MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s hockey team on Tuesday defeated visiting Holy Cross, 4-1, a result that followed a split of a crucial weekend NESCAC series at Amherst that allowed the Panthers to hold onto first place in the league.
The Panthers are 9-3-1 overall, 7-1-1 in NESCAC, while Amherst is 7-4-2, 6-1-1 NESCAC.
Although the Panthers dominated Holy Cross on Tuesday, especially in forechecking aggressively and allowing just five shots through two periods, Coach Bill Mandigo thought his team’s effort did not equal what it put forth in splitting with the Jeffs, the defending NCAA Division III champions.
“I think they struggled through and found a way to win. But it wasn’t great and it wasn’t pretty,” Mandigo said.
Essentially, Mandigo said he thinks the Panthers — who have 24 games overall and 12 home contests this season — should have worked harder, regardless of the opponent and the natural tendency to let down in a non-league game after the emotional weekend.
“There were moments we played well. But again, if you had seen us play in the second and third periods in both games against Amherst, you would have said, ‘Where’s that team?’” he said. “It’s not what they’re capable of, and honestly it’s not what I expect of them.”
To be fair, even though Holy Cross skated well, the Panthers rarely allowed the Crusaders a clean look at goalie Alexi Bloom, who made 14 saves on Tuesday after stopping 54 of 56 shots in the two Amherst games.
The Panthers outshot the Crusaders in the first period, 8-1, and took the lead at 15:28. First, Sara Ugalde’s point-blank shot hit the post and rattled into the left corner. Jamie Harisiades then intercepted a Holy Cross clearing attempt in the slot and found a corner from about 10 feet out.
The Crusaders earned a power play midway through the period, but defense by Anna McNally, Grace Waters and Maggie Woodward helped the Panthers hold Holy Cross without a shot. Late in the period Waters nearly converted a spinning backhand, and soon after the Panthers earned a power play on which Crusader goalie Monique Gallant stopped good bids by Heidi Woodworth and Ugalde.
The Panthers created more pressure in the second period. Gallant denied Julia Ireland’s backhand on a setup by Lauren Greer, blocked McNally on her doorstep after the Panther forecheck again forced a turnover, and gloved a Greer slapper from the right-wing circle.
Bloom did have to deny one chance from the right-wing circle that was the best of four Holy Cross shots in the period, and penalty-killing by Maria Bourdeau, Woodward and Woodworth held another Holy Cross power play shotless.
At 17:15, the Panther forwards’ defensive effort paid off again. Ireland, with help from Woodworth, poked the puck loose at the Crusader blue line. Ireland went in two-on-none with Maggie Melberg, and slid the puck left-to-right to Melberg. Melberg went to her backhand and lifted the puck into the upper right corner.
The Crusaders managed 10 shots in the third period and created a few dangerous looking scrambles in front of Bloom, but each time the Panther defenders took care of business. They have surrendered just 16 goals in 13 games.
“Defensively we’re pretty good,” Mandigo said. “What we do is keep teams on the outside. We do a pretty good job of protecting the front of the net for the most part.”
Greer, who Mandigo praised for her strong play, figured in the next two goals as the Panthers took a 4-0 lead. At 7:35, Nora Bergman won a faceoff in the right-wing circle, and Greer ripped home a one-timer. At 15:31, Ireland worked the puck to Greer under the right-wing circle, and Greer fed an open Ugalde for a 15-footer inside the left post.
Holy Cross broke up Bloom’s shutout bid — to Mandigo’s dismay — with 23 seconds left, when Alex Campione stuffed home a rebound.
“I just told them it’s a bad thing at the end of any period to give up a score,” Mandigo said. “It’s a bad precedent.”
On Saturday, the host Jeffs won, 2-1. Amherst outshot Middlebury 14-5 in the scoreless opening period. Amherst took the lead on a second-period power play goal at 7:48, when Ashley Salerno’s blue-line shot deflected past Bloom.
Later in the second, Greer pushed the puck home from a scramble, with assists going to Ireland and Madison Styrbicki.
In the third the Jeffs scored again on the power play, a wraparound by Courtney Hanlon. Jeff goalie Caroline Hu made 15 saves, Bloom made 25 stops.
On Friday, the Panthers scored three times in the third period to win, 3-0. Ugalde broke the scoreless tie 5:35 into the third, Jennifer Krakower made it 2-0 less than seven minutes later, and Woodward added an empty-net goal. Harisiades and Waters assisted Ugalde’s goal, and Greer assisted Krakower. Bloom made 27 saves for the Panthers, while Hu stopped 28 shots.
Mandigo said the Panthers came on strong in both games.
“In both first periods we were on our heels. And the thing this team did was get a little bit better in the second period,” he said. “And then (in the third periods) they were really, really good.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]