Women’s Hockey Falls In NESCAC Finals, Receives Bid To NCAA Tourney

By Mary Claire Ecclesine

This past Saturday and Sunday, March 2 and 3, the Middlebury women’s ice hockey team hosted the NESCAC tournament in Kenyon Arena, falling short in their quest for a consecutive conference championship.

On Saturday the Panthers took on Connecticut College in the semifinals of the tournament and won the game 4-1 to advance to the finals the following day. Sunday’s matchup brought together the top two teams in the league, Middlebury and Bowdoin, head-to-head to compete for the league title. The game ended in a devastating 2-1 loss for the Panthers.

Middlebury’s game against Conn College resulted in a 4-1 win with one goal in the first period, one goal in the second and two goals in the third period. During a power play at the 14:53 mark in the first period, Madison Styrbicki ’13 had a shot that was rebounded by Emily Fluke ’15 to put the Panthers in the lead by one. Fluke’s goal was her 16th of the season, putting her on top of the stats sheet as the leading scorer for the 2013 season.

Nearly two minutes into the second period, Jennifer Krakower ’14 made a long pass to Madeline Joyce ’14 who tapped in her sixth goal of the season. Connecticut College came back with a goal less than a minute later, but the Panthers continued to stay in the lead on the scoreboard and in control on the ice. The third period began with another quick goal for the home team, scored by Katie Sullivan ’13 and assisted by Hannah Bielawski ’15 and Joyce. At the 11:32 mark, the Panthers took an even more comfortable lead when Joyce tapped in her second goal of the game with the help of teammates Sullivan and Bielawski.

Middlebury took the lead in shots on net, totaling 38 compared to Conn. College’s 29. Conn. College, however, took the lead in penalties, giving Middlebury eight extra minutes of power plays throughout the game. Goalie Annabelle Jones ’15 had an extremely impressive game with 28 saves.

“Ending the way we did definitely brought our team some confidence going into Sunday’s game as our previous record with them was 1-1,” said Krakower.

Even with that confidence, however, the game on Sunday did not end in Middlebury’s favor. The team played hard and put up a serious fight against Bowdoin but fell just short at the end of the 60-minute game.

Bowdoin set the pace for the game within the first 58 seconds of the first period when Chelsea MacNeil scored their first goal for the Polar Bears. Middlebury came back halfway through the first period, however, to equalize the score at 1-1 with a goal from Lauren Greer ’13, assisted by Sara Ugalde ’14 and Styrbicki.

Both teams failed to score in the second period, ending 40 minutes with a 1-1 tie.

Bowdoin managed to take the lead 2:49 into the third period, advancing the score to 2-1. Krakower and Sullivan took multiple shots for the Panthers but failed to score down the stretch.
With 1:10 remaining in the third period, Middlebury pulled their goalie in hopes to create some opportunities but were unable to crack the stout Bowdoin defense.

The game ended with a 2-1 loss for the home team and a conference title for the Polar Bears, their first since 2004. Middlebury struggled to top Bowdoin in shots on net; Bowdoin tallied 38 shots and Middlebury only 25. Jones had a notable 36 saves to help the Panthers stay in the game.

“To be completely honest, you can never really be content when you lose,” said Krakower. “Bowdoin is a team that works really hard but so are we. We put in one of our bests efforts this season. However, there is always something more you can do. It wasn’t a lack of effort. We just could not capitalize on our chances.”

Regardless of the loss, the Panther women have received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, the squad’s 11th tournament appearance in the past 12 years. Middlebury has qualified for NCAAs every year since 2000, with the exception of the 2010 season.

The women have won the NCAA championship five times in the program’s history, most recently after the 2006 season. Last year, the Panthers lost in the quarterfinal round to Plattsburgh, 4-2.

Middlebury will play in the quarterfinals in Norwich this Saturday, March 9.

“We ended the season on such a strong note that we are feeling confident going into NCAAs,” said Krakower. “We have only played Norwich once this year and we lost, so now is our chance to beat them. We are heading into this tournament wanting to show everyone that we belong there. This is the biggest part of the season and there is nothing more that we’d want than to meet Bowdoin again [at NCAAs] in Wisconsin.”