Cornell returned 13 players from its ECAC championship-winning season, as well as a gold medalist who took the year off to compete for her country in the Olympics. Six freshmen entered the squad which had achieved so much and strived for so much more.
The ECAC preseason poll picked the Big Red to be tops of the league once again. The standard was set high for these women and if they had felt the pressure, they never showed it. They opened up the season at home against Robert Morris University in a two-game series. The first game was closer, a bit closer than anyone had expected. Robert Morris had already had six games under their belt, two each against Providence, Ohio State, and Northeastern. They were hoping the fourth nonconference foe from a third league would elicit a different result. After all, they had been playing games as long as Cornell had been able to practice. The Colonials gave the Big Red all they could muster in a tough 3-2 victory for the Red. The next game would be quite a different affair. The Lady Rouge allowed one goal to the nine they scored, taking home a sweep for their first games of the season. Notably, all five freshmen skaters found a way to contribute early. Each one notched at least a point, showing that they wanted to be impact players for the team from the beginning.
The next week began league play. Cornell went into the season defending their first ever championship. A target was already on their backs. But they came away from their first weekend of league play and road games with four points, beating Quinnipiac and Princeton with matching 5-1 scores.
After returning to Ithaca, Cornell faced a familiar opponent in Mercyhurst. After dropping the game in overtime, detractors began saying that it was all over. The women were inflated and not up to the challenge of repeating.
This was a chink in the armor. But Cornell was not listening to them. Coach Derraugh saw the early season booking of Mercyhurst as a good thing. He wanted the team to learn. "I always think its good to play these top teams early on in the season to see where you do stand. You always learn a lot from both winning a game like this, but you also learn a lot from the mistakes that you make in games like this, too." And learn they did. The women would not lose another game until the middle of February. They put together 18 consecutive wins and were unbeaten in 22, with the lone blemish being a 3-3 tie against Clarkson. The women were on a tear. But it wasn't as easy as they made it seem.
Challenges plagued them at every corner. The fall semester had the women rolling, with Amanda Mazzotta backstopping the Red to win after win and a fair amount of shutouts, in addition to being named ECAC goaltender of the week numerous times. But right before the spring semester games were about to get underway, Mazzotta was injured. Relatively untested freshman goaltender Lauren Slebodnick was called on to backstop the team. Slebodnick had seen a tiny bit of relief action before, when the team was appreciably up, but never did she start a game. Her first start was a 5-0 shutout against Yale. Her second game was a 3-0 shutout against Brown. Slebodnick more than showed her preparedness to step up for this team.
During their unprecedented stretch, going undefeated in 22 games, the women not only set a new win record for the program, breaking the previous year's high of 21, but outscored their opponents 99 goals to 12 goals. The team's GAA in that span was 0.545.
A team with that much success was bound to look either too far back or too far ahead, at least commentators thought so. But the women were not fazed. Catherine White said it best, "Honestly, I think with us we're more or less focused on each game, one game at a time. We know we have a target on our backs but we try not to let that affect our play. In this league if you're off one night any team can beat you, so you need to stay focused." And they managed to keep that focus throughout the entire regular season, ending play in the ECAC with a record of 20-1-1 and brought a one seed into the ECAC tournament for the second consecutive year.
A familiar playoff opponent met the Lady Rouge in the first round. The previous year's semifinal opponent, RPI, was to be the opening opponent in a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Lynah. The Red dominated the Engineers in the regular season, by a combined score of 12-1 over two games. But as the Engineers showed the previous season, playoff hockey is anyone's game. Catherine White reminded everyone of her role the previous year in the playoffs as she once again opened scoring in the series, putting Cornell ahead. RPI, however, was there to play. They solved the freshman goaltender competing in her first playoff game of her Cornell career, just five minutes later, taking the tie into the locker room after the first frame. The second frame was no more positive for the Red. The Engineers scored, 14 minutes into the second and 20 minutes stood between them and something that hadn't happened at Lynah since November 2: a team other than Cornell walking away with a win. RPI held strong as Cornell pressed. Slebodnick made nine saves in the second, but she wouldn't be called on for the rest of the game. Cornell did not allow a single shot in the third. Seconds were ticking off the clock. Ten minutes through the period. Five minutes left. With just over a minute remaining, Rebecca Johnston appeared to have tied the game up. After video replay, the goal was overturned. Johnston on the disallowed goal, "When they disallowed the goal, we knew that we had to get it back." And get it back they did. With seven seconds remaining, Rebecca Johnston, on a play started by Chelsea Karpenko and freshman Brianne Jenner, took a shot. Finally, the puck found the back of the net and the score stayed on the scoreboard. Lynah erupted as Johnston lifted the team to a tie and another chance at winning this game. Hope was still alive. The Big Red would enter overtime for just the third time this season, with an 0-1-1 record thus far. It wouldn't take 47 minutes more for the women to score. Just 82 seconds into overtime, Johnston and Jenner assisted Karlee Overguard who found the back of the net to give the Red the lead in the series and a second chance at showing why they were the reigning champions.
