The Oswego State women’s ice hockey team lost to Neumann University 2-1 on Saturday in an ECAC West quarterfinal game, bringing its season to a close in a double-overtime thriller. Despite the loss, both the game and the season as a whole showed the growth that the women’s ice hockey program has achieved since last season.
With most of the players on Oswego State having no playoff experience, Neumann, a seasoned team, gained the initial edge. Neumann’s Jessica Schroeder scored the game’s first goal shorthanded.
"For the first part of the game Neumann had us on our heels," head coach Diane Dillon said.
Fortunately, the Lakers were able to hold Neumann to one goal in the period, and Oswego State managed to bounce back in the second. Early in the middle frame, junior forward Kelly Collins scored for the Lakers with assists going to junior forward Jillian Bergeron and freshman forward Carly Henderson.
"Once we started rolling we were fine," Dillon said. "From the time we scored that goal and for the rest of the game we were really the better team."
The third period was a stalemate as neither team was able to gain the lead. While the first and second periods were littered with penalties by both teams, the third period had none.
In the first overtime period, Oswego State controlled the game and had many scoring opportunities, hitting posts and failing to convert on breakaway chances. However, they could not find the back of the net and the game was forced into a fifth period. After over 90 minutes of play, Neumann finally broke the tie when the puck bounced off a player in front and got past senior goaltender Emi Williams. The goal was credited to Mariah Fairgrieve with the assist going to Schroeder.
Williams shined in her last collegiate game making 35 saves. Neumann goaltender Shannon Donnelly finished with 23 saves.
Although the Lakers put up a great effort against Neumann, Dillon believes if they’d done a few things better they could have gotten the win.
"They ate us alive on face-offs," Dillon said. "We made some adjustments to counteract that but I wish it had been a little more effective. We shortened our bench. We were rolling two or three lines instead of the usual four, and we started running out of gas. I think, in hindsight, I would’ve played that fourth line a little bit more."
Despite these mistakes, Oswego State played a valiant game against the Knights, showing how far they have come as a team this season.
"I was extremely proud of the effort because they never backed down," Dillon said. "They got stronger as the game went on; they were flying in the overtime period. We could have won it, should have won it, but they kept their heads high."
This season was the first in which the Lakers won a game against Neumann. In the regular season, they split their series against the Knights. That win only scratches the surface of the team’s accomplishments for the season. The Lakers also tied against Elmira early in the season, a team they had never earned a point against before. The most notable accomplishment of the season was their win against top-ranked and previously undefeated Rochester Institute of Technology. The win not only got them recognized league-wide, but also accomplished one of their goals from the beginning of the season, which was to beat one of the top three teams.
Another trend that changed for the Lakers was their second-game performance. Most of the women’s hockey games are played in a two-game, back-to-back series against one team over a weekend. Last season, the Lakers were usually worse in the second game. This season however, Oswego State played some of their best games on the second day. The RIT win, Neumann win and a win against Adrian College were all second-day games.
Overall, this season has been an extremely successful one for the Lakers. They finished with a better record than ever before (13-10-3 overall, 8-7-3 ECAC West). They finished in fifth place in the ECAC West and placed ahead of Utica, who has always given the Lakers trouble.
"For the first time, all of our statistics were better," Dillon said. "We scored more goals than we ever had and we gave up fewer goals than we ever have. The only one that went up that I wasn’t so thrilled about was penalty minutes. But our power play was more successful, and our penalty kill was more successful. When you look at our success, it’s not a surprise because the numbers really do show it."
Aside from the numbers, the team grew in terms of strength both on the ice and in the locker room.
"I was really impressed this season with our leadership," Dillon said. "We had 11 new players, nine were rookies, and our leadership and our upperclassmen were able to incorporate those kids."
The team graduates five seniors this year. All of them have been great assets to the team and their talent will be difficult to replace. Williams has started in goal since her sophomore year and is now passing the torch to freshman goaltender Catherine Cote.
"Your seniors are your heart and soul of your team," Dillon said. "They’re the ones that everybody else looks to. They’ve developed the Laker tradition for four years and anytime you lose that it’s hard to replace."
Making up for the loss of these seniors will be a tough hurdle to get over, but with the talent that the current freshman class brings and five committed recruits for next season, the team is already on its way.
"You will see a commitment to winning," Dillon said. "Now that we have had a taste of it, losing doesn’t sit very well. I think you will see a more exciting brand of hockey. As we get more talented, we can open up the game a little more. I’m really excited for it."
With all the progress that has been made this season, continued success in the program seems to be inevitable.
"I really think it was a great season for the Lakers," Dillon said. "We just have to follow it up with another one."