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Clarkson fans turn out to welcome NCAA women’s hockey champions (VIDEO)

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POTSDAM — The ride of a lifetime ended where it started for the Clarkson University women’s hockey team on Monday.

“Coming back home today, through the entire north country and Potsdam, these girls were so proud to bring it back here. This is such a great community; it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t be more excited to be back to Clarkson,” senior assistant captain Jamie Lee Rattray said, addressing the more than 1,000 fans who turned out at Cheel Arena to welcome home the NCAA Division I champions.

By defeating two-time defending champion University of Minnesota 5-4 in Hamden, Conn., on Sunday, the Golden Knights became the first team in Clarkson history to win a national title, and the first team north of Syracuse to capture any NCAA Division I championship.

“The 2014 national hockey champions — that has a great ring to it,” Clarkson athletic director Steven J. Yianoukos said. “A heartfelt thanks goes to all the players and coaches.”

Monday’s celebration drew fans of all ages from throughout the area, including two members of the North Country Ice Storm 12-and-under girls hockey team, which recently won a state championship. The two players — Erica Sloan, a seventh-grader at Parishville-Hopkinton, and Rose Jeneault, a sixth-grader at Kennedy Elementary in Ogdensburg — are members of the Little Knights Club and actively support the women’s hockey team.

A handful of Golden Knights players recently attended an Ice Storm practice and offered valuable advice.

“They helped us a lot,” Sloan said. “They talked about things like eating fruit and drinking chocolate milk after games and stretching out. It’s pretty cool having national champions coming from a small town like Potsdam.”

“It’s definitely inspiring,” Jeneault said.

Also on hand to witness the historic moment was longtime Clarkson men’s hockey fan John Plonka, of Colton.

“This is just great for Clarkson women’s hockey and for Clarkson University as a college,” he said.

The women’s hockey team was formed in 1974 and competed at the Division III level through 1984. After a nearly 20-year hiatus, the program returned in 2003 at the Division I level, and the Knights finished this season with a 31-5-5 record.

Clarkson advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Frozen Four with a 5-1 victory over Mercyhurst University in the semifinals Friday night. In the final, Clarkson beat the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers, a team that had a 87-1-1 record in its previous 89 games.

“Who wants to be a Golden Gopher when you can be a Golden Knight!” Clarkson President Anthony G. Collins told a cheering crowd Monday.

As has been the case since the Knights’ rebirth in women’s hockey, the pep band provided its usual support during the homecoming.

“It was an amazing weekend,” said pep band president Benjamin A. Zwierlein, a senior civil engineering major who plays trumpet. “We have a contingency fund in our budget for playoff games. We lucked out this year because they had so many playoff games at home and there was extra money for us to go to Connecticut. We had around 10 members of the band go down, and we had quite a few alumni join us.”

“I’m not really sure what we played after they beat Minnesota on Sunday,” he added. “It was mostly yelling, cheering and screaming at the end. ... What a perfect way to end my career as a bandie.”

Less than 24 hours after producing their breakthrough championship win, players and members of the coaching staff still were trying to put their historic efforts into perspective Monday.

“There’s been a lot of commotion since we won, so I haven’t had a chance to just soak it all in,” said senior captain Carly Mercer, who majors in innovation and entrepreneurship. “We were super confident going into the championship game. We felt we were just as good as they were. We just had to play our game the whole 60 minutes.”

Co-coach Matt Desrosiers credited the team’s success to its work ethic and fellowship.

“They always played hard and never wavered from the game plan,” he said.

“This is definitely the highlight of my coaching career,” he added. “It’s pretty gratifying to see the girls enjoying what they’ve accomplished and to see them reap the benefits of all their hard work. ... We want to bask in this for a little while longer before we start thinking about next year.”



Video of the homecoming can be seen at http://wdt.me/Clarkson-homecoming.

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