After a sensational senior season that placed Clarkson Golden Knights forward Cayley Mercer into superstar status, there were not enough words to describe her brilliance. With the honor of the captain’s C on her jersey, Mercer was an absolute force in both the regular season and the postseason, propelling the program into the national championship picture. Graduating as the all-time leader in program history for goals scored, her legend would take on richer meaning with a timeless performance in the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four championship game, a denouement to a great career of which all hockey dreams are made of.
Amassing a significant amount of hockey hardware, Mercer would be recognized by her peers not only within the conference but make her mark among the nation’s finest talent. Considering that ECAC Women’s Hockey Championship weekend took place at Clarkson University, it would serve as a fitting venue for the honors that would befall a most worthy Mercer. Garnering both the league’s Best Forward and Player of the Year award, she would also earn a spot on the First-Team All-Stars.
Finishing the season as the ECAC scoring champion with 42 points in conference play, she would also finish the season as the top scorer in the nation, amassing an astounding 62 points. Recognized by USCHO.com as its Division I Player of the Year, there were a pair of other prestigious honors to follow.
Among a distinguished group of competitors, Mercer would finish as one of the three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, joined by Lara Stadler, a member of the Swiss national team and leading scorer for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, plus Wisconsin Badgers goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, whom Mercer has called a teammate on Canada’s U22 national team. Coincidentally, Mercer and the Clarkson Golden Knights would take on the Badgers in the Frozen Four national championship game. Of course, all three finalists would also gain All-America status, the chance for Mercer to finish her career with such acknowledgement represented a significant point of pride,
“Both are recognitions that I will remember for the rest of my life. To be considered one of the most elite women’s hockey players in the country for my senior season is really something I never imagined for myself or my career. It’s really just a testament to the handwork and dedication I have put in over my 5 years at Clarkson, and it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the constant support of my teammates, coaches and family.”
In spite of scoring just three goals in her first season with the Golden Knights, bouncing back from a difficult start which saw her redshirted in the 2012-13 season, Mercer would enjoy one of the biggest single season turnarounds in program history, testament to her character. From 3 goals and 22 points in the 2013-14 season, she would follow it up with an astounding 24 goals (a 21 goal improvement) in 2014-15, while doubling her point total to an astonishing 44 points, averaging 1.16 points per game.
This upward progression would continue in every season, continuously improving on all offensive categories. Complementing this amazing body of work was three straight seasons as Clarkson’s Most Valuable Player. Reaching the 50-point plateau following an impressive 2015-16 campaign, Mercer was nothing short of brilliant in her senior season. Surpassing 60 points, she would record 28 goals, 34 assists, while reaching new highs in power play goals (6) and shorthanded goals (2), emerging as a key component on special teams.
The road towards such a landmark season was firmly established early on. By the end of October, Mercer would really hit her stride, as a two-assist road effort against New Hampshire on October 22 was the springboard towards an 11-game scoring streak. Resulting in six goals and 11 assists, said streak would culminate with a two-assist performance in a non-conference home match against the Robert Morris Colonials, who would also qualify for the NCAA Tournament by season’s end.
In spite of a scoreless effort against Vermont the following day, December 1 would mark the start of another sensational streak. Mercer would continue to impress with an astonishing 26 points over a 13-game span, improving on her previous performance. The first six games of the streak, which included matches against nationally ranked St. Lawrence, would see Mercer record at least one goal, quickly establishing Clarkson as a conference power. Logging 14 goals and 12 assists in her second streak of the season, she was already at 47 points for the season.
The weekend of February 17-18 would prove to be one to remember for Mercer, marking a major milestone. Recording two goals and an assist in consecutive road games against conference opponents, it established her as a prime time player. Starting with a contest against the Colgate Raiders, she would tie her career high for most points in a season (achieved in her junior year) with 50. The following day, a clash with the always competitive Cornell Big Red saw Mercer smash the record, reaching 53 points, as the 60-point plateau was definitely locked in her sights.
By month’s end, Mercer was joined by teammate Shea Tiley among the ECAC’s monthly awards. Mercer would have the honor of Player of the Month bestowed upon her, while Tiley’s tireless efforts between the pipes garnered her Goaltender of the Month. As a side note, Princeton’s Carly Bullock would gain Rookie of the Month honors.
Following the Player of the Month nod for February 2017, Mercer’s playmaking skills continued to shine, even as each game brought with it higher stakes. In each game of the NCAA Tournament, Mercer would log at least one point, providing her team with a chance to excel. Gaining an assist in the tournament’s opening game against the Cornell Big Red, a rematch of the ECAC championship game, such a contribution subsequently added to the momentum that a championship was possible.
