Clarkson Strikes Desert Gold

January 3, 2019 PRINT Bookmark and Share

by Thomas J. Murphy/

Clarkson has, so far this season, been unable to string together complete weekends, like it did last season when it rode a hot start to the NCAA tournament. Perhaps that changed last weekend.

Clarkson defeated Arizona State and Minnesota-Duluth, two teams that would be in the NCAAs if these ended today, to win the Desert Hockey Classic at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. The latter opponent, of course, is the defending national champs, and Clarkson’s win was not diminished by the fact that UMD’s head coach and three key players were at the World Junior Championship.

With four NCAA tournament contending teams there, the weekend had the feel of an NCAA Regional. 

“We talked about that coming in,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “You have a couple of measuring sticks each season and this was one of them, especially with Minnesota-Duluth.”

“It was playoff-style hockey games,” said UMD’s Jason Herter, who assumed head coaching duties in Sandelin’s absence.

The Clarkson-UMD championship game featured the two hottest penalty-killing teams in the country, and that held true with both teams being perfect again. UMD has not given up a power-play goal in its last seven games, holding the opposition scoreless in its last 28 man-advantage opportunities. And in its last nine games, Clarkson’s PK has only yielded one goal in 34 kills. In the ASU game, Clarkson killed off an extended 5-on-3.

“We have some key guys back so we have some depth on our PK and we were really committed to blocking shots,” Jones said. “That and a good goaltender makes it tough to score.”

Having a hot goalie certainly helped Clarkson. Junior Jake Kielly won tournament MVP by posting his second straight shutout, when the Knights blanked ASU 3-0. Kielly did not give up a goal until early in the second period of the UMD game, ending a scoreless streak of 146 minutes and 22 seconds.

“That is probably tops in my career,” Kielly said. Kielly’s 14th career shutout leads all active NCAA goalies.

The games were played in the Arizona Coyotes’ home arena.

“I like playing on the NHL-sized rinks because there is a little more space for goalies and a little bit more time for goalies to get back and make plays on the puck,” Kielly said.

Kielly got help from a highly-regarding group of Clarkson defensemen. Against ASU, the Knights allowed just 15 shots on goal against a Sun Devils team that usually has no trouble scoring.

“It was hard down low with some of their big guys with heavy sticks,” Herter said. “It was prototypical pro-style hockey.”

Injuries have plagued Clarkson all season. Having freshman Jason Dunne back in the lineup was a big boost. Dunne wasted no time by scoring at 4:53 in the first period against ASU.

“He is a big body, a long stick who moves well with good hockey sense,” Jones said.  “We missed him. With our depth down the middle, he slots in there and we are four deep. We have four good lines we can roll out. We need that.”

For UMD’s Herter, the main area of concern in the Clarkson game was the power play. “It is deflating when you don’t score on your power play. We had some good looks. But it is the recovery after the shot that matters on your power play. After a shot, we tend to re-set rather than re-attack. We get it back to the top rather than taking it to the net. When we have five and they have four, chances are you can take it to the net.”     

So, as the lowest-rated team in the Desert Hockey Classic, it was Clarkson which had the biggest opportunity to make some noise among some heavy-hitting programs. Now healthy, an impressive Clarkson made the most of the opportunity. The rest of the ECAC has now been put on notice.

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Post Author: HockeyHawk