In any athletic endeavor, the most significant objective is to attain a championship. To reach such a pinnacle by scoring the championship clinching goal, especially in one’s final game, only makes it more surreal. Such an outcome occurred for SUNY-Plattsburgh Cardinals blueliner Erin Brand, a date with destiny that resulted in one of the most legendary goals in program history, simultaneously contributing to one of the great legacies in NCAA women’s ice hockey.
Having captured four straight NCAA Division III women’s ice hockey championships, the Cardinals dominance represents one of the great dynasties in the history of women’s ice hockey. Mirroring other great collegiate sporting squads, such as the iconic Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team, who also assembled a string of four straight national titles, Brand’s contributions have placed her among the greats in Cardinals lore.
With a playing career that has seen Brand compete in New York State in both Division I and Division III play, this remarkable breadth allowed her to emerge as a key leader with the Cardinals. Gracing the ice at the Division I level with the Syracuse Orange, whose women’s lacrosse team is also one of the most prominent in its sport, the product of Northwood High School accumulated 60 points in two full seasons with the Cardinals.
During Brand’s inaugural season (2015-16) with the Cardinals, her playmaking skills shone, garnering an impressive 33 points on the strength of 28 assists. While she managed only five goals, each reflected her effectiveness on special teams and an ability to excel in big game situations, logging thee power play goals and two game-winning tallies.
Perhaps more impressive, Brand’s 33 points would lead all blueliners in Division III play. Rewarded for her efforts as a First Team AHCA All-American, she also gained a spot on the First Team ECAC West All-Conference, respectively. While such honors represent a proud hallmark in Brand’s career, that first season in Plattsburgh also culminated with recognition to the ECAC West All-Academic team.
With so many impressive on-ice achievements, it would be easy to overlook that Brand is just as dedicated in the classroom. Focusing her studies on Biology, her attitude towards academics represents a strong set of values, which extends to all facets of her life A significant point of pride for the brilliant Brand, it was an extension of her status as an exceptional student-athlete, representing its values in a most substantial way,
“It is extremely important to make sure you are doing the right things on and off the ice. Being a student athlete is very tough in a way that you have to manage your school work around practice and games, so it is crucial that you stay on top of your work so you don’t fall behind.
Academics are something you cannot take for granted and part of my role on this team is to set a good example for the younger girls. That being said, I believe that it is necessary to put the amount of effort needed in to your schoolwork in order to stay eligible and to be successful. In the long run, unfortunately, you can only play this game for so long, so it is important you are taking your academics seriously.”
Drawing attention to such an amazing body of work is the fact that Brand is among the elite performers in her game, twice bestowed the proud distinction of All-America honors. Although such tribute symbolizes a high level of accomplishment, Brand is self-effacing about such individual success. Employing a team-first approach and maturity, her admirable demeanor quickly becomes evident. Recognizing that her accomplishments were part of a bigger effort, a grand collaboration in which everyone worked together with the goal of winning first, it is the kind of outcome that trickles down with positive dividends for all.
“It is definitely an incredible honor; however without the help of my teammates, this dream wouldn’t have been made possible. I give the credit to them, as well as my coaches, for their relentless work ethic and guidance day in and day out.”
Statistically, the 2016-17 season saw Brand emerge as a sniper, registering 11 goals, six scored on the power play, while two were game-winning tallies, contributing to a sparkling 27 point campaign. Sharing in the honor of the team captaincy with goaltender Camille Leonard, her constant work ethic was the most exemplary aspect of her leadership.
Beginning said season with five points in a two-game series against William Smith, it would set the tone for a season defined by steadiness, constantly providing the Cardinals with a chance to dominate. By season’s end, Brand logged at least one point in 17 games, providing a reliable consistency that helped add more scoring punch to an already potent offensive attack.
Of note, the regular season would prove to be just prologue for Brand, as the postseason awaited to supply the greatest moments in her brief but impactful Cardinals career. Such a stellar postseason performance would continue on the biggest stage in Division III hockey, as her legend in Cardinals lore continued to blossom. Undoubtedly one of the greatest and most intense competitions in the history of the Division III Frozen Four, Brand made her mark in grand fashion.
A March 17 semifinal affair in the NCAA Division III Frozen Four vs. Norwich resulted in her last multi-point performance. Registering three points, it marked the third time that she had at least three points in a game. The first took place in the impressive series performance against William Smith, while the other took place on January 27, 2017 vs. Cortland.
Against Norwich, the first two Cardinals goals were both recorded on the power play, allowing the Cardinals a two-goal cushion. Brand and Anaheim Lady Ducks alum Megan Crandell would gain the assists on the first goal, scored at 9:25 in the opening frame by Melissa Sheeran.
