The Clarkson Golden Knights won consecutive NCAA Frozen Four titles in 2017 and 2018, captained by USA Hockey hopeful Savannah Harmon. The American university also produced consecutive winners of the Patty Kazmaier Award – given to the top player in U.S. college women’s hockey – in 2019 (Loren Gabel) and 2020 (Elizabeth Giguere).
“I think that for myself, winning the Patty Kaz in 2019, and then for Gig to win it in 2020, it says a lot about our program, how much individuals on the team are dedicated to their sport, and how Clarkson plays as a team,” said Gabel, whose six goals as an IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship rookie tied Natalie Spooner for the lead on Canada’s bronze-medal team. “It’s great to have such an amazing team surrounding you every single day that wants to push you and help make you a better player and person all around. That’s what makes Clarkson such an amazing school to attend.”
Located in Potsdam, New York, this small private university has about 4,300 students. That’s roughly the same on-site population as Utqiagvik (previously Barrow), Alaska, the northernmost U.S. city. Potsdam is best-known in men’s hockey as the birthplace of 1,009-game NHLer and 2006 U.S. Olympian Craig Conroy. Clarkson is about a two-hour drive from either Ottawa or Montreal, which helps to attract Canadian players.
Forward Jamie Lee Rattray (born in Kanata, Ontario) is another noteworthy Clarkson alumna. In 2014, Rattray won the Patty Kazmaier Award as her heroics, along with those of defenders Erin Ambrose (born in Keswick, Ontario) and Renata Fast (born in Burlington, Ontario), propelled Clarkson to its first national title. In addition to joining Gabel on the 2019 Women’s Worlds team, Rattray won silver in 2015 and 2016 and Ambrose and Fast won silver in 2017. Fast was also on Canada’s 2018 Olympic silver medal team in PyeongChang.
Cheel Arena, the home of this ECAC Hockey team, celebrates the 30th anniversary of its opening on 26 October 2021. What has made the 4,200-capacity rink the site of so much recent success?
“He’s a very, very good coach,” Gabel said of the 41-year-old native of Fort Erie, Ontario, who entered 2020/21 with a jaw-dropping 72.0 win percentage (311 wins, 106 losses, 49 ties). “He’s knowledgeable in what he does. Winning three national championships, he has had some great success with Clarkson. I think from here on out, he just wants to make sure he develops players and brings that team together, especially this year, facing adversity. He’s honestly one of the best coaches I’ve had.”
“The coaches at Clarkson are incredible,” said Delaney Collins, who won three Women’s Worlds gold medals (2000, 2004, 2007) as a Team Canada defender before medaling three times as a coach at the U18 Women’s Worlds. “They’re incredible people. They’ve developed some of the best athletes that Hockey Canada has seen. It’s over and over and over again.”
That track record attracts young athletes like Sara Swiderski. The highly touted 16-year-old defender from Langley, British Columbia – currently training at Kelowna’s Rink Hockey Academy – has committed verbally to attend Clarkson in 2022/23. She is also one of five 2004-born players who was invited to participate in Hockey Canada’s virtual team camp for 59 U18 national team prospects.
“She walked me through everything and took me into the dressing room,” Swiderski recalled. “She even took me to her dorm, actually. It was so nice for me to see that, because in a lot of places I went to, I didn’t really get the feel for what it would be like as a hockey player, living there. I felt like I was just looking at a university. But it felt like hockey was home there.”
“Everybody was super kind, from the very first restaurant we went to,” added Swiderski’s mother Lindsay. “It felt like a family community, and it’s a smaller campus. It gave me a sense of security and safety for Sara, because she will only be 17 when she gets to Clarkson.”
Gabel, who got her communications degree at Clarkson with minors in business and psychology, handled social media for Dixon’s Distilled Spirits in Guelph, Ontario for a year. Right now, however, the 23-year-old is focused on her commitments with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and Team Canada.
It’s not only North American players who have benefited from Clarkson’s tutelage. Czech forward Michaela Pejzlova, who played at the last three Women’s Worlds, was also a member of the champion 2017 and 2018 Golden Knights. Pejzlova is fifth in all-time Clarkson scoring with 166 career points.
Clarkson-trained talents have multiple major opportunities to make their mark in the coming months. The 2021 Frozen Four tournament is scheduled for Erie, Pennsylvania (March). Then there’s the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China.
College hockey remains a vital pipeline for women’s hockey talent. Clarkson’s success is one more reminder of the importance of the Title IX legislation that opened the floodgates for women’s sports in the U.S., starting in 1972. The best is yet to come.