Plattsburgh sends Panther women’s hockey home from NCAA tournament

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Host Plattsburgh State on Saturday held on to edge the Middlebury College women’s hockey team, 4-2, in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal.

A two-goal second-period that snapped a 1-1 tie proved to be the difference for the 26-2 Cardinals. The Panthers, who had dominated Suffolk in a first-round victory three days earlier (see story here) finished 17-8-3 as their hopes for a second-straight NCAA title came to an end. They were making their 18th NCAA appearance.

Emma McLean put Plattsburgh on the board 1:51 after the opening faceoff. Panther goalie Sophie Merageas denied an initial bid from the slot by Holly Schmelzer, but McLean was at the left post to bang the rebound home.

Merageas made five saves in the first 4:10 before Panther Molly MacQueen forced Cardinal goalie Ashley Davis to make a blocker stop on a bid from the right circle for her first save. Merageas made a big stop seven minutes in, sprawling to thwart McLean’s bid from between the circles.

Middlebury defender Claudia Vira knotted the contest at 9:47 on a power play. Fellow defender Eva Hendrikson slid the puck from the top of the right circle to Vira at the left dot, and Vira slapped the puck home from there.

The Panthers had two good chances to take the lead, but Davis stopped Britt Nawrocki both times, once on a two-on-one break with Jenna Letterie at 5:41, and once from point-blank at 4:56. At that point the shots were even at 11-11.

But the Cardinals took control the rest of the period, including on a power play defended well by Vira, Sabrina Kim and Cece Ziegler. Merageas also padded away Nicole Unsworth’s blast from the right dot at 0:55 after the power play ended.

The Panthers pressed early in the second period, and Davis did well to deny Delanie Goniwiecha from the right circle in the third minute.

But at 11:09, the Cardinals struck back. Sara Krauseneck picked off a clearing attempt at the top of the right circle, went in alone on goal, faked to her right, came across the crease and whipped the puck into the upper right corner.

The Cardinals controlled most of the rest of the period, but with just under two minutes remaining, the Panthers had a chance to tie the score. MacQueen won a faceoff and sent the puck to Vira just inside the blue line, but Vira’s hard shot hit a Cardinal defender in the slot.

Less than a minute later, the Cardinals made it 3-1. Merageas stopped back-to-back bids by Mattie Norton, but Ivy Boric was on the right pipe to put the second rebound home with 1:12 on the clock.

Middlebury cut the deficit to 3-2 with 6:01 expired in the final period when Nawrocki one-timed a shot from the left faceoff circle on a feed from Letterie, who had picked up the rebound of a Kim shot from the right point.

Two minutes later, Merageas made a save on Boric to keep it a one-goal game.

At the other end, Davis blockered away bids by Vira and Letterie in the middle of the period, and with three minutes to go she smothered a Raia Schluter shot.

With 40 seconds left and Merageas, who finished with a season-high 33 saves, watching from the bench, Letterie launched the Panthers’ final bid. But Davis kicked it away for her 28th save.

Letterie, a senior captain, finished with a team high of 31 points (10 goals and 21 assists). Earlier in the NESCAC playoffs she reached 100 points for her career.

With seven seconds to go, Unsworth tapped in an empty-netter to end the Panthers’ hopes for a repeat of their 2022 dream season.

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