Sports

National champion Matteucci enjoying the moment

To win a national title is a rare feat, but to win two national titles in two different countries is even more incredible.

Fruitvale native Ella Matteucci accomplished the double-double on the weekend after winning the NCAA div. 1 women’s hockey title in Hamden, Conn. on Sunday with the Clarkson University Golden Knights.

Matteucci was recruited by Clarkson three years ago while attending the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask. where she led the Hounds to the Esso Cup, the Canadian Midget girls national championship. Yet, as exciting as the Notre Dame championship was, the two titles pale in comparison.

“Obviously that (Notre Dame win) was really exciting, but this is way, way, way more exciting,” said Matteucci in an interview from Potsdam, N.Y. Tuesday. “I’ve been with this team for three years and it was just awesome to do it with this group of 21 girls and our coaching staff. We all really came together and got the job done, and I think that was the most exciting part.”

After running over Boston College and Mercyhurst in the quarter and semifinal, Matteucci and the  underdog Golden Knights beat the two-time defending champion University of Minnesota Gophers in a thrilling 5-4 matchup.

“I think we were really confident, just because we had such a successful season and we knew what it was going to take to shut them down,” said Matteucci.

The Knights and Gophers were tied 3-3 after two periods of play, but goals from Vanessa Plante and Shannon MacAulay put Clarkson up 5-3 midway through the final frame. Minnesota would net one more on a power play with under four minutes to play, but Matteucci and the Clarkson defence would shut them down the rest of the way.

“At the start of the game, it was really cool, our assistant coach brought us all in and we circled up, put our arms around each other and said, ‘Let’s do it for this group right here and people in the stands.’ Some of our seniors were crying, and they’re like maybe we shouldn’t cry right now, because we still have to go play the game -  it was just funny.”

The turning point in the game for Matteucci came in the second period. After the Gophers tied the game 3-3, the Knights killed off two Minnesota power plays reversing the momentum.

“We weathered that storm really well, and that just kind of propelled us to score afterwards. We had the momentum and I think we just kind of ran with it.”

The 20-year-old history student describes herself as a stay-at-home defenceman, that blocks shots and is tough along the boards and in the corners.

“I didn’t provide a lot of offence this year, but I just try to play every shift like I’m not going to get scored on, and I think my coaches realize that, and that’s why I got way more playing time than I have in the previous years.”

Matteucci played in all 41 NCAA games netting four assists on the season. But the Knights defence along with goalie Erica Howe was the stingiest in the league allowing just 1.12 goals per game, and in the final three-game-stretch to the national title the Knights went with just four defenceman.

“It was an adjustment . . . but it was exciting. Obviously, you want to be there when the clocks ticking down and get the job done for your team, and that’s just what everyone has on their minds.”

What made it even more special was the ovation from over 3,500 screaming fans including her parents Paul and Melissa who were in attendance. But the tribute played to the group of mostly Canadian-born hockey players by the Clarkson University band will remain most memorable.

“There’s an NCAA rule where you only play the American national anthem . . . but there’s only two Americans on our team so after they played the American anthem, we were all putting our helmets back on, and our band just broke out into the Canadian anthem – it was awesome.”

With the ensuing celebration now ebbing, Matteucci is looking to catch up on her studies and as she enters her senior year next season, would like nothing more than to go out on another winning note.

“I think that’s what everyone’s thinking, that’s on our minds obviously, but right now we’re just trying to enjoy the moment.”

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