Women’s Hockey Ends Season at Final Four
March 23, 2016
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The Middlebury women’s hockey team ended their NCAA tournament run on Friday, March 18, after falling 5-3 to top-ranked Plattsburgh State in the semifinal round. They finished the season with a record of 21-6-3, the team’s most since the 2010–11 campaign and the first time the Panthers punched a ticket to the Final Four since their run to the 2012-13 NCAA final. The teams have now each won three NCAA tournament games against the other — the Panthers won in their most recent meeting in the 2013 national semifinal.
The Panthers recorded 10 straight wins leading up to the semifinal, nine of which were shutouts.
Middlebury had the first scoring opportunity of the game, going on a power play at the 3:08 mark but not capitalizing. Two minutes later Plattsburgh State took a power play of their own and turned it into a 1-0 lead just as it was about to expire. For the goal, Karen Hudson one-timed a pass in the slot.
The Panthers bounced back after stopping a second Cardinal power play at 9:48. Seconds later, Jessica Young ’18 received the puck from Janka Hlinka ’18 and wristed a shot around a defender into the far corner of the net.
Middlebury tried several times to take the lead before the end of the first, but failed. Maddie Winslow ’18 shot from point-blank range on a feed from Young, but Cardinal goalie Camille Leonard denied the puck. Plattsburgh State closed the first period with a 13-7 shot-on-goal advantage.
The Cardinals continued their momentum early in the second. A minute in, Kayla Meneghin placed her own rebound into the goal to bring the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. She nearly extended that again at 4:32 on a dramatic breakaway, but her shot went high above the crossbar.
At 5:36, the Cardinals made it a 3-1 game with a hard wrister from Muna Fadel in the slot. They had two chances to extend that lead within half a minute, but Panther netminder Julia Neuburger ’18 made both saves at 12:50 and 13:10. She then came in clutch with a glove save after Megan Delay of Plattsburgh State shook two defenders and blasted the puck from the left point.
The Cardinals extended their lead to 5-1 to close out the second period. They went went on the power play at 16:04 and scored within six seconds. A minute later, two Plattsburgh State forwards worked a pass-and-cut play all the way to the net. Plattsburgh State led Middlebury 16-5 in shots on goal for the second period.
Middlebury turned up the heat in the final period in a last-ditch effort. Their second goal of the game came more than halfway through the period, with Young netting her second goal of the game when Elizabeth Wulf ’18 batted down a puck mid-air for Young to place over the goal line. It was Young’s 13th goal of the season.
With two minutes remaining, Wulf scored a goal of her own as she one-timed a Winslow pass to the back of the net. At the 18:04 mark, Middlebury pulled Neuburger from the net in favor of an extra forward. The Panthers managed to keep constant pressure on the Cardinal net, even going on a power play with 50 seconds left, but could not score.
Plattsburgh State finished with a 41-23 advantage in shots on goal, having gone 1-for-6 on the power play compared to Middlebury’s 0-for-4. The Panthers last made the finals in 2013 when they fell in a gut-wrenching 1-0 defensive thriller against Elmira; their last NCAA title came in 2006.
“I was proud of the way the team responded in the third, scoring two goals and not giving up any,” Head Coach Bill Mandigo said. “It was a very good season. Winning the NESCAC championship in Kenyon and making it to the Final Four was something the team did not think was possible in December.”
Mandigo praised the players for their collective effort. “The team worked hard and got better every day. This was a very good group to coach and I will miss seeing them on a daily basis,” he said.
With their hopes for a national title dashed, the Panthers played in a consolation game on Saturday, March 19, against Elmira, falling 4-1 to take fourth place in the tournament.
Elmira took the lead 14 seconds into the game on a rebound. At 3:57, Middlebury answered on a power play, with Jenna Marotta ’19 one-timing a pass from Winslow. Elmira made it a 2-1 game at 14:38 in the first period. Middlebury nearly had an answer seconds later, but the Soaring Eagle goalie blocked the shot.
Elmira extended their lead to 3-1 in the second period with a backhander from the right faceoff circle. The Panthers had two opportunities in the period, a power play at 5:18 and a big flurry at 10:10, but could not convert either.
In the third period, Middlebury upped the pressure on the Elmira net, but still were unable to score the puck. With 1:48 remaining, Elmira added an empty-net goal, handing Middlebury a 4-1 loss.
The Panthers began the year with a tough schedule that included top-ranked opponents like Elmira and Norwich. They made an impressive run to the tournament, surpassing last year’s loss in the NCAA quarterfinal round and winning the NESCAC title. With an impressive young roster, headlined by NESCAC player player of the year Winslow, as well as a solid in-comming freshman class, the team has a good chance of continuing to dominate on the national stage next year.