Panther women’s hockey works overtime to claim league title

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s hockey team defeated Amherst, 5-4, in overtime on Sunday in the NESCAC final at Kenyon Arena, and as a result the Panthers will host UMass-Boston in a first-round NCAA Division III tournament game this coming Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Panthers improved to 20-4-3 when sophomore Maddie Winslow rapped home a pass from classmate Jessica Young at 6:37 in Sunday’s extra session.
The UMass-Boston squad that will come to Middlebury this weekend has a 16-12 record and a hot goalie, Rachel Myette. Myette made 35 saves as the Beacons shocked Norwich in the New England Hockey Conference final, 2-0; stopped 23 of 24 shots as UMB upset Castleton in the semifinal, 2-1 in overtime; and earned a 21-save shutout vs. Manhattanville in a 4-0 quarterfinal.
If the sixth-ranked Panthers advance, they will face either No. 1 Plattsburgh (26-1) or No. 4 Amherst (21-2-3) in an NCAA semifinal at a site to be determined next weekend.
The Panthers, who skate a dozen freshmen and sophomores in key roles, are 15-1 in their past 16 games and undefeated in NESCAC play despite adversity.
They lost All-American defender Carly Watson for the season back on Dec. 5; got valuable senior forward Katie Mandigo, a co-captain, back just in time for the playoffs after she missed most of January and February; and saw another player, freshman defender Grace Jennings, hobble off the ice late in Sunday’s first period.
“We’ve just had everything thrown at us this season, and we’ve just kept coming back and back,” Winslow said. “We battle hard, and we want to win.”
Coach Bill Mandigo has seen more experienced Panther teams come up short in the NESCAC tournament in each of the three previous seasons. After watching these Panthers build a 3-0 lead over Amherst on Sunday; fall behind 4-3; and then rally to tie the game before winning in overtime, Mandigo said they are unusually tough.
“It’s character, it’s being able to hang in there. It’s resilience. It’s all those words that we talk about all the time, but it’s strength of character. And they did a great job,” said Mandigo, just before his happy players dumped a bucket of water on him and chanted, “Coach of the year.”
For the coach, the victory was special another way. His daughter Katie scored twice in Sunday’s first period to spark the Panthers to that 3-0 lead. Katie Mandigo and her classmates, defender and co-captain Julia Wardwell, forwards Anna Van Kula and Micaela Thibault, and goalie Marisa Dreher, all earned their first championship.
“I’m happy for the seniors. It’s their first banner. They get to hang a banner in the rink. And it’s especially pleasing when your daughter is a senior,” Coach Mandigo said. “It’s something she wanted. She’s watched enough of the things that have gone on around here all these years, so it’s really satisfying for me as a dad to see her really happy.”
Katie Mandigo’s first goal game on the Panthers’ first shot. It came 38 seconds into the game from the left wing circle, and it trickled between Amherst goalie Sabrina Dobbins’ pads. Wardwell picked up the assist.
PANTHER SENIOR KATIE Mandigo scored two goals in Middlebury’s 5-4 win over Amherst in Sunday’s NESCAC championship game.
Photo courtesy Middlebury College/Will Costello
At 3:01 it was 2-0 with a goal that possibly only the officials believed entered the Amherst net. Young shot from the high slot as an Amherst player crashed into Dobbins, dislodging the net from its moorings. After the officials conferred, the surprised Panthers celebrated, the marker went up on the scoreboard, and Winslow and Jennings got assists on a score credited to Young.
Middlebury goalie Julia Neuburger turned away several shots in the period, notably by Caroline Bomstein, Alex Toupal and Sara Culhane.
There was no doubt on the third Panther goal, at 13:45. Mandigo ripped a rocket into the upper right corner from about 20 feet out after taking a Shanna Hickman pass from the left side.
Amherst cut it to 3-1 with a shorthanded goal from Culhane at 16:58. With Jennings hurt and heading off the ice, Culhane won a battle for the puck in the Panther zone and scored on a wraparound.
In the second period, Amherst scored three times to take the lead. Bomstein’s shot from right point at 6:36 found the near side of the net through traffic. Two minutes later, Katelyn Pantera’s screened shot to the high slot broke in off Neuburger’s glove. At 12:59, Culhane won the puck behind the Panther net and tossed it out front; it banked in off Neuburger to make it 4-3.
Panther sophomore Janka Hlinka responded 2:01 later. Sophomore defender Audrey Quirk shot from the outside of the right circle, and Hlinka deflected it past Dobbins (21 saves).
Early in the third, Neuburger stopped Culhane on a two-on-none break. The Panthers created some pressure late, but Amherst came within inches of winning in the final 25 seconds, when Eileen Harris’s rebound bid stopped flush on edge against the left post before the Panthers cleared.
In overtime, Dobbins denied Young’s point-blank bid on an early power play, and a Quirk bomb from the right point clipped the left post. At the other end, Neuburger (31 saves) flashed her left pad to stone Culhane from the slot.
Then Young gathered her own rebound in the left corner and fed Winslow for the game-winning one-timer at the far post. Winslow rapped the puck high back inside the left post.
Winslow said the Panthers never doubted the outcome.
“We knew there were going to be ups. We knew there were going to be downs. Coach Mandigo told us that,” Winslow said. “We never thought we weren’t going to win that. We knew the whole time. It took a little longer than we thought, but we got it done.”
In Saturday’s semifinal at Kenyon, the Panthers defeated Trinity, 3-1. The 15-9-2 Bantams scored on a power play with 12 seconds to go in the opening period, on Emma Tani’s end-to-end rush.
At 8:57 of the second period the Panthers pulled even on a power play. Jenna Marotta netted her first career goal, a shot from the right point, with Wardwell assisting.
At 16:59 of the second, Winslow netted the game-winner on another power play, with Wardwell assisting again.
THE MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE women’s hockey team celebrates their NESCAC championship after beating Amherst 5-4 on Sunday.
Photo courtesy Middlebury College/Will Costello
Young added an empty netter, but not before Neuburger (21 saves) made key stops in the late going. Trinity goalie Sydney Belinskas stopped 19 shots.
Overall, Coach Mandigo credited Wardwell and junior defender Victoria Laven for their poise and leadership on and off the ice in helping the Panthers overcome the obstacles in their path to become what he called “a special, tight-knit group.”
“They’re back there with those young kids,” he said. “Those two had to step up and play better.”
Now the Panthers will see if their ride can go a little further.
“We’re taking it week by week. We were playing for another week, and that’s what we got,” Winslow said. “So hopefully we have many more.”

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