The best season in women’s hockey history keeps getting better and better. With their fifth place spot the regular season ECAC standings, the best result in team history, the Raiders earned a trip to Princeton for a best-of-three playoff series. A week earlier, with home-ice advantage on the line, the Tigers blanked the Raiders en route to a thrilling 1-0 victory. This time around, Colgate was out for revenge, and more importantly, its first playoff victory in school history.
In a defensive struggle in which neither team wanted to make a costly error, the first playoff game was scoreless after three periods of play. Getting to overtime, however, would not have been possible without the stellar play of senior Brook Wheeler in goal. She finished the night with 42 saves, including many of the spectacular variety.
The overtime period was evenly contested, as both sides created promising opportunities, but only the Raiders were able to capitalize. With 7:59 remaining, senior Ashley Bradford found the back of the net for the game-winning tally. Sophomore Sam Hunt set up the goal with a blast that Princeton’s Kristen Young stopped but couldn’t control. Also picking up an assist was senior Tara French.
“Brook played unbelievable in net,” French said afterwards, “but it was truly a complete team effort for 60 minutes, and the extra eight minutes of OT, that led to our success.”
After the thrilling first contest of the series, game two had a lot to live up to, but it somehow managed to exceed expectations. Goals were certainly more plentiful, as both sides scored early and often. Princeton began the scoring in the first period, a goal that first-year Katie Stewart quickly answered.
Following a scoreless second period, Colgate took a 2-1 lead midway through the third when Hunt found Stewart for her second goal of the night. Undaunted, Princeton answered with only six minutes remaining, tying the game at two and setting up an exhilarating finish.
With overtime looming for a second consecutive night, French took matters into her own hands. The senior received a pass at the point and rifled a perfect shot into the back of the net with only 2:56 remaining in regulation. Junior Kara Leene and first-year Beth Rotenberg set up the critical tally.
Wheeler was spectacular in goal once again, as she recorded 32 saves and preserved the series-winning 3-2 victory.
“I was very pleased with our team’s performance this weekend,” Hunt said. “We played smart in our systems and tightened up the defensive zone more than we have in the past. They didn’t have that many opportunities.”
Colgate will make its first ever appearance in the ECAC semifinals this weekend against Dartmouth, the third-ranked team in the nation. That lofty ranking, however, should not intimidate the Raiders, as they were the only team to record a victory on the Big Green’s home ice this season; the league foes split the season series.
“In order to beat Dartmouth we can’t take penalties because their power play consists of four Olympians,” sophomore Elin Brown said. “The most important thing that will help our team beat Dartmouth is we are not satisfiedwith justbeating Princeton and no one is ready for this season to end.”
The Raiders will play at Dartmouth, the championship hosts, this Saturday at 1 p.m. If they are victorious, the ECAC final will be Sunday at 2 p.m.