New-look women’s hockey opens strong

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s hockey team this past weekend overcame injuries, inexperience and determined efforts from visiting Trinity to open its season with two wins.  
The defending NESCAC champs saw seven freshmen take shifts, three of them on defense, and had three players (including sophomore Lizzie Sheline, the team’s No. 5 scorer last winter) sidelined with injuries and a fourth traveling with Middlebury’s field hockey team.
But the Panthers — ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division III early on courtesy of their NCAA quarterfinal appearance last winter — got two first-period goals on Friday and then survived a rash of penalties to prevail, 2-0, and on Saturday controlled most of the game before scoring three times in the third period in a 4-1 win.
Coach Bill Mandigo said after Saturday’s game he saw progress in less than 24 hours. 
“We skated, moved the puck better, shot the puck. We had 39 shots. We mixed some kids in who didn’t play as much yesterday, and that helped. And the goalie (sophomore Lin Han) played well again,” Mandigo said. “So we were better today than yesterday, which is a good sign.”
Mandigo said the Panthers played hard in their opener, but were also a bit more settled on Saturday with a game under their belts.
“Seven freshmen dressed. So they’re definitely nervous,” he said. “There are going to be some nerves. And the older kids have some nerves, too.”
Despite any jitters the Panthers made the first goal on Friday, but not before Trinity almost scored in the 13th minute. Claire Foran shot from the right side, and Han (27 saves) made the stop, but could not control the puck. The rebound went to Abigal Riskevich by the left post, but Panther senior defender Haley LaFontaine knocked the puck away.
Less than a minute later, Panther junior forward Katherine Jackson made it 1-0. Senior forward Maddie Winslow took a shot from the left circle that Trinity goalie Sydney Belinskas (23 saves) denied. But the rebound went right to Jackson on a net drive, and she one-timed the puck home.
Senior forward Jess Young made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 16:21, jamming in a rebound on a shot by senior Elizabeth Wulf.
Five minutes into the second period Middlebury freshman Madie Leidt hit the crossbar, and the Panthers shortly afterward failed to capitalize on a five-on-three power play. Mandigo said the game might not have been so tense if Middlebury had converted in that stretch.
“Sometimes when you get that third goal it may take the wind out of their sails,” he said.
Trinity’s best opportunities came on a five-on-three power play late in the period, during which Han made two tough saves on Taylor Peracchio from the right circle.
In the third period the Panthers were whistled for four penalties. But they held the Panthers to seven shots, and Han again stopped the best chances. With just less than five minutes left she denied a Tasha Adams shot and then Olivia White’s rebound attempt.
“Thank God our PK people did such a good job,” Mandigo said. “The kids played hard. It was a good win. It’s always good to win your first one, especially when you don’t get to have a scrimmage. You just jump into the league.”
The Panthers outshot the Bantams by 39-21 in Friday’s game, including by 18-10 in the opening period. Both teams had chances in the seventh minute during a Trinity power play. Han (20 saves) stoned Peracchio twice from close range, while Winslow broke in alone at the other end, only to see Belinskas (35 saves) flash her right pad to deny the shorthanded bid.
The Bantams struck with 1:17 left in the period, when Peracchio knocked in a centering pass from Riskevich. The hosts answered with 10.4 seconds on the clock, when Jackson, who had a three-goal weekend, banged in a rebound at the left post on sophomore defender Anna Zumwinkle’s shot from the point.
Both teams’ best second-period chances came midway. Panther freshman defender Elise Park rushed the net, and Belinskas stopped her shot, and Young lifted the rebound over the crossbar. Seconds later Han stopped White’s shot, and Kelcie Finn sent the rebound just wide left.  
The Panthers took the lead 1:35 into the final period on a double milestone: Leidt’s first collegiate goal, a one-timer that came on a pass from Young that was her 100th career point (46 goals, 54 assist).
Mandigo noted he had put freshman Ellie Barney in a group with Leidt and Young to start the period, and that Barney played a key role in the winning goal.
“She won a puck in the corner, and passed it to Jess Young, who passed it to another freshman, who one-timed it in,” Mandigo said. “We talk all the time about winning pucks, and she goes in and wins the puck.”
Middlebury made 3-1 with 3:24 left, when Jackson netted a feed from Winslow on a two-on-one rush. Leidt finished the scoring with an empty-netter in the final minute, with Winslow, just a couple points short of 100 herself, picking up the assist.
In all, Mandigo said his new-look team is already figuring things out, and he certainly won’t complain about the results.
“I feel good. I told the kids anytime you get four points playing a NESCAC weekend it’s a good thing,” Mandigo said. “It’s the toughest league in the country, and everybody plays hard.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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