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Clinton girls capture Section III title with overtime win

Steve Jones
Sports writer
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Posted 2/9/23

Mackinley Ronan sat in the penalty box at the end of regulation hoping her teammates would keep the scoreless tie intact Wednesday night at Onondaga Nation Arena.

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Clinton girls capture Section III title with overtime win


NEDROW — Mackinley Ronan sat in the penalty box at the end of regulation hoping her teammates would keep the scoreless tie intact Wednesday night at Onondaga Nation Arena.

The Clinton hockey player watched the Warriors kill off the penalty against Skaneateles to keep their Section III title hopes alive. Then with 11 seconds left in the second overtime, her low shot from the point got through traffic and into the back of the net for a 1-0 win.

"It was a very stressful minute (and) thirty (seconds) in that box. I think that just put another driving force into me," said the sophomore who attends New Hartford but plays for the unified team.

Clinton entered the game 10-4 with the top seed and wins in both regular season games against the Lakers. The Warriors earned a 2-0 win at home and a 2-1 win later on the road. Skaneateles was 7-4.

A year ago, Clinton lost to the Lakers 2-0 in the Section III title game. It was Rob Kopek's first year as head coach. It was also the Warriors' lone loss in a 10-1-2 season.

"It's a good feeling" to win the title, said Kopek after the game. "If we didn't get this one it would have really hurt."

Kopek said the season has been an evolution. "We've made some changes in our lineup. We've made some changes in our system. And it's really worked out and showed. I just told them we have to be aggressive and we have to take it to their (defense). Because Belle Wells is a great, great goalie. We had to put more shots on them than we did in the first couple games."

In the first period, Clinton generated more offense but ended up being outshot eight to seven. The coach said he liked the effort, as the team got pucks deep in the Lakers' zone and forechecked well. "We just weren't getting results." The plan was to keep using the defensemen to generate offense. Even the game-winner was part of that plan, he noted. The team just needed to create more traffic in front of Wells. "We saw that our forecheck was working so we had to get pucks deep and go at it."

Both goalies were on their games, with Wells as the hard luck loser after 34 saves and Clinton's Casey Clausen (a Whitesboro sophomore) with a 20-save shutout win.

The plan to stop the Skaneateles offense was not hard to figure: stop Scout Oudemool, whose 15 goals on the season was almost as many as the 21 from the rest of the roster. That assignment fell to senior co-captain Alyssa Nardslico, a Rome Free Academy student. "She went above and beyond tonight. She was unbelievable defensively. She got the game puck in my mind," said coach Kopek.

"We all dug deep and we all just had faith in each other and we all just shut them down the best that we could," Nardslico said. "Our game plan was to get as many shots off as we could."

Nardslico was a part of the program's state title win three seasons ago, but this Section III championship has a special place, she said. "Of course it feels different. It's my senior year. We have four senior captains on the team. The emotions were super high in this game obviously. It was just a wave of relief when we won. All of us were like: 'Yes, this is ours. This is our moment. We deserve this.'"

Fellow RFA senior co-captain Drew Kopek was also on that state champion team. She was also beaming Wednesday in the wake of the sectional title. "My senior season, I couldn't ask for anything more."

Kopek, who leads the team with 15 goals this season, said the team knew this Lakers' squad was not the same team that beat Clinton last year for the Section III banner, as they had lost a big group of seniors. "The only thing we were worried about was Scout. Scout is an amazing player. I love her to death but I knew if we take away Scout we had the game." She continued, "This game we had to get past Belle. She played amazing. She stood on her head."

Drew Kopek said she knew the Lakers would have a plan for her as a top scorer and she felt the pressure to make plays. "I feel like in the beginning I played very lax and I didn't get myself a lot of puck touches. But as the game went on I knew I could play with anyone on the ice. I've proved it all year long. I just needed mentally to be better with myself."

Kopek knew the game was going to be a battle. "I told the whole team, 'This is going to be a 1-0 game." She noted, "It was competitive, it was fast, it was back-and-forth. We just had to sneak one by her."

Coach Kopek said it got more tense as the time ticked away without a goal. "It got me nervous because there's a lot of talent on our team, a lot of offensive talent. And I knew, Belle's one of the best goalies in the state." He added, "They were getting tired. We were getting tired." But, he noted, Clinton relied on its defenders because all game Skaneateles had left them free at the top of the zone.

When that final puck came to Ronan's stick, she said it was a surprise opportunity for her. Was she expecting to get such a good look at a game-winning shot? "Definitely not. The fact that it was is just absolutely insane to me. It's surreal."

It was, Ronan said, the culmination of the game plan for the group of defensemen, who were tasked with getting "pucks on net for rebounds. That was the only thing that we had to do. Keep it deep, keep it in the zone, get it on net, get shots and hopefully get a tip in or flutter one in."

Now the team moves on to the Regional Championship, the official name of the state semifinals and title game. Those games will be at the Nexus Center in Utica, where Clinton played five of its home games this season.

Clinton is set to take on the champion of Section VI in Buffalo at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, in the second semifinal. That opponent was not yet known at press time.

For Drew Kopek, that's a great place for the games. "We play great at home." She said she's "very confident. I've done it once before, I can do it again."

Ronan was similarly confident. "I think we're ready. We're ready for states. We've clicked tonight. We're going in confident. I think we have a very good shot."

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