As one of the greatest women’s hockey programs in NCAA Division III history, the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers are looking to create a similar impact since their promotion to Division I. Competing in the College Hockey America conference, a new chapter to its lore was added in a December 2013 outdoor match against the Clarkson Golden Knights.
Hosting its first-ever outdoor game, a group of 1,578 frozen yet devoted fans filled Frontier Field for the historic match. Of note, it was the sixth-ever NCAA women’s hockey match played outdoors. Competing in the 2013 Greater Rochester Frozen Frontier, the Tigers played valiantly in a 6-2 loss as both programs were participating in their first game outdoors.
Heading into the match, the Tigers had a respectable 9-9-1 record. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights (who also compete in New York State) who are ranked sixth in the nation defeated the Tigers in their season opener on September 28. Prior to the 2013-14 campaign, the programs had not played each other since February 16, 1985.
Playing against such a strong opponent, the Tigers never showed signs of quit. Tigers backstop Ali Binnington held Clarkson scoreless in the first frame as two power plays by the green and gold were nullified. Of note, Clarkson outshot the host team by a 12-2 mark.
The second stanza would tell another story as the Golden Knights scored three unanswered goals in a period of only three minutes and twenty seconds. Carly Mercer would score the first-ever outdoor goal in Golden Knights program history at the 9:25 mark with assists credited to sister Cayley Mercer and Genevieve Bannon. A mere 34 seconds later, Jamie Lee Rattray would add to the lead as the momentum was in their favor. Mercer would contribute her second goal at 12:45 as the Tigers suddenly faced a three-goal deficit.
Before the period would expire, Kolbee McCrea of the Tigers would trim the Golden Knights lead. Scored at 17:29, McCrea’s marker signified the first outdoor goal in program history. Assists were credited to Erin Zach and Lauren Klein.
Early in the final frame, McCrea would make more magic as she scored her second goal past Golden Knights backstop Erica Howe to the roar of approval of the Tigers fans. Picking up a rebound off a shot from Klein, Despite the shift in momentum, the Tigers could not tie the score. Showing why they are a nationally ranked squad, the Golden Knights regrouped.
Despite being short handed, Vanessa Gagnon intercepted a Tigers pass and logged an unassisted goal at 7:35 to double the Golden Knights lead. Only 34 seconds later, Olivia Howe would bury the puck past Binnington as the three-goal lead was restored. Gagnon would add another goal at the 16:53 mark as the Tigers were overwhelmed.
Binnington was a workhorse for the Tigers as she stopped 40 of 46 shots. McCrea’s two goals provide her with a team-best 10 goals as the team slips to below .500 with the loss. Clarkson had nine different skaters register points. Regardless of the outcome, the enjoyment and enthusiasm displayed by both teams reinforced the reason why they play to begin with, for the love of the game.
While the novelty of outdoor games holds greater popularity at the professional men’s level, it serves to stand as a highlight in the career of these remarkable women who choose to call the game theirs as well. From the first-ever outdoor NCAA women’s game in 2010, held at Boston’s famed Fenway Park, the opportunity to play outdoors not only rekindles fond memories of early pond hockey but signifies a strong step forward as the game continues to capture the hearts and minds of fans.