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Panthers falter in women’s hockey finals, 3-2, in OT

MIDDLEBURY — Visiting No. 3 seed Trinity struck 54 seconds into overtime in Sunday’s NESCAC women’s hockey final to stun top-seeded Middlebury College, 3-2.
Thus, the 18-6-2 Bantams, not the 20-4-3 Panthers, earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament, while Middlebury — the No. 3 team in D-III entering the league playoffs — had to wait and hope for an at-large bid when the competition committee met early on Monday. Note: On Monday morning, the Panthers learned they will host Norwich in a quarterfinal on Saturday; the time will be announced. 
See related story: Panthers beat Bowdoin in semi-final, 4-2
The Panthers could make a strong case, with a NESCAC regular season title and an overall 3-4-3 record against top-10 teams that includes a loss and a tie vs. No. 1 Elmira, wins over No. 5 Norwich and No. 9 Gustavos Adolphus, and a regular-season split with No. 10 Trinity on the road.
Coach Bill Mandigo would have preferred that his team’s 44-22 advantage in shots had translated into a win and put the Panthers in charge of their own fate — and probably hosting a game this weekend.
“You never know. We should have gotten in last year, and we didn’t get in,” Mandigo said. “You’ve got to take care of your own business, and we didn’t get it done today. So we’ll see how it goes.”
The Panthers fell behind, 2-0, in the first period despite having four power plays, including two five-on-three advantages for a total of 1:14. But the Bantams, possibly feeding off their dramatic rally in a 2-1 overtime win over second-seeded Amherst the day before, started strong and looked like the harder-working team over the first 20 minutes.
They also caught a break 2:58 in, when Cheeky Herr’s harmless-looking shot from the left circle deflected off a Panther stick and into the upper left corner past Middlebury goalie Madeline Marsh (19 saves).
Middlebury racked up first-period shots, many by senior defender Hannah Bielawski from the right point, during the series of power plays. But the Bantam penalty killers kept the Panthers on the perimeter, and goalie Sydney Belinskas made 18 of her 42 saves in the opening 20 minutes.
Then the Bantams took advantage of an icing call vs. Middlebury to score at 6:41, winning the ensuing faceoff and pelting Marsh with three shots. Emma Tani banged in the second rebound, and the Panthers trailed, 2-0.
Middlebury dominated the second period, allowing only four Trinity shots, although two challenged Marsh: She stopped Lucy Robinson on a shorthanded breakaway bid early on and Tani on a two-on-one at the 16-minute mark.
By then it was 2-1. Panthers Maddie Winslow and Katie Mandigo broke up a Bantam clear in the left corner, and Mandigo circled into the high slot and backhanded the puck along the ice toward goal. Elizabeth Wulf skated across the goalmouth and tipped the puck home between Belinskas’ skates at 4:21. Other good bids in the period came from Bielawski and Wulf.
The Tigers earned another power play at 3:20, and Winslow tied the game at 3:41 from a scramble out front. A Bielawski shot from the right point triggered the melee, and Carly Watson got a piece of the puck before Winslow finished the play.
Shortly afterward, Panthers Katie Sullivan and Anna Van Kula stormed the Trinity net, and Belinskas stopped Sullivan’s one-timer at 14:00 on Van Kula’s behind-the-net feed. Twenty seconds later, Belinskas dove to her left to smother Sullivan’s backhand bid at what appeared to be an open net, possibly the save of the game. During a later power play Winslow hit the right post from close range.
Mandigo recalled that stop on Sullivan afterward, but at the same time said the Panthers probably should have found a way to translate their edge in play in the second and third period into more production.
“Their goalie is really good. She made a save on Sullivan in the third period, I don’t know how she made that save,” Mandigo said. “Sometimes that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to find ways to put the puck in the net, and we didn’t.”
The end came suddenly in overtime. The Panthers probably could have done better with a clearing attempt that Shelby Labe stopped at the right point. She slapped the puck along the ice toward goal, and Herr one-timed a shot into the upper right corner. Marsh had no chance, and the Panthers were dealt their first overtime loss of the winter (4-1-3 in eight tries). The Bantams, not the Panthers, threw their gloves and sticks into the air and celebrated.
 “It’s disappointing,” Mandigo said. “I feel bad for the seniors, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope we get to play next week.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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