Women’s hockey opens with a pair of home wins
MIDDLEBURY — One of the first things Coach Bill Mandigo said after his Middlebury College women’s hockey team earned a pair of season-opening 4-2 wins over visiting NESCAC foe Trinity this past weekend was he had a different team this year.
After all, seven seniors, most of them starters, graduated from the group that went 27-0 and won the program’s first NCAA Division III title since 2006.
This team shows the same effort level, Mandigo said, but it will take time to refine its skills and to mesh in order to reach its potential.
“We talk all the time that it’s not just work hard, it’s work hard and accomplish. Everybody works hard. You don’t get in that locker room if you don’t work hard,” he said.
He wants, for example, when the Panthers win pucks on the forecheck or in battles along the boards to more often turn those plays into scoring opportunities, as they did twice on Saturday to create goals for sophomore Cat Appleyard and freshman Britt Nawrocki.
Mandigo would also like to see the Panthers simplify their approach, to shoot the puck more and crash the net, something he credited Trinity for doing.
“Trinity’s first goal, that was a power play goal, but that’s what it was. It was a good shot and a great rebound,” he said.
Mandigo and assistant Ashley Salerno are also still working to find which combinations of skaters will be most effective.
“It’s early in the season, and we’re still trying to figure out who should be playing with whom,” he said.
While acknowledging he is dealing with a work in progress, Mandigo said there also could be a high ceiling to reach. He cited the work ethic, “two good goalies,” and the potential for a balanced attack — in the two games eight Panthers have scored, three of them defenders.
“They didn’t quit, and they worked hard,” he said. “We’ve got eight goals from eight different people. That’s a good thing.”
And so is the Panthers’ taking two games from a group that he called “the best Trinity team I’ve seen in a long time.”
“The NESCAC is the best league in the country, and anyone can beat anybody on a given night,” he said. “So you win two games in the NESCAC, that’s a huge deal.”
Middlebury started quickly on Saturday with five straight shots during the third minute of action, but the Trinity defense and goalie Stephanie Garson (16 saves) held up.
Trinity settled in, and Panther freshman goalie Sophia Will made three strong mid-period saves, on Ava Gosnell from the right circle, on Elizabeth Winslow from between the circles, and then on a point-blank rebound of Winslow’s shot. Will made 25 saves in her Panther debut.
The Panthers broke through at 16:04 of the period with the forecheck sparking the score. Freshman Avery McInerny stole the puck from a defender behind the goal and fed Nawrocki in the slot, and she one-timed the puck low inside the right post.
Middlebury struck again just over a minute later when a Cece Ziegler shot from the top of the left circle trickled into the net for the 2-0 lead.
Trinity nearly cut the deficit in half at 5:13 of the second period, but Will’s stick save denied Ethel Wilhelmsson’s bid from the right dot on a two-on-one break.
Bantam Annabelle Merkle scored on a power play at the 15:49 mark. Will stopped Paige Kehoe’s slapper from the left side, but the rebound went to Merkel off the right post, and she found the far corner.
Trinity had a power play late in the period that Middlebury killed, but Will had to make a blocker save on Jenny Guider in the final minute to preserve the 2-1 lead.
The Panthers made it 3-1 early in the final period on Appleyard’s strike. Jenna Letterie won the puck deep in the zone and fed Appleyard charging into the slot for a finish high into the right side.
The Bantams cut the deficit to 3-2 with 8:28 to go. Jelani Adorno collected a loose puck after a battle near center ice, skated unchecked into the right circle, and fired a shot high into the far corner.
But Middlebury locked down Trinity the rest of the way, and Letterie added an empty-netter to create the final score.
In Friday’s opener, the Panthers spotted Trinity two leads before scoring three straight goals to prevail. The Bantams struck first when Martina Exnerova slipped a loose puck home at 8:09 of the first period.
Eva Hendrikson tied the score at 15:55. Nawrocki collected the puck behind the goal and fed Ziegler at the top of the left circle. Ziegler relayed across the circles to Hendrikson, and she rifled in a shot through traffic.
Trinity regained the lead at 6:43 of the second period. Exnerova won a faceoff and set up Annika Dyczkowski, who tucked the puck inside the left post.
The Panthers made it 2-2 about three minutes later, when Delanie Goniwiecha one-timed in a Ziegler shot from the high slot.
Middlebury took the lead at 16:45 of the second period on a power play, when Claudia Vira blasted a shot in from between the circles, with Ziegler picking up her third assist. The Panthers added insurance midway through the final period when Julia Johnson’s hard shot trickled in off Bantam goalie Hannah Leclair.
Leclair made 28 saves for the Bantams, and Sophia Merageas stopped 23 for Middlebury.
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