ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Norwich women's ice hockey team couldn't pull off the upset this time around as top-ranked RIT avenged last year's national championship loss with a 4-1 win over the Cadets in the 2012 NCAA Division III Women's Ice Hockey National Championship on Saturday night at the Frank Ritter Memorial Arena.
RIT freshman forward Celeste Brown finished off a feed on a 2-on-1 from sophomore forward Kourtney Kunichika to break a 1-1 tie 1:23 into the third period and gave the Tigers a lead that they would never relinquish again.
RIT (28-1-1) added two more insurance tallies from Kunichika and Ali Hills to pull away from Norwich with three unanswered goals in the third period and claim the program's first-ever national championship.
After throwing everything at Norwich sophomore goalie Kelly Fisk (Hannibal, N.Y.) and the Norwich defense in the second period but still coming up with nothing to show for it, Brown finally broke the Cadets (27-3-1) with a tap in goal on the left side of the crease off a pass from Kunichika.
Kunichika dealt another blow to Norwich at the 8:39 mark of the third when scored her 20th goal of the season by deking out Fisk and sliding the puck past the sprawled out Cadets' goalie on her backhand to give RIT a two-goal lead.
Hills put the proverbial nail in Norwich's bid for a repeat 3:20 later by putting home a rebound through traffic in the slot to cap the scoring and give RIT a 4-1 lead that the Tigers would hold until the final buzzer sounded.
From the opening faceoff Norwich got behind the eight ball with a slew of penalties in the first period, including 1:37 of 5-on-3 power play time for RIT. The Cadets were able to kill off the two-man advantage but the third penalty in a row finally did NU in with RIT finally capitalizing.
CCM First Team All-American selection Kristina Moss beat Fisk with a slap shot that bounced off a Norwich defender and past the NU goalie's blocker to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead at the 9:06 mark of the first period.
However, after RIT's goal the Cadets regrouped and started to tilt the ice back towards RIT's defensive zone with the help of three Tiger penalties called within a span of a little over a minute.
Although Norwich wasn't able to score on the power play opportunities, the Cadets did start to get RIT playing their game and set the stage for Norwich to tie it up a few minutes later.
Junior forward Stephanie Invernizzi (Hingham, Mass) sparked the Cadets' offense to life with a tremendous individual effort to carry the puck into the RIT zone, fend off a defender and get a shot off on her backhand. Classmate Jackie Perez pounced on the loose rebound that RIT goaltender Laura Chamberlain couldn't control and slid the puck past the Tigers' goaltender with a diving effort to level the score at one at the 14:47 mark of the first period.
However, that's the only puck that got by Chamberlain who lived up to her Second Team All-American selection with 27 saves on her way to being named the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
Fisk made 28 saves for Norwich to lose for just the second time this season and the first time since Jan. 24. She finished her breakout sophomore campaign with a school-record 20 wins for a single season and eight shutouts, which led all of Division III.
Fisk was named to the All-Tournament team along with Julie Fortier (Saint-Malachie, Quebec), who put Norwich in its third straight national championship game with the game-winning goal in Friday night's 4-3 overtime win over Gustavus Adolphus. Senior defenseman Sarianne Lynn (Wethersfield, Conn.) rounded out Norwich's three selections to the All-Tournament team. RIT's Kunichika and Moss were also named to the team along with Plattsburgh State's Jenny Kistner.
RIT handed Norwich two of its three losses this season with the other one also coming by a score of 4-1 in the East/West Hockey Classic on Oct. 29 at Kreitzberg Arena. The Tigers improved to 3-1 all-time against Norwich with the victory. The Cadets' lone win against RIT came in last year's national championship game, which Norwich won 5-2 on March 19, 2011.
The loss caps the careers of six seniors that were key cogs in the quick rise of the Norwich women's hockey program to national prominence. Captain Melissa Rundlett (Saco, Maine), Chiara Traversa (Torino, Italy), Amanda Wilks (Winnipeg, Manitoba), Mollie Fitzpatrick (Portland, Maine) Lynn and Fortier helped lead the Cadets to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, three ECAC East Tournament titles, two unbeaten ECAC East regular season titles, two national runner-up finishes and last year's story run to the 2011 national championship in just the program's fourth season of existence.
Sophomore forward Meghan Papagno celebrates with junior forward Jackie Perez after Perez's goal in the first period of Saturday night's 4-1 loss to RIT in the 2012 NCAA Division III Women's Ice Hockey National Championship game (Jordan Silverman/Norwich University)
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