Well-deserved congratulations are in order for the women’s hockey team after making a profound statement this past weekend at Buffalo’s HarborCenter.
After disposing Robert Morris with a flurry of attack, the Lakers took down an exhausted but spirited Syracuse squad in a hotly-contested 4-3 affair that required an extra 15 minutes of hockey for their first College Hockey America tournament title in three years.
Jenna Dingledein had the honor of sending home the game-winning goal on Saturday, March 5, sneaking home a rebound past Jenn Gilligan at 15:06 of the extra session to clinch not only the title, but also the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award, finishing with three goals and four points in the two games.
Before that, however, the two finalists claimed a combined 18 awards on Thursday night, March 3, at the Kick-Off Banquet. Two freshmen and former Stoney Creek Jr. Sabres were recognized, as Rachael Smith was named Rookie of the Year and Sarah McDonnell received the Goaltending Trophy, along with being named to the All-Tournament Team on Sunday, March 6.
McDonnell had a memorable freshman year, securing the starting job in September and went on to win 15 of her 25 regular-season decisions and posted a 1.54 goals-against average.
How did the Lakers do it?
Heading into the awards banquet on March 3, three main candidates for Rookie of the Year had emerged, yet Smith was never considered the front-runner for the award, and all three made the All-Rookie Team.
Despite leading the Lakers in the regular season with 25 points and 15 assists, first and second respectively among all CHA freshmen, and finishing second on the team with 10 goals, the two-way Smith was in a hotly-contested race with two fellow Ontarians.
In-fact, in an interview with the Merciad on Feb. 27, one of Smith’s own teammates, fellow freshman Morgan Stacey, called Robert Morris forward Sarah Quaranta “our biggest competition” heading into the conference tournament.
Sarah Quaranta, a fellow member of the Jr. Sabres squad that won the Provincial Women’s Hockey League title last spring, tallied 19 assists but only found the back of the net five times this season on a Robert Morris squad that led the league in scoring by 16 goals over Syracuse and 22 over the Lakers.
Facing Smith and the strong defensive unit under CHA Coach of the Year, Michael Sisti, she was held to just three points on a goal and two assists, and seven shots over five games, won only 43.2 percent of her draws, and suffered a -3 rating.
On the other hand, Smith was able to penetrate the Colonials for 12 shots, contributing two goals and three assists and had a +2 rating, including a +3 in the big 4-0 road shutout on Feb. 5.
Despite playing five fewer games, Smith had the best of Quaranta in all four major per-game categories, and Quaranta recorded a goal and two assists before Smith had yet to play.
Meanwhile, Shannon Morris-Reade, a native of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, began to make her mark on a hard-working Lindenwood squad from the very beginning, scoring eight points in September and October, but fell off with just two points in November and four each in January and February. Against the Lakers, she was on-par with Smith in almost every category, with both players held to a combined three assists and 20 shots in four contests, but Smith’s Lakers won three of them.
In-fact, Smith went 6-1-1 against her counterparts, the Lakers outscoring their opposition, 25-12, over those contests. Per-game, Smith had the highest averages at .32 goals, .48 assists, and .806 points per game, not including the Tournament.