After allowing their first conference regular-season title in two seasons slip away over the previous two weekends, Michael Sisti’s squad regrouped quickly and did exactly what was needed in Rochester to keep pace. Despite the scheduling advantage, a pair of solid 3-0 victories over the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers at the Gene Polisseni Center this past weekend weren’t enough to get the team that No. 1 spot.
Up the Thruway, 9th-ranked Robert Morris — now in control of their own destiny after salvaging a split in Erie on Feb. 17 — turned Syracuse and Paul Flanagan’s normally stout defense into their second-straight regular-season title. Still, however, the Lakers’ second seed in the CHA tournament is a solid six-point improvement over last season, the first sub-.500 campaign in program history.
But now maintaining a 9-3-2 mark since the calendar flipped to 2018, this team is dangerous, high-octane and primed for the postseason. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity of winning the championship, obviously, and playing with the girls for one last chance is going to be amazing,” said the Lakers’ Celine Frappier. Game one on Feb. 23 saw Kennedy Blair improve to her first winning record as a Laker, but survive a pipe just 2:45 into the weekend off the stick of the Tigers’ Tori Haywood. Vilma Tanskanen would do the same later from the right circle, this time off the crossbar.
An 8-6 shot advantage for the visitors didn’t carry immediately into the second despite not capitalizing on the Tigers’ Brittany Gout’s roughing call at 7:16. Just two and a half minutes after the expiration, Morgan Stacey created an odd-man rush for the Lakers with Samantha Fieseler. This created a window for Samantha Isbell, who ensuingly blazed her sixth of the season from the right side off the bar. A 15-6 shot deficit was already not enough for Scott McDonald’s hosts, despite a 37-save performance from Tiger goalie Jenna de Jonge.
A transition out of an interference call on Jennifer MacAskill allowed Tanskanen to feed Sarah Hine in close range for her third of the season, the visitors’ second tally in 3:18. Then it was Blair’s turn again, stopping Brooke Baker on a rebound earlier in the second and sliding to stop Kendall Cornine on a wraparound well into the third to finish off a 21-save shutout. After Summer-Rae Dobson was sent off for interference, Tanskanen capitalized and sent a feed to Hine off the boards. Tanskanen retrieved it back in a 2-on-1 rush, and finished off her 14th of the season at 10:46 of the third.
In game two, their last preparation for the conference tournament, the Lakers (16-14-4, 13-4-3) took momentum from a 13-4 shot advantage in the first period on Feb. 24 and saw Michele Robillard start a rush. The Lakers’ Maggie Knott then backhanded her 12th of the season between de Jonge’s (0-8, 4.65) legs at 15:43 of the first, rebounding after she had stopped Alexa Vasko on a two-man rush less than three minutes in. Yet it was just 90 seconds into the second that Hine — along with Robillard rebounding nicely from a combined -17 rebound rating in 2016 — combined with Tanskanen on the point to hand Dobson her ninth of the season.
It was here that the Lakers seized control over the contest as the squads combined to kill off all 11 power-play opportunities, the first of which came just 41 seconds after Dobson’s goal.
And after withstanding that — along with a breakaway stop on Tanskanen later in the period — finished off the scoring and shot barrage as Brooke Hartwick finished her senior season with her 13th of the campaign. Her shot came from the left circle and off the pipe, just the seventh time all season the Lakers found the net within the first five minutes of the third. It narrowly missed one of 43 saves for de Jonge, but her Tigers (4-27- 3, 1-19) were outshot themselves 46-19 as Blair (9-7- 1, 1.49) finished off the third by stopping Cornine four times in the period and meeting Baker on a shorthanded breakaway midway in the period.
“We just sticked to our team systems and playing as a team as getting pucks on net and having a relentless forecheck was key,” said Frappier. Now 9-2 when scoring, it was Tanskanen’s last of six games without countryman and linemate Emma Nuutinen, who two days earlier secured Olympic bronze for Finland.
The Laker’s next opponent for the coming post season is currently undetermined.