Women’s hockey to host league final four
MIDDLEBURY — After a 4-1 win over No. 8 Wesleyan in a NESCAC quarterfinal this past Saturday, the top-seeded Middlebury College women’s hockey team is again hosting the league’s final four this weekend.
On Saturday, the 17-6-2 Panthers, ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division III, will face sixth-seeded Bowdoin (13-8-4) at 1 p.m., and at 4 p.m. No. 2 Connecticut (15-7-3) meets No. 5 Amherst (13-7-5).
The winners will meet on Sunday at 2 p.m. with the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament as well as the NESCAC playoff title at stake.
Middlebury this winter played all three of this weekend’s visitors on the road this winter, splitting two games apiece with Bowdoin and Connecticut and earning a win and a tie at Amherst.
None will be pushovers this weekend, said longtime Middlebury Coach Bill Mandigo, noting his team converted on only one of seven power plays this past Saturday vs. the 7-12-5 Cardinals.
“I like our chances, but the teams that are left … all have good goalies,” Mandigo said. “We’ve just got to keep shooting the puck and crashing the net and try to put some of those rebound goals into the back of the net. And we’ve got to capitalize on the power play somehow.”
Evidence suggests the Panthers might find the net. In their first 15 games, they scored as many as four goals three times. That stretch ended with the 2-0 and 2-1 home losses on Jan. 27 and 28 to Hamilton that dropped Middlebury’s record to 8-5-2 and caused Mandigo to lose some sleep.
Since then, the Panthers have gone 9-1, losing only at No. 1 Plattsburgh, and have scored four or more goals seven times.
“We changed things a little bit after the Hamilton weekend,” Mandigo said. “We made the change on Monday. That was a three o’clock in the morning wake-up, and what are we going to go? That’s when I have most of my bright ideas, three o’clock in morning, and then you can’t go back to sleep.”
The central change was to break up the productive partnership of the Panther junior leading scorers, Jessica Young and Maddie Winslow, who have skated together for most of their careers.
Now, Young works with junior Janka Hlinka and emerging freshman Lizzie Sheline, and Winslow operates with senior Kelly Sherman and junior Elizabeth Wulf. Both groups have been productive, Mandigo said after the Wesleyan game, as has been the third line.
“There’s a little bit more balance in those two lines, and the Allie Aiello, Katherine Jackson, Rachel St. Clair line has done a pretty good job, too,” Mandigo said. “They were on the ice for three goals at Williams on Saturday night, and they were on the ice for two goals tonight.”
The Tigers took a 2-0 lead over the Cardinals in the first period. Young went end-to-end 3:55 into the game for her team-high 14th goal, wristing a shot from the right circle that Wesleyan goaltender Allegra Grant (36 saves) couldn’t handle. Katherine Jackson made it 2-0 at 18:18, taking a Carly Watson pass at the Panther blue line, beating two Cardinals down the ice and tucking a backhander through the five-hole.
Wesleyan got on the board at 8:01 mark of the second period. After a Panther defender fell in the right corner, Cici Frattasio fed Ellery Sarosi in the high slot for a one-timer into the lower left corner past Panther netminder Julia Neuburger (13 saves).
The Panthers answered 3:20 later with a goal after a flurry in front. The puck came out to the center point, where a waiting Watson ripped a shot home past Grant, still down after the scramble.. The referees debated whether the Panthers had interfered with Grant, but correctly ruled (according to WCAX-TV replays) a Wesleyan defender had knocked a Panther into the goalie.
Wesleyan soon nearly made it 3-2, but Neuburger flashed her pads on Jess Brennan and Hailey Sholty.
Middlebury made it 4-1 at 18:41 on a power-play goal from Wulf. Maddie Winslow, a thorn in the Cardinals’ side all day, worked the puck to Victoria Laven, who found Wulf low in the left circle. Wulf skated in and snapped a shot into the top near corner.
Mandigo said the Panthers played well defensively.
“Julie had a couple of good saves, and they might have hit a crossbar once,” he said. “But we did a pretty good job. The kids skated, and when they skate good things happen.”
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