Clarkson Finds Winning Formula
by Matt Conyers/CHN Reporter
ALBANY, N.Y. Barely 20 minutes after Clarkson had wrapped up its first NCAA tournament win since 1996, senior goalie David Leggio revealed his true feelings on the season.
"If we didn't win this game, I believe the season would've been a dissapointment," Leggio said. "Losing to Colgate (in the ECAC quarterfinals) was very disappointing."
Thankfully for Leggio, and the rest of the Golden Knights, that fate was avoided.
Instead, Clarkson can relish in a long-awaited victory that has been more than 12 years in the waiting. Friday, Leggio had 24 saves and backstopped Clarkson to a gritty, well-executed 2-1 win over St. Cloud State.
"Every guy in the lineup played well [Friday], there were no passengers," Clarkson coach George Roll said.
Leggio's statements may appear a little bit extreme. After all, Clarkson entered the tourney having posted its second straight 20-win season, and a first-place ECAC finish. Not to mention the Knights lead the nation in shorthanded goals with 12.
By most normal circumstances, Clarkson had a respectable if not remarkable season.
Still, Leggio had a point. Clarkson had lost in the ECAC quarterfinals to Colgate and another defeat in the NCAA tournament may have had them feeling empty.
"I simply got outplayed by another goalie in the series against Colgate," Leggio said.
With that bitter defeat in hand, the Golden Knights came into Albany with two weeks rest and plenty of motivation. Since 1992, Clarkson was 1-8 in the NCAA tournament. Pitted against St. Cloud State, the Golden Knights knew they needed a win for not just the program but for also the ECAC.
"We were hungry, we had a bitter taste in our mouths coming into this game," Roll said. "Coming into the rink today, I felt good about where we were at. I felt everyone was ready to go and that we were well prepared. I felt confident that we were going to play like we knew we could."
Not only were the Golden Knights motivated but they had a plan — shut down the Huskies' speedy, young forwards. If they were able to do that, Clarkson felt good about their chances along the boards and behind the net. Plain and simple, Clarkson had to take the physical play to the Huskies.
"We wanted to keep the game simple, we didn't want to let them get into transition and get going," Roll said.
Within the first 10 minutes, it was clear that Roll's game plan was being executed just as he wanted it. Clarkson came out strong and made sure it won the one-on-one battles.
"The effort [Friday] was unbelievable," Clarkson forward Shea Guthrie said. "We all were prepared for this game."
Clarkson's readiness was best displayed by its penalty kill, which stonewalled the Huskies throughout the game. St. Cloud State concluded the contest with an 0-for-6 mark on the power play.
"I thought [the penalty kill] was the difference; it was really the key for us," Roll said. "We knew coming into it that it was going to be key for us. With them you have to pick your poison and decide which guys you're going to take out of the power play and I think we did a great job with that."
Often in the game, it appeared as if St. Cloud State's skilled and young forwards — Garrett Roe, Ryan Lash and Andreas Nodl — were frustrated. Too frequently the trio of dynamic players looked unfocused and out of breath. On several of the Huskies' power plays, Lasch and Nodl stayed out longer then they should've have. St. Cloud State was not getting the quick breaks it needed.
"They definitely shutdown Nodl on that one side," St. Cloud State defenseman Matt Stephenson said. "They pretty much shutdown that side. We were going to try and get shots through, and I think we were real hesitant pretty much throughout the whole game."
Despite falling behind 1-0 with 15:52 left in the second period, Clarkson never looked like it was lagging. The Golden Knights continued to make their presence felt and with 5:45 left in the second, the score was tied when David Cayer sent a knucklepuck over the shoulder of goalie Jase Weslosky.
"I was driving the net and the puck came right back out to me," Cayer said. "That's how we'd practiced all week it all week. We wanted to get the big rebounds. I got lucky a little bit and it went up in the air and then back into the net."
Clarkson scored the game winner with 16:32 left in the third period after Guthrie made a great rush to the net.
"It was good luck that my defense put it off the wall and I was breaking across the ice," Guthrie said. "I just drove wide and got control of it about ten feet in front of the net and went backhanded."
Now Leggio can vanish that thought of disappointment from his mind. Saturday, Clarkson will play for a chance to go the Frozen Four. And as Leggio well knows, any season that ends with a Frozen Four bid on the line is in fact a good season; if not a great one.
"I jumped really high after the game, I was happy," Leggio said. "I have a bad vertical leap but that was probably my best jump."