Slebodnick made the start again, having been through her first playoff game ready to start anew. She stopped all but one shot on the night, but the Red gave her much more help than the night before. Rebecca Johnston opened the scoring just over two minutes into the game. She scored once per period for a hat trick. Chelsea Karpenko added two more, and Catherine White notched one of her own as the Red sent the Engineers back to Troy and set the stage for another ECAC Final Four in Ithaca.
The next week, the women hosted Quinnipiac in Cornell's second ever as well as second consecutive trip to the ECAC semifinals as Amanda Mazzotta made her return to the playoffs. Quinnipiac had defeated Clarkson to earn the right to try to knock off another top seed. The shot totals were much more equal this game, with the first period seeing seven Bobcat shots to eight Big Red shots. Only one shot found its way to the net, though. 18:13 into the first frame, after almost a period and two power-play opportunities for the Bobcats and one for the Big Red, a goal was scored. As their second power play was winding down, Laura Fortino and Catherine White assisted Chelsea Karpenko on opening the scoring as they took a 1-0 lead into the locker room. The second period was dominated by the Lady Rouge. They got off 15 shots to Quinnipiac's nine. They also scored two goals to Quinnipiac's one, as Jessica Campbell and Hayley Hughes notched a tally apiece. The third period began with Cornell up 3-1, with 20 minutes between them and their title-game defense. But Quinnipiac wasn't going to go quietly. They solved Mazzotta early in the period to cut the lead to one. Senior Hayley Hughes wasn't ready to give up so easily. She buried a shot in the net with less than 14 minutes left. Quinnipiac wasn't finished. They deflected a shot past Mazzotta on the power play with five and a half minutes remaining. Cornell was up 4-3. Quinnipiac pressed but Mazzotta stood tall. Cornell took their 4-3 victory and Quinnipiac headed to Hamden.
The next day was set to be a tougher test than before. The only team who wrestled an ECAC and Ivy win from Cornell had also advanced to the title game. Just two weeks prior, Dartmouth had defeated Cornell in Hanover. The Big Green had brought a sizable cheering squad with them, but the record-breaking crowd at Lynah Rink was decidedly partisan to the home team. The women were going to play in front of the most people ever to watch a women's hockey game at Lynah to see the women defend their first ECAC championship.
This game was nothing short of total domination. This game typified the team's record-breaking season. Mazzotta was back in goal. For the Big Red, going for something no other female hockey player at Cornell had the opportunity to strive for: a second ECAC championship. Mazzotta posted her fifth shutout of the year, as Chelsea Karpenko scored twice and Hayley Hughes ended the scoring for the 2011 ECAC Tournament. Cornell dominated Dartmouth to a 3-0 victory, earning their 30th win of the season and second consecutive ECAC championship. In addition to their Ivy championship and berth to the NCAA tournament, the team amassed a 31-3-1 record to win the most games ever won by a Cornell hockey team.
Cornell outscored its opponents 16 goals to six during the 2011 ECAC Tournament. Chelsea Karpenko scored the eventual game-winning goal to bring Cornell its second ECAC championship. Amanda Mazotta and Lauren Slebodnick each played two games and combined for a goals-against average of 1.5 and a save percentage of 0.900 during the ECAC tournament. Cornell won its second ECAC championship in Ithaca on March 5, 2011.
Jessica Campbell, Olivia Cook, Hayleigh Cudmore, Laura Fortino, Alyssa Gagliardi, Xandra Hompe, Hayley Hughes, Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston (A), Chelsea Karpenko, Amanda Mazzotta (G), Kendice Ogilvie,
Amber Overguard (C), Karlee Overguard (A), Jenna Paulson, Lauriane Rougeau, Lauren Slebodnick (G),
Catherine White, Katie Wilson (G), Amanda Young
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