Women’s Hockey Returns to the Postseason as Top Seed

By Fritz Parker

The Middlebury women’s hockey team kept the good times rolling this past weekend, Feb. 13 and 14, recording a pair of wins over conference foe Williams to clinch the top seed in the upcoming NESCAC tournament and extend their winning streak to 10.

Playing on the road in Williamstown on Friday, the Panthers got an early goal from Jessica Young ’18 for a 1-0 first-period lead. Young was assisted on that tally by Emily Fluke ’15 and Janka Hlinka ’18. A pair of Williams penalties gave Middlebury two man-up opportunities later in the period, but the Panthers were unable to capitalize, and went into the first break with a one-goal lead.

The second period was a quiet one on the scoreboard, with neither team able to break through. After killing off a penalty early in the period, the Panthers saw another two power plays come to an unsuccessful end before the buzzer sounded. The second period was a relatively even one in terms of scoring opportunities, with Williams holding a slight 10-9 advantage in shots.

Williams got the equalizer they were looking for in the eighth minute of the closing period, when Eph Eliza Noyes snuck the puck past Panther goalkeeper Annabelle Jones ’15 to knot the game at one. Penalties were again a sore spot for Williams, however, as the Ephs took two penalties in less than 10 seconds to give Middlebury a lengthy five-on-three opportunity midway through the third. Maddie Winslow ’18 was the Panther who took advantage, scoring with help from Young and Fluke to give her team the lead.

Middlebury was able to survive two stretches of man-down play as the clocked ticked towards zero, hanging on for the narrow 2-1 win.

Penalties were the difference in the game, with Williams taking six – including two which led to the eventual game-winner – to Middlebury’s three. Due in part to their wealth of man-up opportunities, the Panthers held a 28-20 shooting advantage in the game.

For Saturday’s game, the action moved up Route Seven to Middlebury’s Kenyon Arena for the Panthers’ regular-season conference finale. Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo played senior Maddie Marsh ’15 in goal on Saturday, continuing the two-goalie rotation that has proven to be effective throughout the season.

Despite 11 shots on goal, Middlebury was not able to score in the opening period of play. Eph Alex Lovaas went to the box for tripping in the ninth minute of play, but the ensuing power play did not result in any scoring.

Winslow again provided the spark that her team needed in Saturday’s game. Midway through the second period, the first-year took a feed from Victoria Laven ’17 and Carly Watson ’17 and found the back of the net to help the Panthers to a 1-0 advantage. Williams had several opportunities to even the score in the second half of the period, but Marsh and the Panther defense held firm and Middlebury went into the second break clinging to another one-goal lead.

That lead would not stay at one for long. Fluke – with help from Young and Watson – scored in just the second minute of the final period for a Panther insurance goal. Young followed that up two minutes later with a goal of her own, this time getting the assist from Fluke. Seeing the lead suddenly blown up to three goals, the Panthers were able to ride out the rest of the period with strong defensive play. Fluke netted her second goal of the game – this one an empty-netter – as time expired to bring the lead to its final 4-0 margin.

Marsh stopped all 20 Eph shots she faced on Saturday for her third shutout in just 12 starts. The senior has excelled in her role as part-time starter alongside Jones, winning 10 of those 12 starts in goal without losing a single game. Marsh’s goals against average of 1.23 ranks second in the conference, and her save percentage of .943 ranks third – both impressive statistics for a player who started just five games all of last year.

Jones, meanwhile, has been just as effective in the crease for Middlebury. She also ranks among the top 10 netminders in the NESCAC in goals against average and winning percentage.

The Panthers – with their pair of standout goalkeepers – host Plattsburgh State on Saturday, Feb. 21 in their final regular-season game. The matchup features the second and third-ranked teams in the country in Middlebury and Plattsburgh, respectively, and is a potential preview of a late-round NCAA playoff game, as both teams are virtually assured of returning to the tournament in 2015.

Before that can happen, the Panthers will look to win their first conference title since 2012 when the NESCAC tournament begins on Saturday, Feb. 28. After earning the top seed a year ago, Middlebury fell in the opening round to eighth-seed Connecticut College, a disappointment that will surely be on the players’ minds as they take to the ice this postseason.

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