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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 from 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,” said senior assistant captain Jamie Lee Rattray, addressing the crowd of more than 1,000 fans who turned out to welcome home the NCAA Division I tournament winners.

By outscoring the two-time defending champion University of Minnesota 5-4 at High Point Solutions Arena on the campus of Quinnipiac University on Sunday, the Lady Golden Knights became the first team in Clarkson history to win a national title and the first team north of Syracuse to capture an NCAA Division I crown.

“The 2014 National Hockey Champions, that has a great ring to it,” added Clarkson Athletic Director Steven J. Yianoukos. “A heartfelt thanks goes to all the players and coaches.”

“The whole weekend was unbelievable. From beating Mercyhurst in the semifinals on Friday to having one of our players, Jamie Lee (Rattray) winning the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in the country on Saturday, to beating Minnesota in the championship game on Sunday,” he added.

Monday’s celebration at Cheel drew fans of all ages from around the area including two members of the North Country Ice Storm 12-Under Girls Hockey team which recently captured the New York State AHA Tier II championship - Erica E. Sloan, a seventh-grader at Parishville-Hopkinton, and Rose N. Jeneault, a sixth-grader at Kennedy Elementary in Ogdensburg. They are both members of the Little Knights Club and actively support the women’s hockey team. Recently, a handful of Lady Golden Knights returned the favor by attending an Ice Storm practice and offering valuable advice.

“They helped us a lot,” said Sloan. “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,” she added.

“It’s definitely inspiring,” noted Jeneault.

Also on hand to witness a moment in north country history was longtime Clarkson men’s hockey fan John P. Plonka of Colton.

“I didn’t really follow the women’s team. I’m here today because they won,” he conceded.

“This is just great for Clarkson women’s hockey and for Clarkson University as a college. It’s also great for the ECAC,” he added. “I just might have to start following women’s hockey now.”

As has been the case since the women’s hockey program at Clarkson was resurrected 11 years ago, the pep band turned out to provide its usual upbeat support for the Lady Golden Knights.

“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. It was mostly yelling, cheering and screaming at the end,” he added. “This was my fourth year in pep band. The men’s team had its best season since 2008 and the women’s team won the national title. What a perfect way to end my career as a bandie.”

But less than 24 hours after producing their breakthrough championship, players and members of the coaching staff were both still trying to put their historic efforts in perspective on 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 entrepeneurship. “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.”

“It wasn’t until the final buzzer went off that I felt for sure that we were going to win,” she added.

Co-Coach Matt Desrosiers credited the team’s work ethic and fellowship as the keys to success this winter.

“They always played hard and never wavered from the game plan. And, you’re not going to win at any level if the team isn’t close-knit,” he said. “The players on this team had a very high confidence level. They believed in themselves and they believed in each other. They wanted to win for the player next to them and not just for themselves.”

“This is definitely the highlight of my coaching career. 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,” he added. “We don’t want to look forward too much right now. 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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