead just :40 seconds into the game with her 20th goal of the season. Junior All-American Courtney Moriarty and classmate Mackenzie Millen recorded assists on the play.
Elmira (25-2-2) nearly tied the game four minutes into the second period when sophomore defender Kiana Melvin’s shot from the point ricocheted up and over Plattsburgh senior goalie Brooke Wolejko’s head, but the Soaring Eagle forwards were unable to put away the puck before it was cleared out of the crease.
Senior defender Lizzy Viola put Plattsburgh up 2-0 at 14:12 of the second period by racing in from the point to capitalize on a loose puck after first year player Annie Katonka had her shot deflected. First year defender Erin McArdle also assisted on the play. It was just the third goal of Viola’s career. Elmira had killed off a 5-on-3 powerplay seconds before the goal, but they couldn’t clear the zone before the damage was done.
Elmira made it 2-1 at 3:06 of the third period when junior forward Katie Granato beat out an icing call and found a wide-open Shannon Strawinski out front for the score. Plattsburgh tried to immediately respond with a flurry of chances, but Elmira’s senior All-American goalie Kelcey Crawford kept her team in the game at a critical juncture.
“I had to give them a little bit of time,” Crawford said. “I’m really lucky to have the team in front of me that I do.”
The Soaring Eagles made it 2-2 at 15:53 of the final frame on junior forward Strawinski’s second goal of the game. Senior forward Louisa Lipppiatt Durnell collected the puck and curled across of the top of circles before dropping it to senior defender Rachel Grammp for the shot. Strawinski was able to get her stick on the puck for the tying tip.
“My grandpa got me started,” Strawinski said. “Him and I were really close. I credit him with starting me. I used to spend the whole day at the rink with him.”
Elmira used their goals to steal the momentum, outshooting the Cardinals 14-4 in the third period. Heading into the extra session, Elmira held a 31-26 advantage in shots on goal.
Crawford stood tall for Elmira in the opening minutes of overtime, turning away a Meneghin breakaway chance with a stunning kick save and several high quality shots from Plattsburgh’s National Player of the Year and captain Melissa Sheeran.
A too many players on the ice penalty on Plattsburgh gave Elmira a powerplay at 17:58 of overtime, but they weren’t able to convert, and the game was still tied after 80 minutes.
The second overtime began with free-flowing offense and grade-A opportunities. Plattsburgh went on the powerplay at 4:39, but an inspired rush by junior Elmira forward Maddie Evangelous led to a triping penalty and more even-strength hockey before an Elmira advantage. Neither team was able to get past two stellar goaltenders.
Strawinski completed her hat trick with the game-winning goal at 15:10 of the fifth session to send the Soaring Eagles to tomorrow night’s championship against the winner of the Norwich/Hamline nightcap. Elmira tied Norwich 3-3 in January at the Murray Athletic Center in Pine Valley, NY. It would be their first-ever game against the Pipers from Minnesota.
“Both teams are a quick turnaround,” Crowley said. “When the puck drops tomorrow, we’ll be ready, and we’ll create our own puck luck by how hard we work no matter who play we play tomorrow.”
Elmira outshot Plattsburgh 46-43 for the game. With 43 saves, Wolejko was one stop shy of tying 2014 Player of the Year Sydney Aveson for the most saves in one game by a Plattsburgh goalie in program history. “I’m super proud of my teammates,” Wolejko said. “It’s not the outcome we wanted, but we’re just so proud to be here.”
Elmira will be looking to claim its fourth national championship, having previously won in 2002, 2003, and 2013.