ST. PETER, MN – Top-ranked Amherst College is headed to its second-straight national championship game after a 4-0 semifinal victory over host Gustavus Adolphus College Friday evening in the NCAA Division III Women's Ice Hockey Championship. The Lord Jeffs received strong goaltending from junior Caroline Hu (Cerritos, CA) in her NCAA Championship debut.
Amherst (22-2-4) will take on Norwich University (20-5-5) in St. Peter Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET) in the National Championship game. The Jeffs defeated the Cadets, 3-1, Feb. 20 in Amherst in what was the first-ever meeting between the two schools. In only its third varsity season, Norwich is playing in its first national title game. Gustavus (22-5-2) will play the Soaring Eagles of Elmira College (23-5-1) Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (ET) in the consolation game.
Saturday's game between Amherst and Norwich will feature a live webcast and statistics, and will also be shown free of charge in Stirn Auditorium. All are welcome to attend, but please note that space is limited.
Hu was clearly undaunted by the magnitude of the national semifinal, recording her seventh shutout of the season and making 24 saves to propel the Jeffs to within one win of their second national championship in as many seasons. Amherst managed to erase the memories of an ugly 3-0 defeat at Gustavus that came Jan. 2, 2009, in the first-ever meeting between the programs.
The early part of the game was marked by more near misses for the Lord Jeffs than anything else. Twice Amherst barely missed the net on two-on-one opportunities before scoring on a fortuitous bounce 13 minutes into the period on the game's first power play.
Newly-named All-America First Team honoree Randi Zukas (Glen Head, NY) used her chest to keep the puck in the offensive zone and fired a pass to senior tri-captain Kirsten Dier (Appleton, WI), who threw it on net. While goaltender Danielle Justice made the initial save for the Gusties, the rebound bounced off sophomore Stephanie Clegg (Woburn, MA) and then knocked of a Gustavus defender before ending up in the back of the net to make it a 1-0 game.
The Jeffs' second goal, which came 11:25 into the second frame, was nearly identical in its setup. After Gustavus came out firing early in the second, getting five of the period's first eight shots on net, Lindsay Hjelm went to the box 11:30 into the period. Kate Dennett (Highlands Ranch, CO) won the faceoff back to Zukas, whose feed to Dier opened the senior up for a wrist shot that found its way past Justice's glove to extend the Amherst lead to 2-0.
Meanwhile, Hu kept the Gusties off the board, making a spectacular glove save in the second on a Sara Yungner blast through traffic midway through the period.
The Gusties again went on the attack in the second when Courtney Hanlon (Fullerton, CA) was sent off for charging with 3:12 remaining. Hu was up to the task, keeping the home crowd silent and sending the Jeffs to the locker room with a 2-0 lead after two periods.
Hu's 14th save of the night may have been her best, as she flashed her right pad out to stop the Gusties' Meagan Wanecke on a great two-on-one chance early in the third.
Seven minutes and 20 seconds into the third, the puck squirted out of the Amherst zone and onto the stick of Megan Curry (Shorewood, MN), who slipped a shot past Justice on the breakaway to give the Jeffs a 3-0 advantage.
Dennett scored an empty-net goal with 31 seconds remaining in regulation to seal the victory for the Jeffs. Dier and Dennett each finished with a goal and an assist to lead the Amherst attack.
The Gusties kept the pressure on in the third, out-shooting the Jeffs by a 13-8 margin, but Hu's steady play was once again the difference as she out-shined Justice, who led the nation entering Friday with a 0.85 goals-against average. Hu was second, checking in at 1.00.