Challenging the defending national champion Minnesota Golden Gophers in a St. Patrick’s Day matchup at the Frozen Four, Mercer recorded a pair of assists, gaining 60 points for the season, a career first. Undoubtedly, Mercer’s presence was crucial, as the Golden Knights emerged victorious in a hard-fought 4-3 final. Along with fellow senior Genevieve Bannon, they would log the assists on the game-winning goal scored by Rhyen McGill at the 18:32 mark of the third period. As a side note, McGill’s aunt is Winter Games gold medalist Cheryl Pounder. Advancing to the national championship game, the Golden Knights were awaited by another powerhouse from the WCHA conference.
Taking on the top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers for the biggest prize in NCAA women’s ice hockey, Mercer would rise to the occasion, definitely adding a new element to the Patty Kazmaier Award debate.
Following a scoreless first period, fellow First Team ECAC All-Star Savannah Harmon would break the deadlock, providing Clarkson with the 1-0 advantage as Bannon and Ella Shelton gaining the assists. While Harmon’s goal would stand as the championship winning goal, Mercer would make her mark in this landmark game, providing one of the finest third period performances in Frozen Four history.
With over 15 minutes of scoreless play in the third period, still 1-0 in Clarkson’s favor, it would have been easy for the fans in attendance at St. Charles, Missouri to see this as anyone’s game. Establishing herself as a prime time player, Mercer would score on Kazmaier Award winner Ann-Renée Desbiens at the 16:56 mark, providing a two-goal cushion against the favored Badgers. Bannon, who was also part of Clarkson’s 2014 Frozen Four championship team, would log her second assist of the game, making this a memorable swan song for both.
Despite the Badgers best efforts, they were unable to erase the two-goal deficit, as Mercer put the game out of reach with 44 seconds remaining. Scoring an unassisted goal, the last of the 2016-17 NCAA season, a fitting sendoff for such a sensational superstar as Clarkson captured its second Frozen Four title in a 3-0 blanking.
“I couldn’t ask for a better way to finish my senior season, by book ending my college career with another national championship. From the very beginning of the season I knew our team had so much potential, but being able to find the chemistry, and capitalize on our opportunities all season is what gave us the ability to win that final game.
The feeling of winning a national championship is unlike any other, and it’s even all the more special being able to do it with the group of girls that we had, and then being able to share it with our families and friends, the entire university of Clarkson and the Potsdam community was really next level.”
Another unique aspect which commemorated Mercer’s unforgettable season at Clarkson included an opportunity to gain cardboard immortality, gaining the trading card treatment. In the cover dated June 2017 issue of Sports Illustrated (with Kyle Lowry on the cover), Mercer is one of nine athletes featured on a trading card.
Of note, this was not Mercer’s first appearance on such notable ephemera. In 2011, she was featured in Upper Deck’s card set World of Sport, along with future Clarkson teammates Erin Ambrose, Erica Howe and Jamie Lee Rattray. Fittingly, all four were teammates for Clarkson’s first Frozen Four championship team in 2014. The opportunity to be featured in Sports Illustrated Kids represents a proud milestone for Mercer, becoming a part of popular culture, while her heroics demonstrate to youngsters the potential female athletes have to accomplish great things, while inspiring others to follow their dreams,
“It’s definitely cool to see not only women’s (hockey) players being featured, but women’s players of all caliber. Knowing that I accomplished something in D1 college hockey, that was worthy of being featured in SI Kids is such an incredible feeling.”
With the opportunity for Mercer to finish her Golden Knights career as a Frozen Four champion for the second time in her career, such an achievement did more than just bring her experiences with the program full circle. It was an epic performances that shall mark a lasting impression on Potsdam sporting fans.
As the approaching 2017-18 season shall mark a significant absence attributed to Mercer’s graduation, the feeling of loss is reciprocal. While Mercer, whose remarkable skill set can translate into superstardom at the professional ranks, will certainly be missed by fans and teammates alike, her reflections on the experience of donning the Green and Gold colors evokes powerful emotions. Her presence shall always leave an indelible impression, one where she evolved into an ambassador for Clarkson hockey, possessing a combination of leadership skills and strong values of empathy, commitment and devotion, values that will make her a treasured teammate among those who skated alongside her.
“The best part about playing at Clarkson was the group of people I got to interact with on a daily basis that became like family while I was at school. The group of teammates, to the coaching staff and support staff, all the way up to the administrators and the president. There was so much support and buy in to our program, and everyone really played their part in creating such a tight knit group, and propelling us to success.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
SI Kids images obtained from: http://cartophilic-info-exch.blogspot.ca/2017_04_23_archive.html
Video still of Mercer obtained from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUR_uuUo_Bg
Goal celebration image obtained from: http://www.clarksonathletics.com/news/2017/3/8/womens-hockey-mercer-enter-clarkson-record-books.aspx?path=whock