Sports

Amherst upsets women’s hockey with narrow win in NESCAC final

PANTHER SOPHOMORE FORWARD Katie Hargrave skates away from two Hamilton players during host Middlebury’s 2-1 NESCAC semifinal women’s hockey win on Saturday. Amherst upset the Panthers for the league’s playoff championship on Sunday.

MIDDLEBURY — Third-seeded Amherst upset host No. 1 Middlebury in Sunday’s NESCAC women’s hockey playoff final, 2-1, by scoring the winning goal in the third period 13 seconds after the Panthers had tied the game.
Amherst (17-5-5) claimed the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. Middlebury (21-3-3), last week ranked No. 2 in NCAA D-III, was awarded an at-large bid when the field was announced on Monday and will host Endicott (25-2) on Saturday at 3 p.m. However, on Tuesday the college’s decision to send students home early and cancel sports and travel due to the COVID-19 virus called into question whether that game would be played. 
“We’re ranked second in the country. It’s not going to drop us that far out,” said Coach Bill Mandigo, propheticaly, after Sunday’s setback. “Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play, maybe even get a home game.”
Mandigo said he was not unhappy with his team’s effort. 
“You lose, 2-1, and it doesn’t define your season. It doesn’t define who you are. They played well the whole year. That’s the first loss on home ice. That’s the 22nd goal we’ve give up in 27 games,” he said. “That’s pretty good. We’ve got goalies and we’ve got good defensemen. Today we just didn’t put the puck in.”
The teams defended tightly in the first period and combined for just six shots, four for the Mammoths. The best chance for either team came from Panther senior defender Anna Zumwinkle at 13:18, but Amherst goalie Caitlin Walker (25 saves) gloved her hard wrister from the inside edge of the left circle.
The Panthers and Mammoths continued to maintain defensive discipline in the scoreless second period, but the teams began to generate more chances, including a golden opportunity for each.
Mammoth Carley Daly picked off a Panther clearing pass just before the six-minute mark and skated in alone on Middlebury goalie Lin Han (11 saves), but Han blockered away a Daly shot earmarked for the upper left corner.
A couple minutes earlier Han also covered up the puck in a scrum with three Mammoth forwards buzzing the net. Daly also later had a strong solo rush, but lost control of the puck before she shot.
Jenna Letterie nearly gave Middlebury the lead in the period’s final seconds. Katie Hargrave controlled the puck in the right corner, circled behind the net and fed Letterie alone in the slot, but her wrister found Walker’s torso and not the open right side of the net.
Six minutes earlier Walker also got the tip of her glove on Zumwinkle’s screened shot from the top of the right circle. After two periods, the Panthers were outshooting the Mammoths by 12-10.
Then both teams broke through in the third period. Another rare Panther miscue allowed a Mammoth to skate in alone on Han, this time Rose Mroczka. Han was again equal to the task, but when she slid right to stop Mroczka’s bid, the puck dropped behind her in the crease. Amherst’s Kaitlin Hoang was first to the puck and rapped it high into the net with 2:27 gone.
The Panthers began to press, with vocal support from the more than 600 fans on hand. At 6:07 leading scorer Madie Leidt tipped home defender Claudia Vira’s low shot from the center point and the Panthers seemed to have all the momentum.
But the tie lasted only as long as it took for the Mammoths to win the faceoff, get the puck deep, and have Emma Flynn walk out from behind Han’s right and stuff the puck inside the far post. Her shot looked like it might have deflected off a stick or skate on the way in.
“We score and get the momentum, and then we give up a goal 13 seconds later. I have no idea how that went in,” Mandigo
But the Panthers recovered quickly and outshot Amherst by 14-3 in the period. But good work by Walker and a few unlucky bounces frustrated them down the stretch.
Over the next nine minutes the game looked like a Panther power play. Leidt shot high on from the slot on a feed from Hargrave. Walker stopped Audrey Lazar when she spun and whipped a low backhander on goal at the 10-minute mark, and a minute later stopped Mary Thompson at the right post when she circled the net.
At 8:30 Letterie and Hargrave couldn’t quite get their sticks on a loose puck in the slot. At 6:30 Walker somehow found defender Elise Park’s shot from the left circle through a tangle of bodies. At 6:00 Letterie missed just wide from the slot, 10 seconds later Walker kicked away Ellie Barney’s 10-foot bid, and at 5:00 Walker stopped Zumwinkle from the center point and Lazar on the rebound.
“I don’t know how she made some of those saves,” Mandigo said.  
Amherst regained its composure and the chances the rest of the way were not as dangerous even though the Panthers still pressed.
“Credit to Amherst,” Mandigo said. “They play great defense. They pack it in, which makes it harder to get pucks.”
In Saturday’s semifinal the Panthers had to rally past No. 4 seed Hamilton, 2-1. Hamilton, the only NESCAC team to defeat Middlebury this winter before Sunday, finished at 16-9-1.
Hamilton took the lead at 16:52 of the first period on a Kelli Mackey power play goal. Missy Segall and Mackey passed back-and-forth just inside the blue line before Mackey found the back of the net through traffic.
Zumwinkle equalized with six seconds left in the second period. Letterie won a battle for the puck in the left corner and pushed it into the slot to Zumwinkle, who spun and fired home a short, low wrist shot.  
Sidney Portner’s shorthanded goal at 9:39 of the third proved to be the game-winner. Letterie stole the puck in the Panther end and skated down the right side. Hamilton goalie Sidney Molnar stopped her short forehand bid, but Portner stuffed the rebound in the left side.
Both Molnar (35 saves) and Panther goalie Anna Goldstein (29 saves) stopped breakaways. Goldstein denied Michaela Giutarri one-on-one three minutes after Portner’s go-ahead strike, and Molnar stopped Leidt in the second period.
After both weekend games, Mandigo said he believes the Panthers can still look forward.
“The goal is to play a couple more weeks,” he said. “This will sting tonight for the kids. They’ll wake up tomorrow, and the sun will come up. And then they’ll to go class, and sometime in the morning they’ll open up their computers in the classroom and watch the selection show. And hopefully they’ll feel good Monday afternoon.”
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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