Women’s hockey outlasts stubborn Mules
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s hockey finds itself in familiar territory, thanks to its 4-3 victory over Colby in Saturday’s home NESCAC quarterfinal.
For the fifth time in six years, this weekend the 18-4-3 Panthers are hosting the NESCAC final four, with the league’s automatic NCAA Division III berth at stake.
The top-seeded Panthers will meet No. 5 Trinity (15-8-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday, while No. 2 Amherst (21-1-3) will face third-seeded Connecticut College (15-7-3) at 4 p.m. The winners will meet on Sunday at 2 p.m. Amherst has one league loss, giving the Panthers, unbeaten in NESCAC, the top seed.
The Panthers defeated Trinity twice at Kenyon early this season, 5-1 and 2-1; tied Amherst on the road twice, 2-2 and 3-3; and defeated and tied Connecticut, 3-2 and 1-1, at home.
Coach Bill Mandigo was pleased to get past Colby, which despite its 6-16-3 record lost to the Panthers by only one goal in the team’s three meetings this winter.
But he said the Panthers understand they will have to up their play this weekend. The Panthers outshot the Mules, 38-20, and Mandigo noted they failed to capitalize on some chances and gave up two goals after taking a 4-1 lead.
“I told them you should have smiles on your faces. You’re playing next week,” Mandigo said. “So I’m happy for them. They’re happy, and they should be happy. But if they’re going to play on Sunday, they’re going to have to play better, and they know it.”
At the same time, Mandigo said NESCAC playoff games are typically challenging.
“Last year we played the No. 8 seed and it was four overtimes. The year before we played the No. 8 seed and we got beat 2-1 in overtime,” Mandigo said.
Saturday’s first period looked like it might be easy, as the Panthers outshot Colby, 13-2. But they took just a 1-0 lead. At 8:34, sophomore leading scorer Maddie Winslow took a centering pass from the right side from sophomore Elizabeth Wulf and one-timed it inside the left post at 8:34. The second assist went sophomore Jessica Young, who won the puck along the right-wing boards and fed Wulf.
Mules goalie Angelica Crites (34 saves) made some strong saves to limit the Panthers, She stopped freshmen Shanna Hickman and Jenna Marotta in a scramble soon after Winslow’s score, and with 1:30 left in the period denied sophomore Janka Hlinka’s one-timer on the doorstep set up by Young.
Colby launched the first four shots of the second period, including testing Panther goalie Julia Neuberger twice from long range and once right off a faceoff.
The Panthers answered with the next six shots. One went in, freshman defender Grace Jennings’ shot from the left point that deflected into the lower left corner with Young screening Crites. Freshman forward Katherine Jackson and junior defender Victoria Laven earned assists.
The Panthers soon afterward failed to capitalize on a power play. Wulf hit the past with a backhander, and after Crites stopped junior forward Kelly Sherman senior Anna Van Kula fired the rebound wide.
Colby began to push back, and Neuberger denied Bre Davis in the slot at about 16:00. At 18:37, Brooke Gary sent the puck toward the slot from the right circle, and it made its way through traffic to Bella Papapetros alone at the left post for the tap-in.
The Panthers responded with a goal from freshman Rachel St. Clair 44 seconds later. Senior defender Julia Wardwell sent the puck to Jackson at mid-ice, and she found St. Clair cutting over the left end of the Colby blue line. St. Clair beat a defender to the slot and stuffed the puck past Crites to make it 3-1.
Winslow and Young teamed up to make it 4-1 with a give-and-go play 16 seconds into the third period. Young set up Winslow for a wrister from the left circle that found the net.
Colby struck back at 4:16. Papapetros worked the puck to the right corner and fed it out front, and Delaney Flynn one-timed it into the far side.
Shortly afterward, Young pinged the crossbar, and the Panthers also easily killed a penalty. When Neuberger denied three Mules poking at a loose puck at the left post at 15:30, the lead looked safe.
But after the Mules pulled Crites with 1:45 to go the Panthers took a penalty, and Colby made it 4-3: Morgan Fortier’s backhand from below the goal line banked in off Neuberger pads at 0:52. But the Panthers defended comfortably until the horn.
The Panthers have enjoyed their success despite two key injuries. They lost junior all-American defender Carly Watson for the season in December, and senior forward Katie Mandigo returned on Saturday after missing all but three games since early January.
Mandigo took a regular turn as the Panthers skated four pairs of forwards on Saturday. Coach Mandigo said that tactic should give the Panthers an edge if they reach the final, and recently their scoring margins have increased in the second of the back-to-back games.
“If we win on Saturday and come back and we play everybody like this, we should have a little edge on Sunday,” he said.
Regardless, Mandigo said a Panther team that skated a dozen freshmen and sophomores on Saturday deserves credit for what it has accomplished despite the injury adversity.
“They’re pretty resilient,” he said. “They like each other, and they want to win for each other. They don’t quit. I think they’ve done a real good job. This is one of those times when you don’t want it to end.”