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Clarkson looks to stay focused

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POTSDAM — A series sweep of Rensselaer this weekend could be all that’s needed to get the Clarkson University women’s hockey team into the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

The Golden Knights (26-8 overall, 18-4 ECAC Hockey) are the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and host No. 7 RPI in a best-of-three quarterfinal series that begins at 7 p.m. Friday. Game two would be at 4 p.m. Saturday and if a game three is needed it would be at 4 p.m. Sunday.

St. Lawrence University (17-12-5, 12-6-4) is the No. 5 seed and will travel to play No. 4 Quinnipiac (19-10-4, 13-6-3) in another quarterfinal series that starts Friday.

If Clarkson closes out RPI (10-20-4, 8-12-2) without losing, it could solidify its place as one of the top eight teams in the women’s PairWise Rankings, which are used to determine the field, regardless of how it does the following weekend at the ECAC Hockey semifinals and championship. Clarkson is currently in a three-way tie for fourth place in the PairWise with Boston University and Harvard.

“I don’t think it’s anything we can worry about right now,” Clarkson co-coach Matt Desrosiers said of the NCAA Tournament. “If we don’t get past this weekend, there’s a really good chance we’re not going to be playing any more this season. Getting those two wins is really important right now.”

Clarkson swept the Engineers during the regular season, winning 6-2 at Cheel Arena on Oct. 27 and then earning a 3-1 win in Troy on Feb. 8.

“We’ve had some really good games against (RPI) this year,” defenseman Erin Ambrose said. “I remember our first game here at Cheel against them. We started out really well and they started to come back. It’s gotten really competitive and it will be a really good series.”

All season long Clarkson’s players have glanced at where they are ranked, but that will stop this weekend.

“It’s hard not to check the standings and see where we are ranked,” captain Carly Mercer said. “Overall our concern is this weekend, first and foremost.”

Clarkson has enjoyed wins over teams currently positioned to be in the eight-team NCAA Tournament, like Cornell, Harvard, Mercyhurst and North Dakota.

But the Golden Knights also have had some surprising losses at home this season against teams like Colgate and Princeton.

And Clarkson needs to look no farther than last year to realize a home series guarantees nothing, as the Golden Knights fell at home in three games to Quinnipiac in a quarterfinal series.

“We’ve proven in the past, this year and last year, you can’t overlook any opponent,” Desrosiers said. “We’ve had some games where we probably should have won earlier this season but we didn’t. It’s a new season right now. Playoffs is a completely new season. Your regular season really doesn’t do anything for you except give you the confidence going forward. Anything can happen right now.”

Clarkson should have plenty of confidence heading into the postseason.

The Golden Knights have dominated both sides of the ice this year, averaging 2.85 goals and allowing only 1.62. Clarkson is 20-4 when it scores the first goal of a game and even has been dominant when not leading. If the Golden Knights are tied after one period they are 8-1 and they are 5-1 in games tied after two periods.

“It’s a great feeling to be confident that you have a chance to win the championship as much as any other top team,” Mercer said. “It’s a pretty exciting feeling right now. I just think we have a lot of depth on this team this year. We’ve taken qualities like we had last year, like working hard, and kind of incorporated the skill we have this year.”

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