Two days later and quite a bit of celebrating still hasn't allowed it to sink in for Moose Jaw's Olivia Howe that her Clarkson University Golden Knights are NCAA women's hockey national champions.
“I was just talking to my roommate (on Tuesday) morning and we were saying how it definitely hasn't sunk in yet,” said Howe. “We haven't really realized that the season is over and we are national champions.”
The Golden Knights won the title on Sunday afternoon with a 5-4 win over the two-time defending champion Minnesota Golden Gophers. It was the first national championship in the history of the small college in Potsdam, New York.
“It's pretty amazing. It's a dream come true,” said Howe, who just finished her sophomore season with the Golden Knights. “To do it with 20 of your closest friends is something else, it's unexplainable.”
The win capped off a memorable season for the Golden Knights. They finished the regular season ranked third in the country with a 25-5-5 record. They breezed their way through the ECAC tournament before falling to second ranked Cornell, 1-0, in the final.
Clarkson would win their NCAA tournament quarterfinal game over Boston College, 3-1, to advance to the semifinals. The Golden Knights were the heavy favourites there against Mercyhurst, who upset Cornell in the quarters. Clarkson made it look easy with a 5-1 win to set up the showdown with Minnesota.
“A lot of it was just hard work and team work,” said Howe. “The biggest thing was being a team and being very close knit and it worked out well for us in the end.”
The Golden Knights were intimated by what stood between them and their ultimate goal.
Going against the number one team in the country, the Golden Knights were far from the favourites heading into the game as Minnesota was riding a 26-game winning streak and had lost only once in the past two seasons.
“We knew we had nothing really to lose and we were playing a team that had lost one game and tied one game in two years, so we knew that it was going to be them that was more worried,” said Howe. “It's was a pretty light mood actually, there was a lot of joking going on.”
After giving up the opening goal, the Golden Knights scored back-to-back goals in the final two minutes of the first period – Christine Lambert with the first and Shelby Nisbet with the second – to take a 2-1 lead after one.
Jamie Lee Rattray extended that lead to 38 seconds to start the second period, but Minnesota answered, getting goals from Maryanne Menefee and Rachael Bona 1:48 apart to tie the game at 3-3 heading into the third.
Clarkson would continue to battle and score twice just after the midway point of the third period to go in front for good. Vanessa Plante scored with 8:28 to go and Shannon MacAulay followed with the eventual winner at 15:44 of the third.
Minnesota's Baylee Gillanders scored 35 seconds later, but the Golden Gophers couldn't find the equalizer in the end.
“We really just emptied the tank,” said Howe. “We knew that was what we had to do to beat a team that was so powerful.”
In doing so, the Golden Knights put themselves on the national map, becoming the first school outside of the WCHA conference to win the title.
For Howe, it's an incredible end to a strong sophomore season that saw her post nine goals and 24 points, while playing in all 41 games.
“The season went really well actually,” said Howe. “I started out pretty good and worked my way into a permanent role and a role that I think helped benefit the team. I felt good about this season and going into next season will be even better.
“It's going to be pretty hard (to top this year), but we're definitely going to try.”
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