Brand would supply the second power play goal for the Cardinals, finding the back of the opposing net at 13:47 of the second. Jordan Lipson would gain one of the assists, while Sheeran reciprocated with an assist. With nine seconds left in the second, Kayla Meneghin would extend the Cardinals lead as Crandell obtained her second assist.
At the 3:48 mark in the third, Brand would score once again, achieving a multi-goal game for the third time this season as Melissa Ames and Muna Fadel gained the assists, as the Cardinals advanced to the national championship game in a 4-0 blanking, which would also be the last shutout in Camille Leonard’s record breaking career.
Challenging host team, the Adrian College Bulldogs, for Division III dominance, a scoreless first period featured three Cardinals power play opportunities. After 38 minutes of scoreless play, both teams would capitalize on power play opportunities in the final two minutes of the second period, resulting in a 1-1 tie.
With Adrian coming back from a 2-1 deficit, enjoying a 3-2 advantage, the Bulldogs fans were savoring the potential for one of the biggest upsets in college hockey history. Considering that the month of March 2017 was one filled with top ranked teams at the collegiate and professional level on both sides of the border unable to claim championships, a possible Cardinals collapse appeared imminent, especially with the Bulldogs peppering Leonard with a series of shots in the third.
Instead, an epic comeback would take place, starting with the efforts of Julia Duquette, who would tie the game via a shorthanded goal with only 21 seconds left, as Crandell recorded the assist. After more than 10 minutes of overtime, which saw the Bulldogs manage 10 shots on Leonard, destiny and dynasty would intertwine on this fateful day.
Taking advantage of a rare overtime power play opportunity, Brand recorded the fourth and final goal against Adrian’s valiant goaltender Brooke Gibson, securing the Cardinals with their fourth national championship. Adding to the legend of Brand’s goal was the fact that Crandell would be credited with the assist, her third of the game, whose heroic playmaking becomes inextricably linked with Brand in such a renowned pair of performances.
In a game that saw the lead change hand four times, with over 15 penalties issued, the impact of the Cardinals victory was made even more dramatic because host team Adrian featured an Amazonian effort on the part of Kaylyn Schroka. Of note, she won a game-high 24 faceoffs and recorded a pair of assists, including the assist on the go-ahead goal scored by Sarah Shureb at the 15:08 mark of the third period.
With the landmark goal, Brand’s efforts extended far beyond the jubilation of a championship. Recognized as the Most Outstanding Player, she was also joined by Leonard and Sheeran on the All-Tournament Team. Along with Sheeran and Kayla Meneghin, they would compose a titanic trio named AHCA First Team All-Americans, while teammates Crandell and Leonard gained well-deserved spots as Second Team All-America selections.
Adding luster to such a magical championship included a parade which travelled up Rugar Street, continuing on Adirondack Lane, culminating at the Field House entrance. With members of the championship roster signing commemorative posters for elated fans, a ceremony at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena also featured local dignitaries on-hand, showing their support in recognition of such a titanic team.
For Brand, the feeling of celebration at the ceremony was greatly enhanced. Along with head coach Kevin Houle, she had the opportunity to take centre stage and address the enthusiastic crowd. Being able to directly address the fan base and acknowledge the presence of the proud supporters, such as political representatives, represented a unique opus for Brand, embodying some of the qualities that made her such a valued leader and model teammate,
“It was an incredible feeling that I will never forget. With some ups and downs throughout the season, we knew it was going to take 100% of the roster, 100% of the time. It took every single one of us to get our main goal achieved and we can walk away from this season knowing we gave it everything we could to come out on top.”
While the pair of championships in Brand’s Cardinals career brings with a blend of personal and team reward, it is only part of a much more profound experience. The opportunity to be part of something special, and contribute towards something whereby its results shall extend for many years to follow holds the substance to potentially inspire future Cardinals to emulate such achievement.
Notwithstanding the fact that Brand only played two full seasons in Plattsburgh, they were beyond memorable. Making the evolution from transfer student into celebrated icon, a large segment of the Cardinals enthused sporting community were moved by Brand’s talents and enthusiasm. As she prepares for the next chapter, the Cardinals experience definitely holds a treasured place in her heart, one that shall be cherished in years to come,
“I will definitely miss the friendships and memories created within the locker room and here at Plattsburgh in general. The people you meet and the friendships that you made will last a lifetime and the memories will stick with you forever.
The 21 girls in that locker room are my family and it was an honor to be able to play with them for as long as I did. Making the speech after the victory parade meant a lot to me. It was extremely important that we gave recognition and thanked the people behind the scenes that made this experience possible.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Erin Brand