By Jean DePlacido
---- — After winning the College Hockey America title, the Mercyhurst University women’s hockey team had to wait 24 hours to find out if they would receive one of five at-large bids to the NCAA Women’s Hockey Final Eight.
“We all knew we could be left out,” said Stephanie Ciampa, the Lakers’ goaltender from Peabody. “There were a cluster of teams that could have made it; those last two spots were up for grabs and I was a little nervous. I didn’t want my season to end.”
The CHA title, which Mercyhurst won with a come-from-behind victory over Syracuse last weekend, doesn’t carry an automatic bid for another two seasons, so tournament MVP Ciampa and her teammates could only wait.
They did, however, get their wish. The Lakers (28-6-1) are the No. 7 seed and will face second-seeded Cornell tomorrow in Ithaca, N.Y. (1 p.m.). The Big Red (27-5-1) beat Harvard, 2-1, on a power play goal with less than two minutes to play, giving them the ECAC title for the third time in four years.
Top seed Minnesota brings a perfect 37-0-0 record into quarterfinals, which begin tonight. The Golden Gophers drew eighth-seeded North Dakota. Boston College, which features scoring star Alex Carpenter (daughter of former NHL sniper Bobby Carpenter of Peabody) takes on Harvard, while Boston University meets Clarkson in the other matchups of this single-elimination tournament. The winners advance to the Frozen Four beginning March 24.
With a 20-1 record and 10 straight victories on her resume, Ciampa is having a spectacular season in the Lakers’ net. The CHA Goaltender of the Month for February is ranked seventh in the country in Division 2 for save percentage (.937), fourth in goals-against average (1.37) and second in winning percentage (.950).
After her dominating playoff performance, the 21-year-old Ciampa received the CHA Goalie of the Week award for the seventh time.
The 5-foot-8 psychology major, who finally got her chance to start in goal for Mercyhurst this season, had two outstanding CHA playoff performances in a 2-1 victory over Robert Morris and 4-1 triumph over Syracuse. She stopped 45 of the 47 shots she faced in those two contests before a crowd of over 1,100 fans at Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie, Penn.
The only goal she gave up to Syracuse in the CHA finals was a controversial one at the end of the second period. A shot from the blue line went in, but Laker coach Michael Sisti thought it occurred after the buzzer sounded.
The Lakers tied it up four minutes into the third period and went ahead for good two minutes later on the power play before adding a late empty netter.
Ciampa has gone to NCAAs with Mercyhurst before, but never as the starting goaltender.
“This time it’s a little different, but I know what to expect. It all comes down to one game; beat Cornell go to the Frozen Four. That would be awesome.
“I wanted to have a good season in my last year; I got my chance, and my goal was to make the most of it. I’ve been seeing the puck well, and I’m so happy our season didn’t end without getting this opportunity. All year long our games have been close, so I don’t expect anything different now.”