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Clarkson women face Mercyhurst in Frozen Four semifinals


POTSDAM — Smiles were abundant as the Clarkson University women’s hockey team walked out of Cheel Arena Wednesday morning to a throng of fans who came by to see the team leave for the Frozen Four at Quinnipiac University.

Clarkson (29-5-5 overall) is making its first appearance in the event, in the 11th year of the program. The Golden Knights will meet Mercyhurst (24-8-4) in a national semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday night at Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center. The other semifinal, at 5 p.m., features two-time defending national champion Minnesota (37-1-1) against Wisconsin (28-7-2). The national championship game is Sunday at 3 p.m.

“We’re going as far as we can, and I’m pretty excited,” Clarkson’s Jamie Lee Rattray said.

The games are already sold out, which will give the women’s players a rare chance to play before a packed house. Clarkson home games usually draw under 1,000 fans.

“It’s going to be neat to see people rally around women’s hockey,” Rattray said. “Very rarely do you see a lot of fans come out to women’s hockey until the last weekend. I can’t wait to see it.”

The fan interest started Wednesday with the send-off from the Cheel Arena parking lot. Clarkson’s bus was escorted by three police vehicles and about 50 people waited in the cold to greet the team, including St. Lawrence University head coach Chris Wells and Saints assistant Ted Wisner.

“It’s been really nice,” Clarkson goalie Erica Howe said of the support. “Even in the ECAC (Hockey) Tournament we had 1,000 fans and we never get support like that. It’s nice to see the community rally behind us.”

This event will be a new experience for the Golden Knights, but the other three participating teams all have experience in the event. Minnesota and Wisconsin both have won multiple national titles and Mercyhurst was in the event last year and in the national championship game in 2009.

“It will be awesome,” Clarkson’s Shelby Nisbet said. “It’s going to be overwhelming, but we just have to stick to our game plan and not worry about any outside distractions.”

The players may be new to the Frozen Four experience, but Clarkson’s co-head coaches, married couple Matt and Shannon Desrosiers, each played in a Frozen Four for St. Lawrence University.

Matt Desrosiers played in the 2000 men’s Frozen Four and Shannon Desrosiers was in the first women’s Frozen Four in 2001, as the Saints wound up playing in the national championship game before losing to Minnesota-Duluth.

“I’m sure a lot’s changed since (13) years ago, but it’s equally as exciting,” Shannon Desrosiers said. “Matt and I have been telling these kids for the last few years about our experiences. We’ve mentioned how special it is to make it to the (Frozen Four). Now, for them to reach this goal and achieve their dreams, we couldn’t be happier for them.”

Last week was a strange one for the Golden Knights, who began it with the bitter disappointment of losing 1-0 to Cornell in the ECAC Hockey championship game on Sunday, then ended it with a 3-1 win over Boston College on Saturday, sending the team to the Frozen Four.

“I was one of the most excited people on our team,” said Clarkson goalie Erica Howe. “After the game on Saturday I was asking if we could leave right away. I am so excited to get there and get the full experience. I think that’s actually good that the NCAA is built like that, you can lose your league but still have another chance. We never got the ECAC title, but then it’s another crack at the can and you are able to bounce back and perform next weekend.”

Clarkson played the Lakers in a two-game series at Cheel Arena earlier this season. Clarkson fell 2-0 in the opener and was outshot 29-19 and then settled for a 1-1 tie the following day.

“That was probably our worst performance in terms of a weekend,” Shannon Desrosiers said. “(Mercyhurst) is fast. They work hard and they’ll bring a good game and so will we. It should be a really good hockey game.”

In addition to playing hockey games Clarkson will also be anxious to see if Rattray wins the Patty Kazmaier Award, which goes to the top overall player in the nation. That will be handed out Saturday morning and she is one of the three finalists.

“When I got invited down to that I thought that I wanted my team there,” Rattray said. “I didn’t want to be there by myself. It’s a big weekend, there’s going to be a lot of things going on. My main focus is Friday and getting through that.”

To see video footage of Clarkson’s departure for the Frozen Four, as well as interviews with players and coaches, check out the Knights Tales blog:

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