The differing emotions play out after every championship game, but they still are striking.
Kassi Abbott was enjoying her moment in the spotlight, the Plattsburgh State goalie finding a place on the news conference table to proudly display the baseball cap declaring her team NCAA Division III hockey champions. To Saturday’s victor went the spoils.
Ten minutes earlier at St. Thomas Ice Arena, tears fell from Leah Schwartzman’s eyes and the Hamline senior captain’s voice cracked when dissecting the Pipers’ successful season that ended with 4-0 loss to Plattsburgh State in the women’s Frozen Four final.
“Every single girl on our team believed it this year. We never doubted each other, regardless of what everyone else was thinking,’’ Schwartzman said. “It meant a lot to for us to be in this position. We worked so hard all year, and I’m just so proud of the whole team. We’ve come a long way.’’
Hamline (23-4-3) became the first MIAC team to reach the NCAA title game but couldn’t deliver the school its first NCAA team championship in any sport. Instead, Plattsburgh State (29-2) won its seventh national championship and fifth in the past six years. The Cardinals contested passes, won puck battles and efficiently countered Hamline’s speed. When the Pipers had chances to score, including on a breakaway by national player of the year Bre Simon, Abbott was there to make the save.
“I’m proud of our season, proud of getting to the national championship game,’’ Hamline coach Natalie Darwitz said. “We just didn’t have our game today. We just never got into our rhythm. … It’s a tough pill to swallow.’’
That wasn’t the case Friday night, when the fourth-ranked Pipers beat No. 1 St. Thomas 3-0 in an all-Minnesota semifinal by storming the Tommies from the start. Five minutes before the game, St. Thomas announced that its All-America goalie, Kenzie Torpy, wouldn’t play because of a knee injury suffered during Thursday’s practice.
Hamline quickly took advantage, with Becca Zarembinski sniping a shot past Tommies freshman goalie Eryn Cooley 1:35 into the game and Simon scoring on a rebound 50 seconds later. Cooley was sharp the rest of the way, making 29 saves, but St. Thomas couldn’t overcome Hamline’s speed and the jolt of losing Torpy.
“She tried to come out in the morning skate today but couldn’t go,’’ Tommies coach Tom Palkowski said. “It was hard to look her in the eye and see the devastation she had.’’
A day night later, Hamline wore that emotion, but the future looks bright for the Pipers. Darwitz inherited a team that went 6-17-2 in 2014-15 and has guided steady improvement, including an NCAA third-place finish last year and now a runner-up showing. Led by Simon, Hamline returns seven of its top eight scorers, plus freshman goalie Jaela O’Brien.
“To look back and Hamline’s at the bottom of the polls nationally, and four years later we’re in a national championship game,’’ Darwitz said. “We’ve come a long way in the program.’’
Editor's note: Photo courtesy Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com