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MINNEAPOLIS – This one stung.
Mercyhurst’s women’s hockey team ended its season with a 3-2 loss to Cornell University Friday night at the University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena in the NCAA semifinals.
This year’s early exit from the Frozen Four came on the heels of 2009’s 5-0 loss to Wisconsin in the championship game at Boston.
But the loss to Cornell was much different, and arguably more bitter, for the Lakers.
Mercyhurst came into the Frozen Four as the No. 1 seed, having earned the nation’s top ranking for nearly 20 total weeks during the season and carrying a 30-2-3 overall record.
On paper, the Lakers appeared impenetrable.
At the 6:30 mark of Friday’s first period, though, Cornell freshman defenseman Laura Fortino poked the first hole in Mercyhurst’s defense when she popped a rebound past Hillary Pattenden for a 1-0 Big Red lead.
“I think we had a lot of nerves going into it and were bobbling pucks,” said junior forward Jesse Scanzano.
Because of nerves or for any other reason, in its most important game of the season, Mercyhurst came out flat for much of the first period. Cornell won the battle in shots on goal, 13-7, and, most importantly, held the country’s top offense scoreless.
“They were definitely pressuring really hard,” Scanzano said.
One Laker line woke up during the second period.
Junior Kylie Rossler scored, unassisted, near the game’s midway point to tie the game at one.
“The (Meghan) Corbett-Rossler line played unbelievably tonight, getting two huge goals and really helping us get momentum back,” said junior forward Vicki Bendus.
Two minutes later, Rossler fed linemate Corbett a centering pass from the boards.
With just two goals coming into the game, the sophomore from Winnipeg, Manitoba, seemed an unlikely hero to give her team its most important lead of the season. But Corbett did just that, one-timing Rossler’s pass past Cornell goaltender Amanda Mazzotta.
Both teams clamped down defensively in the third period. Cornell and Mercyhurst took just nine total shots.
Karlee Overguard’s point-blank attempt was the only one that mattered for Cornell, as she tied the game with 13 minutes remaining.
That shot would ultimately save Cornell’s season and help to send Mercyhurst home a day early.
Ashley Cockell received an elbowing minor with two minutes and 59 seconds remaining in regulation, effectively ending any chance of a late Laker game-winner.
With help from her teammates on the Mercyhurst penalty kill, which held Cornell scoreless in six man-advantage attempts, Cockell escaped from the box with the score still 2-2.
“They (this year’s team) kind of fly by the seat of their pants,” Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti said. “They have been sloppy from time to time.”
With just under seven minutes to play in the first overtime, Cornell capitalized on a Laker defensive lapse during a 2-on-1.
As Cornell’s Amber Overguard ran interference on Mercyhurst’s lone defenseman, Samantha Watt, Catherine White streaked toward Pattenden and went to the backhand.
The Laker goaltender denied White’s first attempt with her left pad, one of 27 total saves.
“The puck hit Pattenden and it just seeped out there,” White said.
And just before Corbett could clear the puck from the crease, White swept it under a sprawling Pattenden for the win.
“I can’t even explain the emotion I had…to beat the number one ranked team in the country,” she said.
After a short video review, officials confirmed the goal.
“No one wants their season to end this way,” Scanzano said. “It definitely wasn’t our best game. Game’s over now, you know, so nothing you can do.”
Cornell went on to lose Sunday’s title game to Minnesota Duluth, 3-2, in triple overtime.
While Mercyhurst’s loss hurts, each of the Lakers appears ready to use this stunning ending as motivation to finally capture a championship at the 2011 Frozen Four, which they will host at Tullio Arena.
“If (this loss) is what it takes for us to learn a lesson to be successful next year,” Bendus said, “then I guess it will be worth it.”