Women’s Hockey Heartbroken by Norwich

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Women’s Hockey Heartbroken by Norwich

By Fritz Parker

The Middlebury women’s hockey team saw its season come to an end this past weekend when the fifth-ranked Panthers fell to in-state rival and fourth-ranked Norwich in an NCAA quarterfinal matchup on Saturday, March 14 in Kenyon Arena.

Despite falling to Trinity in the NESCAC tournament final on March 8, the Panthers were awarded an at-large birth to the 12-team national tournament. After missing the tournament last year, the Middlebury team had its eyes set on returning to the national title game after last doing so in 2013.

During their lone regular-season meeting in early February, Middlebury triumphed over Norwich 2-1 in overtime. 

On Saturday, Middlebury got on the board first when Katie Sullivan ’15 scored 10 minutes in with assists from Anna Van Kula ’16 and Mackenzie Martin ’15. That lead was short-lived, however, as Norwich’s Liz Gemmiti fired back, beating Middlebury goalkeeper Maddie Marsh ’15 to even the game at one goal apiece midway through the first period. After Gemmiti went to the box for tripping, Hannah Bielawski ’15 rocketed a slapshot from near the blue line past Norwich goalie Celeste Robert to retake the lead. Bielawski’s goal was assisted by Carly Watson ’17 and Emily Fluke ’15.

Middlebury continued to push the offensive advantage in the second period. Several times in the period’s opening minutes, Panther players had clean looks at Robert, but each time the Norwich keeper was able to corral the puck. On the other end of the ice, Marsh was having a tougher time making stops. Norwich managed just six shots on goal during the period, but two of them found their way into the Middlebury net, and Norwich was able to tie the game and then take the lead despite being outplayed for much of the period’s 20 minutes.

The Panther skaters headed into the third period needing a goal to force overtime, or two to advance to the national semifinals. The way that Robert was playing in the net, a fourth Norwich goal likely would have been a nail in the coffin for Middlebury.

Marsh stepped up to the test, overcoming her previous errors to play 20 minutes of solid hockey as time expired. In the offensive zone, the Panthers had several more opportunities as Norwich players went to the box three times during the third period. After Panther Coach Bill Mandigo pulled Marsh with two minutes left to play, an apparent tying goal for Middlebury was waved off by the officials — to the vocal disapproval of the Panthers’ home crowd. Several hard shots as time expired did not find their mark, and Norwich took the game 3-2.

The Panthers lost despite leading in nearly every statistical category. Middlebury outshot Norwich 32-17 in the game, going on six power plays while taking only one penalty. As has been the case for the Panthers throughout the postseason, a combination of strong opponents’ goalkeeping and an inability to score goals down the stretch doomed the team to a final score that was not indicative of the overall competitive balance of the game.

For the Middlebury seniors, the loss means an end to their careers in blue and white. Fluke capped off her career with an outstanding senior campaign, leading the team and the conference in goals (20) and points (44) en route to NESCAC Player of the Year laurels. Marsh — who stepped in to play in goal this year after playing sparsely during the previous three seasons — was a regular-season stalwart for the Panthers, finishing near the top of all of the goalkeeping stats during the season and earning a spot on the All-NESCAC Second Team.

Bielawski — who tied for fourth on the squad with 20 points this season — was a 2013 All-NESCAC Second Team selection, while goalkeeper Annabelle Jones ’15 earned Second Team honors in 2014 before splitting time with Marsh this season.

Middlebury finishes the 2014-2015 season with a record of 20-5-3, their fourth 20-win season in the past five years. The Panthers climbed as high as third in the national poll after beating Norwich in early February, and appeared poised for a long postseason run before falling in both of their last two games to Trinity and Norwich.

Next year’s squad will lean heavily upon the play of Watson and NESCAC Rookie of the Year Jessica Young ’18 as they look to improve upon this year’s success.

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