If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Clarkson University came out of nowhere to upset Wisconsin in the 2017 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four. Clarkson went 4-4-1 (including an exhibition with Concordia University) before conference play — including two losses to Wisconsin.
“We had a slow start to the year … there was no panic button being pushed. We just remained confident that we had a good team,” coach Matt Desrosiers told FanRag Sports in a phone interview.
Clarkson lost only one game the remainder of the 2016-17 season to earn a spot in the second national title game in program history.
“The funny thing is, even with going with only one loss in our last 35 games, I feel like we still kind of flew under the radar a little bit,” Desrosiers said.
Here is a look at the evolution of the only NCAA program outside of the WCHA to win a NCAA women’s hockey title.
From the beginning
For Desrosiers, the Clarkson women’s hockey program is family, literally. His wife Shannon helped establish the program in 2003-04. The St, Lawrence alumna remained with the program and was named co-coach alongside her husband in 2009. She ended her time at Clarkson after the 2014 season, the year the Golden Knights earned the first national title in program history.
“Once we got named co-head coaches, we were able to put our vision into place,” said Matt. “It’s been very rewarding to see where [the program] started from and where we are now. It’s been rewarding to know that we had a piece in building the culture here and building toward the success we have had.”
Over time, Clarkson has grown to be a solid hockey program under the leadership of Desrosiers. Clarkson has an impressive 220-88-40 record during his tenure, including 13 ECAC playoff appearances, five straight NCAA (six total) NCAA appearances and two national titles. The team has recorded a winning record in 12 of its 14 seasons.
Starts with culture
The Clarkson win over Wisconsin last March may not have been the expected result, but it was far from a fluke. Desrosiers is a talented coach with a hockey mind. He played his college career at St. Lawrence and professionally for five years in the ECHL and the CHL. Desrosiers has always been confident with the hockey aspect of coaching and has developed other aspects over time.
Strong relationships are critical for coaching success, and Desrosiers continues to learn and grow in that area.
“We always tell our players to find ways to continue to develop. … I think it’s no different for us coaches,” he said.
To that end, Desrosiers works with the Hockey Canada development team.
“Having this experience with Hockey Canada was an area for me to learn from different coaches and the way they do things, the way they see things and say things. … I wanted to use it as a learning experience,” he said.
Being in the national system offers an excellent opportunity to work with up-and-coming talent. As an assistant coach with the development team, he is seeing the best Canadian talent that is either currently in college or preparing to enroll. As women’s hockey continues to evolve, Desrosiers has a front-row seat to rising talent. Currently, former Clarkson players Erin Ambrose and Renata Fast are with the Canadian women’s team ahead of the 2018 Olympics.
— ClarksonWomensHockey (@CUknights) August 12, 2017
The season ahead
After any season, the coaching staff must re-evaluate and rebuild. For Clarkson, that means integrating seven new players. Every year is a bit different and takes form in real time. Desrosiers is pleased with his freshman class and eager to see the group evolve on and off the ice.
“Within our program, the success we had is bringing in the right type of kids … talent-wise and character-wise,” he said.
Overall, Desrosiers and his team will take the time to find out where everyone fits. The defending champions will be tested early as they play Northeastern and Bemidji State at the end of September. Both are relatively unfamiliar to the Clarkson program, offering a unique opportunity for Desrosiers to challenge his squad early before entering conference play.
“I think it’s going to be good competition for us and hopefully pushes us to be our best every night,” he said.
The defending champions will also take on Penn State and St. Lawrence before beginning conference play Oct. 27 against Colgate.