Photos by Autumn Walter | CIGAR | Women’s ice hockey wins ECWHL Championship against Penn State last Saturday.
The University of Rhode Island’s Women’s ice hockey team won the 2018 ECWHL Championship this weekend after back-to-back shutouts against Penn State University.
It is the Rams first conference championship since 2014. The nationally ranked No. 12 Rams defeated the Ice Lions on Friday 9-0 and then on Saturday 3-0. URI’s head coach Ashley Pagliarini was extremely excited for her team’s accomplishment.
“Really nice for the senior class to get the win,” Pagliarini said. “We have really been coming together off the ice. This is a really special group that works hard and they deserve this one.”
URI started the weekend off on the right foot when defenseman Emma Gerike broke the ice just 6:18 into the game. Sam Evans then doubled the Rams lead off of a blistering shot from the stick of Brynne Costa. Emma Hill padded the lead off of a great feed from Maddie Balutowski to make it 3-0, URI. The Rams controlled most of the pace of the first period as they had far more scoring chances then the Ice Lions, but the shots were close at 10-6.
The second period started with a bang as well. Balutowski netted her first goal of the game just 71 seconds in. Rhode Island nearly got themselves into trouble when Jill Holden got called for a hooking minor as one of the Penn State players was driving towards the goal. The officials discussed the call and decided that it was not a clear breakaway and did not require a penalty shot, assessing just a two minute minor instead.
After the Rams killed off the penalty, Balutowski got her second goal of the game on a rebound in front of the net and the Rams extended their lead to 5-0. Shortly after, forward Jill Gonsalves added to the Rams total and forced Penn State to take a timeout. URI continued to pour on the pressure with a goal just 1:08 later thanks to Lexie Stefekos to make it 7-0. With the period coming to a close, Balutowski picked up the hat trick on a finesse move around the Penn State defense and finished it with a accurate wrister for some style points. Pagliarini had nothing but good things to say about the forward.
“[Balutowski] is a player that we look for to put pucks on the net,” Pagliarini said. “Her countless work ethic, every day in practice carries over into games and we like to see that in our players.” The period ended with the Rams on top 8-0. The Rams would add one more goal in the third to win Friday’s contest 9-0.
Saturday was not a scoring fest like Friday, but the Rams got it done when they needed to. Casey McCormick got the first goal of the game on the power play, as her shot went off of a Penn State defenseman and off the crossbar and in. Penn State flirted with their first goal of the weekend in the closing seconds of the first period as goaltender Abbey Torres came way out of the crease to play the puck, turned it over, and the puck ricocheted off the outside of the post. The Rams could breathe easy as they headed into the first intermission up by one.
In the second period, Jill Holden ripped a shot that went off the post and in to make it 2-0 Rams. With 1:40 to go in the period of the long change, Sam Evans put to rest a long push from the Rams forechecking with her first goal of the series to make things 3-0 at the break. The 3rd period was just a formality at the end of the day on Saturday. Penn State put a large amount of pressure on the Rhode Island defense but Torres answered the call and made every save she had to. Torres collected two shutout victories and made 45 saves over the two game series. “Abbey has been great all season, especially the second half of the season,” Pagliarini said. “She is keeping us in games and giving us an opportunity to win.”
Rhode Island celebrated their sweep with the hoisting of the ECWHL trophy on Saturday after the game. The Rams have just three games remaining on their season as they look forward to qualifying for the national tournament. This coming weekend, they host the No. 4 University of Colorado on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 10:20 a.m. at Boss Ice Arena.