Panther women’s hockey strong in tourney, but edged by Cardinals

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s hockey team played well at home this past weekend in the annual Panther/Cardinal Classic, but came up just short in the final to top-ranked Plattsburgh, 2-1, in a rematch of an NCAA Division III semifinal from last March.
On Saturday, the 3-1 Panthers, who entered the weekend ranked No. 5, dismissed Utica, 5-1, in a Panther/Cardinal Classic semifinal before outshooting — and for long stretches outplaying — the 9-1 Cardinals in Sunday’s setback.
Middlebury’s official 25-15 edge in shots on goal vs. Plattsburgh does not include a Maddie Winslow tally that the officials waved off, ruling that she had tipped in Carly Watson’s power-play drive from the blue line with a high stick. Replays on a press box computer showed the goal clearly should have counted.
Regardless, Coach Bill Mandigo was pleased with the Panthers’ effort over the weekend, which followed two overtime road wins the weekend before vs. NESCAC rival Trinity.
“They battled, stuck their nose in. I’m happy with the effort. I told them that,” Mandigo said after Sunday’s loss. “I feel bad for them with the outcome.”
Mandigo would like to see the effort — which vs. the Cardinals included good stick-to-stick passing in all zones and disruptive forechecking and center-ice checking as well as solid defensive zone coverage — translate to more offensive production. Only in Saturday’s win have the Panthers scored more than one goal in regulation.
“Working hard is great, but at the end of the day you still have to have more than them at the end, and we didn’t,” Mandigo said. “And we had all kinds of chances. We’ve just got to figure it out. At least we know we can play with them, which is a real good thing.”
Both Plattsburgh goals on Sunday came after rare Panther breakdowns, one 56 seconds after the puck dropped. Tournament MVP Melissa Sheeran picked off a careless clearing pass, skated to the bottom of the left circle and fed Kayla Meneghin at the far post. Meneghin moved across the crease to her backhand and tucked the puck home.
The Cardinals nearly took a 2-0 lead at 4:50, but Ashley Songin’s shot on a two-on-one break hit the crossbar. The Panthers then easily killed two penalties, and the ice began to tilt the other way — Middlebury launched the final six shots of the period.
At 9:53 Winslow’s goal was incorrectly waved off, but the Panthers kept coming and Cardinal goalie Camille Leonard held the short side on Winslow soon afterward. Late in the period, Leonard also denied Winslow’s senior linemate Jessica Young from the slot, and did the same early in the second.   PANTHER JUNIOR Jessica Young tries to tip a shot past Utica goalie Amanda Lupo during Saturday afternoon’s game at The Chip. Middlebury won the game, 5-1.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Middlebury also squandered a power play early in the second period — Mandigo noted that as an area needing improvement.
The Cardinals had their best sustained stretch in the game in the middle of the second period, in part because some of the Panther youngsters — there are only four seniors on the roster, and several freshmen skated regular shifts — briefly lost composure.
Panther freshman goalie Lin Han (13 saves) made a strong stop on Sheeran at 13:09, but had no chance at 10:02. Meneghin, behind the net, made a nifty pass between her legs to Ashley Songin in the corner, and she found Sheeran at the far post for the easy tap-in. 
Han then robbed Karen Hudson with a sliding pad save and denied Songin on a two-on-one shorthanded bid.
The Panthers fought back late in the period, but Leonard made a pad save on a Young breakaway, gloved a short Winslow forehand set up by Young, and held the post when Janka Hlinka — who played a strong game — cut in from the side. Middlebury’s edge in shots was 19-14 after two periods.
After a sloppy early power play in the third, Middlebury made it 2-1 5:51 into the period on a five-on-three power play. Watson moved the puck from the center point to Winslow at the bottom of the left circle, and Winslow snapped a shot into the top right corner. Jenna Marotta picked up the second assist.
Han then came up big again, flashing her left pad to stop Meneghin on a breakaway straight out of the penalty box.
The Panther pressed. Leonard denied senior Victoria Laven’s screened bid from the right point, a shot that Katarina Shuchuk might also have tipped, at 10:45, and also stopped Kelly Sherman on three-on-two with seven minutes to go.
Middlebury pulled Han after a timeout with 1:57 remaining, but Leonard (24 stops) made a terrific glove save on a wide-open Young cutting into the slot after she took a feed from Winslow, and Plattsburgh held on.
In Saturday’s 5-1 win, the Panthers scored twice in the first period. Freshman Sidney Portner set up Shanna Hickman in the slot 1:30 into the contest, and at 10:16 Hlinka tipped a Marotta pass from the right point inside the far post.
In the second period, Elizabeth Wulf, who joined Young on the all-tournament team, scored two power-play goals to make it 4-0. She redirected a Watson shot from the point and later lifted a Watson rebound home from the right circle.
At 4:43 of the third, Rachael St. Clair converted a Sherman feed on a two-on-one break. Jane Pagano scored for the 3-4 Pioneers with 1:43 remaining. Middlebury goalie Julia Neuberger made 28 saves, while two Utica goalies combined for 22 stops.
Overall, Mandigo listed as pluses the return of Watson, an all-star defender and offensive contributor who missed almost all of last season with an injury, the early promise of the freshmen, and the fact that eight Panthers have scored — at times last winter they relied heavily on Winslow and Young.
He expects the young Panthers to improve, especially as he learns the best combinations on the ice.
“I’m not sure I have the right people in the right spots,” Mandigo said. “You just hope by the end of January you have it figured out who should be where and who should be doing what.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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