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Women’s ice hockey takes lead in RPI series
It’s been a season of firsts for Quinnipiac’s women’s ice hockey team; best record in program history, a season sweep of Dartmouth, and multiple wins over ranked opponents – just to name a few.
Now you can add a double-overtime playoff win to the list.
Chelsea Illchuk’s goal 8:46 into the second overtime gave Quinnipiac a 2-1 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in a pivotal Game 1 of their best-of-three playoff series. The Bobcats improved on their program-best record of 19-8-8, and now are one win away from making the ECAC Semifinals.
This was the Bobcats’ first playoff game in ECAC Hockey history, and the longest game in the history of the program. Quinnipiac came into the postseason on a seven-game unbeaten streak, but this win wasn’t pretty. Head coach Rick Seeley felt his team was lethargic coming out of the gates, and stayed that way for most of regulation.
“I was trying to figure it out for about 50 minutes,” Seeley said. “Could be nerves, because none of them have been here before, even the seniors. I’m not sure, but it’s playoff hockey, and we got a few bounces.”
RPI broke the scoreless tie with 5:27 to go in the second period on a power play, following a Kristen Eklund penalty. Taylor Horton slid a pass across the crease to senior forward Allison Wright, who lifted the puck over goaltender Victoria Vigilanti.
Illchuk’s hand in the game-winning goal was obvious, but her contribution on Quinnipiac’s tying goal was just as important. Illchuk took the puck into the RPI zone against a few defenders and was taken down, earning a power play for the Bobcats. Quinnipiac had few quality scoring chances to that point, and the play shifted the momentum in its favor.
“That gave us the boost we needed,” Seeley said. “She created the whole thing, just drove to the net and that changed everything with about five and a half minutes left.”
On the ensuing advantage, Felica Vieweg’s shot from the point was stopped, but senior captain Kallie Flor found the rebound in the crease and lifted it over RPI goaltender Sonja van der Bliek to tie the game at 1 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.
The Bobcats nearly won midway through the first overtime on a slap shot from defender Jordan Elkins, but the puck ricocheted off of the crossbar into the slot and Quinnipiac couldn’t corral the rebound. Both teams had chances but neither could break through, until Illchuk and Evelina Husar came through the neutral zone and entered RPI’s end on a two-on-one.
“The first look I was going for was the pass,” Illchuk said. “But Coach always says pick that one spot, so I decided to go blocker-side, just inside the post”
Although it was the first time Quinnipiac had to play a game for any extended amount of overtime this season, it was not new territory for Rick Seeley’s squad. Twenty-six of their 35 games finished in ties or were decided by one goal.
“I’ve talked to the team all year about this, and I’ve said we need to get in shape to play three-overtime games in 48 hours,” Seeley said. “I think this gives us a huge advantage over them.”
Vigilanti showed why she was named to the ECAC First-Team this season, making a season-high 40 saves to earn the win. Her counterpart, van der Bliek, made 33 saves in the loss for RPI. The Bobcats will look to close out the series later on Saturday in Game 2 of the series at 2 p.m.