In her nine years as head coach of the Niagara women's hockey program, Margot Page hadn't actively recruited players outside of North America until she signed defenseman Marie Linander Henriksen from Denmark and forward Venla Heikkila from Finland.
The moves are already paying off.
Heikkila scored two goals and Henriksen scored the game winner -- short-handed and in overtime -- to help the Purple Eagles to a 4-3 win over Cornell Friday night before about 650 at Dwyer Arena.
"Not only are Maria and Venla good hockey players, they're great people and incredibly coachable," Page said. "Maria was playing [defense] and we asked her to play some forward and she adjusted so well. It's nice to see that kind of player who knows it's a privilege to play and be here. They're both just sponges on and off the ice."
Now 3-1-1 overall, Niagara is enjoying its best start since 2002-03 when it opened at 3-1-0.
"I think we want it," Henriksen said. "Our team spirit is great and so is our team effort. We want it. We want to win and we keep coming back. We've worked hard. We're physically fit and ready to go."
One key area of improvement this year -- the team's mentality when facing adversity.
On Friday, Niagara controlled much of the first 30 minutes and took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Heikkila.
NU continued to generate scoring opportunities, but the Big Red started to hit its stride by midway in the second. Rebecca Johnston scored a power-play goal to tie the game at 8:43 of the second.
Niagara regained the lead, 2-1, when Megan Price picked up a loose puck at the side of the net for a power-play goal.
But with just 35 seconds left in the second, Liz Zorn scored to tie the game and give Cornell the momentum heading into the third.
The Big Red then took advantage of a Niagara defensive lapse, taking a 3-2 lead on Kelly McGinty's goal.
"Last year, the team deflated whenever something happened," Page said. "They didn't meet adversity well. This year we've got great leaders who want to learn, want to battle. It's a different mentality."
"I knew we would come back for sure," Henriksen said. "They got some stupid goals and punished us for our mistakes, but that last 10 minutes we just wanted it."
Heikkila helped the cause, scoring a power-play goal -- with the goalie pulled -- with 1:26 left in regulation.
Henriksen then netted the winner with Ashley Riggs in the penalty box for hooking.
"It caught their defense off guard and the puck hit me and I took it with my body," Henriksen said. "It was fumbling around. I got it under control, shot it and it went in."
The teams play again at 2 p.m. today.