Women’s hockey splits with fellow NESCAC contender

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s hockey split two weekend games with visiting Connecticut when the Camels prevailed in overtime on Saturday, 4-3, after the Panthers blanked them on Friday, 3-0.
The results left the teams tied for second in NESCAC at 3-1 in the league behind Hamilton, which is 4-0 against two teams yet to earn a league win. Middlebury, ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division III heading into the weekend, dropped to 3-3 overall after playing four games against top-10 foes — including the pair against the No. 8 Camels (4-1). Middlebury will end its first semester by hosting Castleton on Saturday at 3 p.m. 
Coach Bill Mandigo will be looking for a more consistent effort than he believes the Panthers delivered against the determined Camels.
“We had six periods on the weekend. We played well in the first period today. We played well in the third period yesterday. So there’s two. I’ll take half of the first period yesterday, so there’s two-and-a-half. And then that’s just about it,” he said, “They just outworked us. They wanted it more. We just don’t stick our nose in and battle.”
To be fair, youth and injuries are factors. Half of the Panthers’ starting defenders are freshmen, while two more started up front this weekend. Another half-dozen players are hurt: Starting forwards Lizzie Sheline and Rachel St. Clair should be back in January, other freshmen who could give the starters a break are out in the short term, and promising freshman forward Danielle Brown will miss the season.
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Mandigo said. “All of a sudden you’re playing back-to-back and you’ve got no depth.”
Saturday’s best period for the Panthers did not start well, as the Camels took advantage of defensive errors to take a 2-0 first-period lead on their first two shots. At 1:42 Kyla Floresca won a puck in the right corner and fed an open Elena Gualteri off the right post for a one-timer.
After several good Panther chances, including a strong stick save by Camel goalie Bailey Mertz on Elizabeth Wulf, Camel Katlyn Paiva made it 2-0 at 6:33. Paiva walked out of the right corner and roofed a backhand home after Gualteri broke up a Panther clear.
But in the period overall the Panthers won puck battles, outshot the Camels by 10-4, forced two penalties with their constant pressure, and converted both power plays to tie the score at 2-2.
Freshmen scored the goals. At 11:04 Ellie Barney tipped Jess Young’s pass from the right side inside the far post, with Janka Hlinka picking up the second assist. At 14:59 Madie Leidt ripped a one-time slapper from the top of the left circle, on a pass from defender Jenna Marotta. Young picked up the second assist.
The Panthers did not capitalize on that momentum in the second, although they extended the lead at 12:25, when Young one-timed a Leidt pass into the slot between Mertz’s pads. Leidt also had a great chance earlier in the period, but Mertz made a blocker save on her wrister from the slot. Mertz also stopped Katarina Shuchuk’s breakaway bid later in the period.
But for the most part the Camels were winning pucks and disrupting the Panthers, and Panther goalie Lin Han made some solid stops, including on Kristine Earl from the high slot in the 14th minute. On a late Camel power play Marotta also blocked two close-range bids.
In the third Middlebury nearly stretched the lead, but Mertz got her glove on a Hlinka blast from the left circle, and the puck deflected off the bottom of the crossbar and bounced straight down, hitting, but not crossing, the red line.
At 13:23 on a Camel power play Lilly Connolly banked a shot in off Han, and after the Camels survived a late Panther power play it was onto overtime.
The Camels won with 3:02 gone, when Paiva shot from the right circle, picked up her own rebound and found an open Erin Dillon at the left post for the game-winner.
Middlebury outshot the Camels, 30-28, but Connecticut outshot the Panthers, 24-20 after the first period.
In Friday’s 3-0 Panther win Maddie Winslow gave Middlebury a 1-0 lead on a five-on-three power play seven minutes into the second period. Young and Hlinka assisted.
Paiva nearly tied the score later in the period, but Winslow blocked her shot at an open net.
Early in the third period Han preserved the tie by denying Floresca from in close during a net-front scramble.
Katherine Jackson made it 2-0 at 6:25 by one-timing home a Young feed, and Young made it 3-0 at 12:13 by picking up her own rebound, circling the net and sliding the puck home. Han (22 saves) preserved the shutout in the late going by sprawling to stop Lauren Helm’s power-play bid. Mertz made 15 saves for Connecticut.
The Panthers other two losses have come to No. 2 Elmira and No. 4 Adrian, as the challenging schedule has also figured into the slow start for a program with high standards.
Certainly, Mandigo expects better going forward.
 “I’m disappointed. It’s the heat of the moment. We’ll watch the film and we’ll see,” he said. “But it’s not what you want it to be.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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