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Women’s Hockey Set to Appear in Frozen Four

Ethan Brady

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After winning the NESCAC title and advancing to the NCAA Tournament, the Middlebury women’s hockey team defeated the University of Massachusetts  Boston 4-0 in the quarterfinal round. The win was the Panthers’ 10th straight — nine of which were shutouts— and 21st on the season, one more than last year and the most since the 2010-11 season when they won 25 times. The Panthers move on to face top-ranked Plattsburgh State (27-1-0) for the Final Four in Plattsburgh, N.Y., on Friday, March 14.

Middlebury dominated the first period, outshooting UMass Boston 12-2, but could not get the puck across the goal line. NESCAC player of the year Maddie Winslow ’18 had a good look at 1:15 that went wide, and a strong attempt by Anna Van Kula ’16 minutes later was broken up by Beacon goalie Rachel Myette. The Beacons had back-to-back attempts at the 6:40 mark, but Julia Neuburger ’18 saved both.

In the same period, Allie Aiello ’17 nearly netted her first of the season, but Myette blocked the puck on a backhander. UMass Boston tried for another two opportunities, but the clock expired before either team could get on the scoreboard.

It was not until well into the second that the Panthers could translate their energy into a goal. Winslow, who has scored the game-winner in each of Middlebury’s four post-season games, skated up the left wing and took a sharp pass from Jenna Marotta ’19 before wristing a shot into the top-right corner of the net. The Panthers went on the power play at 18:59 in the second, but could not score and took their 1-0 lead into the final period.

A minute into the third, Winslow nearly struck again, but her shot was denied by the crossbar. Janka Hlinka ’18 came in clutch at 1:54 from the left circle, giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead with her fourth goal on the season. At 3:42, Julia Wardwell ’16 nearly made that a 3-0 lead on a shot from the left that hit the post. Winslow skated in to tip the shot netward, finishing Wardwell’s attempt and scoring her team-leading 19th goal of the season.

The Panthers’ hopes at advancing became more definite as the third period continued. With a power play at the 10:45 mark, Wardwell passed the puck to Winslow, whose attempt the Beacon goalie blocked, but Elizabeth Wulf ’18 was there to put home the rebound. Wulf’s goal, her sixth of the year, brought Middlebury’s lead to 4-0 and sealed the deal on a ticket to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.

With Saturday’s win, the team surpassed last year’s finish, when they lost to Vermont rival Norwich in the quarterfinals. The Panthers’ next opponent is top-ranked Plattsburgh State, whom they will play on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

The Panthers last faced Plattsburgh State on Jan. 12, losing 3-0 in a game dominated by the Cardinals. They nearly doubled the Panthers in shots on goal, 31-16. The Cardinals blanked Amherst 5-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals on Sunday, the same team the Panthers barely defeated 4-3 to take the NESCAC trophy.

“I think one of the biggest takeaways from the NESCAC final was the fact that we scored three goals and then gave up four straight goals and Amherst took the lead,” Head Coach Bill Mandigo said. “The takeaway is that we scored two minutes after Amherst scored their fourth goal. It was a strength of character goal, a resilience goal. The team could have packed it in when Amherst took the lead, but they fought back.”

The team will prepare for the Final Four “like we were preparing for any other game,” Mandigo said.

The Panthers began the year with a tough schedule, facing top-ranked opponents like Elmira and Norwich. But as of late, their run to the tournament has been nonstop. A surprisingly versatile freshman squad stepped up to the plate — or, rather, to the puck — and Winslow’s impressive scoring skills and NESCAC accolades bolstered the Panthers to nine shutout victories.

For a team that lost the conference championship last year and still advanced one round in NCAAs, this season is one of redemption. Plattsburgh State will be a formidable opponent, but Winslow and her teammates may prove tougher.

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Women’s Hockey Set to Appear in Frozen Four