Panther women’s hockey splits a pair in annual tourney

MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury College women’s hockey team skating just a handful of seniors and juniors split a pair of home games this past weekend in the annual Panther/Cardinal Classic, which Middlebury and Plattsburgh State organize every November.
On Friday, 7-1 Elmira, ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division III, defeated the No. 3 ranked Panthers, 3-1. On Sunday, Middlebury defeated Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 3-1.
In all, the Eastern powers at the five-team event did not treat their Western guests kindly: No. 1 Plattsburgh defeated. No. 9 Gustavus Adolphus, 5-2, and Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 5-3, while Elmira edged Gustavus Adolphus, 2-1. Not coincidentally, Plattsburgh (four), Middlebury and Elmira (three apiece) have combined for 10 of the 14 NCAA D-III women’s hockey crowns awarded.
Coach Bill Mandigo said the tournament was a good learning experience for his young, 3-1 team, especially the setback to Elmira.
“We want to play the best teams we can play, so playing these teams is a good thing, and learning from mistakes,” Mandigo said. “I thought they played way better in the loss to Elmira than they did last weekend in a 2-1 win over Trinity.”
But there remains plenty to work on, he said, and not only for young players stepping into more important roles — Mandigo said he was still learning how best to piece together a puzzle with so many new pieces.
“We’re still figuring it out. And I think when we come back on Tuesday, I think the lines will be shifted a little bit because I’m not sure we’ve got the right combinations,” Mandigo said. “We’re also pretty young. There are three seniors skating significantly and there are three juniors who are playing significantly, so there are a lot of freshmen and sophomores getting some serious time. So it’s a learning process for some of the kids, and it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
As well as such things as developing good habits on defense, improving puck movement and crashing the net to create more offense, Mandigo would also like to see the Panthers improve on a power play that went two-for-13 this weekend.
He said because the team’s go-to scorer of last winter, Emily Fluke, graduated, the power play becomes a more important source of offense, and decision-making has to get better.
“I thought they moved the puck decently on the power play, but they’ve got to get rid of some of the inexperienced things they are doing,” he said.  
On Friday, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead vs. Elmira with a power-play goal 16:38 into the game. Elizabeth Wulf one-timed home a pass into the slot from Kelly Sherman, with Julia Wardwell picking up the second assist.
The Soaring Eagles tied the game on a power-play 12:48 into the second period. Panther goalie Marissa Dreher (17 saves) stopped two shots, but Maddie Evangelous scored on the second rebound.
The Panthers went on a power play at 7:36 of the third, with their best chance coming when Katie Mandigo’s tip of a shot from Carly Watson hit a post.
Elmira took the lead at 11:27, when Maddy Jerolman took a feed and sniped a shot into the top-right corner from the left side.
The Soaring Eagles added a pad goal with 5:22 remaining, when Olivia Nystrom finished a two-on-one. Elmira outshot the Panthers by 20-19.
On Sunday afternoon, the Panthers and the Pointers (5-4-1) exchanged early goals 22 seconds apart. At 15:47, the Panthers’ Janka Hlinka tossed the puck into a knot of defenders and Panthers. In the scrum, Jessica Young poked it home to make it 1-0.
The lead was short-lived. The Pointers won the faceoff and skated down the left side. Katherine Nejedlo set up Emily Lester in the left circle, and she beat Panther goalie Julia Neuberger to the short side at 15:25.
The Panthers controlled the period, except for a flurry in which Neuberger made back-to-back close range stops on Maddie Schlossmacher and Rachel Reynard. That outburst tied the shot total at 7-7, but the Panthers responded with the best passing and skating of the game and seven unanswered — but unsuccessful shots — before the period ended.
And they opened the second with a bit of a fluky goal. Maddie Winslow centered from behind and to the left of the goal to freshman Shannon Hickman out front. Hickman’s stick was checked as she shot, and the puck slowly trickled inside the near post; Pointer goalie Sydney Conley, moving with the play in the other direction, watched helplessly as it became 2-1 at 2:03.
Second-period shots were even. At 12:29, a shot by Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Hailey Rock from near center ice knuckled and hit the crossbar. Late in the period Winslow stole the puck at the blue line, but her backhand hit the crossbar and rolled over it in slow motion.
In the third, the Panthers killed three penalties, with Anna Van Kula, Victoria Laven, Wardwell, Winslow and Wulf doing good defensive work. With the sides even, Watson skated in and hit the left post.
After Neuberger made a key kick save on Rachael St. Clair’s wrister in the slot, Conley denied Kelly Sherman’s breakaway bid at the other end, but Sherman drew a penalty on the play. And the Panthers converted: Watson shot wide left from the center of the blue line, and the puck bounced out front to Winslow, who buried it into the lower right corner with 4:07. The Panthers earned at 29-21 advantage in shots; Neuburger made 20 saves, while Conley stopped 26 shots.
Afterward, Mandigo said he believes the Panthers can gel and produce another successful season.
“It’s a good group,” he said. “They want to do well. They play hard, and they like each other, so we’re OK.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
PANTHER SENIOR KATIE Mandigo picks up a loose puck during Friday’s game against Elmira. Middlebury lost the game, 3-1.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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