RRCC aims to complete national quest

Joey Payeur

The sentiment is unanimous: there is unfinished business to take care of and the Rainy River Community College Voyageurs women’s hockey team fully plans on doing just that.
The Voyageurs, with five Fort Frances residents on the roster, begin their bid for the ACHA Division 2 national championship today in Kalamazoo, Mich.
In a made-for-Hollywood opening matchup, the West Region’s top-ranked team goes up against the East Region’s fourth-seeded squad—the West Chester University of Pennsylvania Golden Rams.
That’s the same team which upset RRCC 1-0 in last year’s national semi-finals and led to the Voyageurs finishing tied for third place.
The game was all about close calls (three posts) and not finishing on offence (RRCC outshot West Chester 30-12) against Rams’ goalie Presley Fiorilli, who is back between the pipes again this season.
It’s a scenario the 15-3-1 Voyageurs vow not to repeat against a Rams’ team that went only 9-7 this season in the East Region but does have a 1st Team All-American back in forward Miranda Steuve.
“All of us are eager to play West Chester again and none of us want to lose to them again,” stressed forward Shilo Beck, part of the Fort’s “Fab Five” along with fellow second-year forwards Hailey Clendenning, Katie Sinclair, and Shelby Tymkin and first-year forward Bridget Jorgenson.
“I think we’ll make sure that we don’t.”
“We outplayed them, outshot them, and did everything we needed to do [last year]—we just didn’t put the puck in the net,” noted Sinclair.
“It was also our fourth game in four days and we had a pretty thin bench.”
“We’re going to show them we’re back and we’re better than we were last year,” vowed Clendenning.
Voyageurs’ head coach Jeff Wickstrom said better quality shots and a better start are key to putting last year’s game behind them.
“It was like there was a bull’s-eye on [Fiorilli’s] chest that we were aiming for,” he recalled.
“The key is to come out and get an early goal and deflate them.”
Next on the list tomorrow is one of RRCC’s West Region rivals—the Northern Michigan University Wildcats, who are ranked second in the region and in the Voyageurs’ pool.
The Wildcats (23-6) were the top-ranked team in the West for a good part of the season, feasting on the weaker teams in the region and playing many more games than the Voyageurs.
But then RRCC stormed into NMU’s rink and won both games in its first post-Christmas series to complete a 3-0 season sweep.
NMU boasts the top five scorers in Division 2, led by Allison Carlson’s nation-leading totals of 58 goals and 49 assists in 29 games—all numbers that have RRCC scoffing more than shuddering.
“If we played the teams they did, we would win 18-0, too,” said Tymkin.
“They’re not a bad team. They have some strong individuals and good goaltending,” she added, referring to Wildcats’ goalie Jenna Bales, who tied for the Division 2 lead in wins (16) and shutouts (seven).
“But their stats are not really where they should be.”
“When we played them, I think [Carlson] had just one assist,” noted Beck.
“As for Bales, we just have to get her moving and get a little traffic in front.”
The Voyageurs then close out preliminary-round play Friday against another familiar foe from last year’s nationals—the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcans (12-9-3).
RRCC beat the Vulcans 5-3 in an emotional game that ended nine seconds early when California’s 1st Team All-American Kelsey Denardo was ejected for punching RRCC’s Marissa Lindblad.
“It’s just a matter of getting under [Denardo’s] skin,” said Sinclair.
“It’s fun to stop her and see the team collapse around her,” she smiled.
“Physically, if we get in their heads and get them to take a few penalties, they’re done,” echoed Tymkin.
The other pool includes the East Region’s top-ranked Buffalo Bulls (12-3) and third-seeded University of Delaware Blue Hens (11-8), along with a pair of West Region teams in the defending national champion and No. 2-ranked North Dakota State University Bison (18-7-2) and the fourth-seeded University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (13-7-3).
The Bulldogs are the only new team in the field this year, but very well may be the biggest threat to the Voyageurs if the two should meet in the final.
UMD went 2-1-1 against RRCC this season, with goalie Colleen Jacoby allowing just seven goals.
“We’ve struggled against them and they’ve got a strong goalie,” admitted Clendenning.
“That No. 4 seed means nothing.”
“When [Jacoby] is on, they’re really tough,” agreed Wickstrom.
“And it looks like she has found her groove in the second half [of the season].”
The Fort players know this is their last shot at competitive glory together, with all of them besides Jorgenson having played many years together as members of the Muskies girls’ hockey team and other house league squads.
“I’m getting shivers just talking about it,” said Tymkin.
“It would be amazing to win it with these players that I’ve been playing with my whole career.”
Sinclair had the final word on the impending legacy of this year’s team—especially with just 10 skaters—winning a national title.
“This is something we can remember and look back on, and say we won it together,” she reasoned.
The semi-finals are set for Saturday, with the final going Sunday.
The possibility of live streaming of the playoffs still was being worked on as of press time.
Visit achahockey.org for more details.