Clinton upends defending champs
Goaltender holds off Williamsville attack to lock up state title
LAKE PLACID — The Williamsville girls hockey team’s run of championships came to an end Sunday in Herb Brooks Arena.
Williamsville came into the NYSPHSAA final four riding high after winning the Western New York Federation and Section VI tournaments within the last two weeks, but ran into a red-hot Clinton goaltender in the state final and was forced to settle for a 1-0 defeat.
Clinton took advantage of a power-play opportunity at the 6:37 mark of the third period when Mia Lopata blasted a slap shot from the point that found the back of the net. Lopata slid to the ice on one knee as she pumped her fist to celebrate and her teammates crowded around. Abby Kurdziolek was credited with the assist.
Williamsville went into attack mode the rest of the way, ratcheting up the pressure and creating a series of goal-scoring chances playing at a frenetic pace. Shortly after the Clinton goal, senior forwards Emma Roland and Jenna Cavalieri peppered shots toward the net — at least one of which clanged off the post — but Clinton goaltender Hailey Millington was there at every turn.
Williamsville pulled its goalie with about a minute remaining, and was able to control the puck by winning face-offs and getting the puck on the stick of Roland, their best player. Millington held her ground, coolly turning away each opportunity.
“It was one of those where it comes down to a one period game, and they took advantage of their one opportunity,” Williamsville coach Rick Hopkins said. “We were all over them, but just couldn’t bury it. Hat’s off to their goalie, she played a great game.”
Millington was credited with 24 saves on the night, while Williamsville goalie Mia Wendell stopped 12.
It was the second shutout in as many nights for Millington after Clinton edged a Salmon River team that came into the state semifinal with a 19-0-3 record. Millington, a senior, recorded nine saves Saturday night in the 1-0 victory.
“She has not played a game all season like she did today,” Clinton coach Nicole Ruddy said. “We haven’t been very successful on our power play all year, so to capitalize in a game that matters this much, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“All it takes is one chance. That power play goal basically got us the championship.
Lopata was Clinton’s leading scorer this season with 14 goals and 10 assists. She provided several of the Warriors’ best chances to score early in the game as the teams battled back and forth through the first two periods.
Williamsville, which won the state title last year at Harborcenter in Buffalo but lost in the Federation tournament, rolled through Saturday’s semifinal with a 7-0 victory over Plattsburgh, of Section VII. The senior-laden team finished with a 16-3-2 overall record.
Plattsburgh beat Saranac Lake Placid 3-0 in the Section VII semifinal on Jan. 29, then beat Franklin Academy 2-1 in the sectional championship game to earn its spot in the state final four.
“I’m sad. I’m just sad it’s over,” Roland said. “It’s hard right now, but it was such a great senior season. To do so well in the regular season, then win Fed and sectionals was probably one of the best feelings.”
Roland, who recorded a hat trick in the Section VI championship game then scored another three goals in Saturday’s state semifinal, committed earlier in the week to play hockey at Rochester Institute of Technology, a Division I team, next season.
“It’s tough on the seniors,” Hopkins said. “Win, lose or draw, tonight was their last game no matter what. You always want to go out a champion but there’s only one team that finishes the season with a win and that’s the champions. And that’s Clinton tonight so congratulations on a very well coached team. We have a lot of respect for them and their program.”
Roland was one of 10 seniors on the Williamsville roster.
“They are a special group,” Hopkins said. “It’s always hard to say goodbye to the seniors. I’m extremely proud of the girls in our locker room. They were all leaders.
“The effort was there for us tonight, just the execution came up a little short.”
This weekend’s final four tournament was played in the same arena where a young American team coached by Herb Brooks pulled off an unlikely upset over a heavily favored Soviet Union team in the 1980 Winter Olympics in what became known as a “Miracle on Ice.” The U.S. went on to win the gold medal with a victory over Finland.
“Being here in Lake Placid was so much fun,” Roland said. “It was very cool, the experience of knowing who has skated on there before and what a big thing it was for America and hockey.”
Clinton finished with a 12-3-3 overall record.