MIDDLEBURY — In Sunday and Monday’s Panther-Cardinal Classic at Chip Kenyon Arena, the Middlebury College women’s hockey team suffered its first two losses of the season, by 3-2 in overtime vs. Elmira on Sunday and 4-1 vs. Plattsburgh on Monday.
In an event featuring every champion in the eight-year history of the NCAA Division III hockey tournament and four of the top five teams in this winter’s poll, Elmira defeated defending national champ Amherst in Monday’s final, 2-1.
Panther coach Bill Mandigo said despite the two setbacks he saw glimmers of hope for his 5-2 team. For one thing, both losses came essentially by one goal — Plattsburgh, which entered the tournament undefeated and ranked No. 1, tacked on two-empty netters in Monday’s game.
And Mandigo’s team is young, with just three seniors skating regular shifts and a fourth, goalie Lani Wright, sharing time with junior Alexi Bloom.
And he believes the Panthers may have learned something with a late-game surge on Monday after what Mandigo called a lackluster performance on Sunday. The Cardinals dominated the first 30 minutes, during which they out-shot the Panthers, 25-5. Then the Panthers came on strong, linking up better and using their quickness to disrupt Plattsburgh. They outshot the Cardinals the rest of the way, 14-10.
“I thought we played better today in the last half of the game,” Mandigo said. “I think the first half of the game we kind of were looking around to people to lead us, to be the real leaders out there. I think it’s a process. Hopefully we’ll get better as we go along, and in the last half of the game we played pretty well.”
The Cardinals controlled the first half hour, and Wright (31 saves) did well to keep the score in check. But she couldn’t stop Steph Moberg’s point-blank backhander at 11:33 of the first period, a shot set up by a feed from Kate Fairchild from behind the net.
Plattsburgh continued to win almost every 50-50 battle, get to loose pucks first and pick off Panther passes. The constant pressure forced two Middlebury penalties, and good work by senior forward Ashley Bairos, junior forward Anna McNally and sophomore back Maria Bourdeau helped kill them off.
It was more of the same for the first 10 minutes of the second period, and Wright made big saves on Brittany Meade, Mackenzie Lee and Megan DiJulio.
Then, with 8:40 gone the Panthers put a shot on goal from the left point. Junior forward Nora Bergman pounced on the rebound, and Cardinal goalie Mandy Mackrell (18 saves) had to flash her left pad to preserve her teams’ one-goal lead.
Suddenly, the Panthers sprang to life. Sophomore forward Jamie Harisiades beat the Cardinals to a puck behind Mackrell and drew a penalty, and on the ensuing power play Mackrell had to stop a screened shot from freshman back Heather Marrison and protect the rebound from freshman forward Lauren Greer.
Moments later, sophomore forward Maggie Melberg’s hustle forced another Cardinal penalty, although Moberg helped kill it off.
Late in the period, Mackrell stopped junior defender Andrea Buono’s deflected shot from the center point and knocked the rebound away from Harisiades.
Finally, the Panthers equalized on a third-period power play. At 6:52, freshman Madison Styrbicki shot on net from the left point, and junior forward Julia Ireland tipped it home.
The Panthers’ forechecking bottled up the Cardinals for most of the period, although Wright had to stop Moberg at 14:35 after she stole the puck at center ice and broke in alone.
The game-winner came on a power play whistled seconds after officials missed a Cardinal hand pass. At 16:29, DiJulio tipped in Erika Shaubel’s waist-high shot from the center point.
With 1:31 to go, Mandigo pulled his goalie when the Panthers won a faceoff in the Cardinal end. Melberg nearly tipped in a Marrison shot, but soon afterward DiJulio and Meade tacked on empty-netters for the final score.
On Sunday, Caitlin Metcalf’s OT goal, her second of the game, gave Elmira the victory over Middlebury. Bairos, from McNally and Bergman, scored the Panthers’ first goal. Styrbicki, who was named to the all-tournament team, tied the game in the third period, with assists going to Greer and Melberg. Bloom made 20 saves for the Panthers, and Lauren Sullivan stopped 19 shots for 9-3 Elmira.
Mandigo said he hopes his young Panthers will learn from their strong finish on Monday what it takes for them to realize their potential and compete against top-level teams.
“I think there’s a little bit here, and I hope we can build on it and get better,” he said. “Hopefully this will give them a little bit of encouragement.”