Women’s Hockey Stays Perfect in NESCAC

By Colin McIntyre

Middlebury’s second-ranked women’s hockey team won and tied its two games against Williams this weekend in a home-and-home series that saw the Panthers clinch home ice for the upcoming NESCAC playoffs. On Friday, Feb. 14, league leaders Middlebury played host to the then second place Williams, winning 3-2. Middlebury then escaped Williamstown on Saturday with a 1-1 tie, their unbeaten league record intact.

In Kenyon Arena on Friday, Middlebury won a tight game riddled with power plays for each team. After a close, scoreless first period, Micaela Thibault ’16 broke the tie six minutes after the first intermission. She took the puck into the offensive zone and fired an unassisted wrist shot past Ephs goaltender Chloe Billadeau for her first goal at Middlebury.

The lead was short lived as Williams equalized later in the period with a goal eight seconds after a checking penalty sent Jane Freda ’17 to the penalty box.

In the minute preceding the second intermission, Middlebury regained the lead after a two-on-one break led to a scrum in the Williams crease, allowing Hannah Bielawski ’15 to force in her sixth goal of the season.

Williams knotted the score again after they converted their second power play of the night.

In the final ten minutes, Middlebury showed their grit and were the beneficiary of two back-to-back power plays.  Thirty seconds into the second power play, the Panthers whipped the puck around the perimeter and set up a slapshot by Jennifer Krakower ’14 that flew into the back of the net.

Williams pulled their goalie and had a fair share of chances to tie the game in the dying moments of the game, as two Middlebury penalties elicited a frenzied final minute of six on three hockey. Goaltender Annabelle Jones ’15, Emily Fluke ’15, Madeline Joyce ’14 and Carly Watson ’17 blocked every Williams shot and sealed the win.

“The game Friday concluded with a high level of adrenaline and team work with us killing off a six on three in the last minute,” Jones said.  “I would consider our win on Friday to be one of the best team wins we have had all season as it required a great amount of heart and perseverance to preserve our lead.”

In Saturday’s matchup, Middlebury trailed for the majority of the game. Middlebury and Williams both dispatched several early man-up opportunities, and the game remained tied until Williams opened the scoring with 1:10 left in the first period.  Middlebury’s offense kept up pressure in the second period with several close chances — including a power play shot off the crossbar — but failed to convert the opportunities.

Middlebury’s efforts finally paid off late in the third period as Pam Schulman ’17 fired a shot past Willams’ Billadeau to tie the game with under three minutes left. Katie Mandigo ’16 and Joyce assisted on Schulman’s goal. In the final minutes, Middlebury saw close chances turned away both by the goalie and the goalposts.  The game remained tied throughout the added five minutes and ended 1-1.
Krakower echoed Jones’ enthusiasm following the two close games.

“This has been one of our better NESCAC weekends,” Krakower said. “We fought and battled hard. We obviously would have liked to come out this weekend with two wins, but Williams is a strong team.”

This season marks the fourth straight year that Head Coach Bill Mandigo’s team has finished atop the NESCAC table.

“This team has a tremendous amount of talent,” Krakower said.  “Everyone is contributing to the team from the freshmen to the seniors.”

Middlebury improved to 17-2-4 on the season and finished conference play 12-0-4. While the Panthers have finished their regular season, the eight other NESCAC teams play this weekend to determine the seeding for the March 1st NESCAC quarterfinals. Middlebury enters the playoffs looking to improve on a deep run last year that ended in a national championship game loss to Elmira.