MIDDLEBURY — A quarterfinal upset on Saturday ended the Middlebury College women’s hockey hopes for the NESCAC playoff championship and the league’s automatic NCAA Division III tournament bid, but the Panthers could still earn an at-large bid to the national championships on Monday.
Despite being outshot by 40-20, No. 8 Connecticut College stunned the top-seeded Panthers on March 1, 2-1, in overtime. At 17-4-4, the Panthers, whose only other losses have come to No. 1 Plattsburgh (twice) and No. 3 Norwich, now must wait and hope things break their way this weekend.
“It’s just a question of how it works out,” said Coach Bill Mandigo after the game.
The Panthers are now rooting for rivals Plattsburgh and Norwich. If the Cardinals or Cadets are upset in their league finals this weekend, they, not Middlebury, would almost certainly be first in line for the few available at-large bids.
However, if Plattsburgh and Norwich win their leagues, Middlebury would be in good position as the third strongest Eastern team this winter, Mandigo said, especially considering the Panthers have defeated the fourth Eastern power, Elmira, twice.
“We’re third in the East, so if the chips fall the way they should, if Plattsburgh wins their championship, then Elmira, they’re still behind us,” Mandigo said.
Of course, the Panthers could have removed the uncertainty by winning this past weekend and then winning the semifinal and final at home this weekend. Those prospects seemed realistic given that the Panthers were unbeaten in league play this winter (12-0-4) until Saturday.
But the Panthers could not capitalize on their chances, including failing to score on nine power plays, during two of which they skated five-on-three.
“We had chances to score. We didn’t put it in. That’s the way it goes sometimes. It’s a bounce. We had penalties to our advantage and we didn’t score on our power play,” Mandigo said. “We outshot them, 2-1, and those kids who had the jersey on today, they battled, they played hard, and I’m proud of them.”
Mandigo was less happy with two who did not suit up, leading scorers Emily Fluke and Katie Sullivan. He benched them on Saturday after an unspecified incident.
“We left 50 points in the stands today because, let’s just say coach’s decisions not to play them,” Mandigo said. “That’s the way it goes. Those kids in there who played, I have nothing but admiration for them, nothing but positive things to say about them. They worked their tails off. We just didn’t put it in.”
The 10-11-3 Camels, who also took Middlebury into overtime once during the regular season, took the lead 6:10 into the game. Stephanie Izzi shot from the right point through traffic, and screened Panther goalie Annabelle Jones (18 saves) couldn’t hang onto the rebound, which Ashley Anctil poked home.
Shortly afterward, Panther forward Madeline Joyce nearly tied the game, but Camel goalie Kelsie Fralick (39 saves) made the first of her many key stops, denying her partial breakaway.
“They’ve got a good goalie,” Mandigo said. “She’s outstanding, and she played hard.”
Soon after that, Julia Wardwell rang the crossbar from the right-wing circle. But despite the Panthers’ 9-5 edge in first-period shots (the Camels had none after their goal), the period ended at 1-0.
Middlebury equalized 31 seconds in the second, thanks to a Joyce goal. Jennifer Krakower sent Pam Schulman down the right side, and she centered to Joyce, who tipped the pass high into the far side.
But despite a 13-2 edge in second-period shots and three power plays, the Panthers could not take the lead. In the first power play, Fralick stopped Hannah Bielawski from the slot twice, Sara Ugalde from the left-wing circle, and Carly Watson and Krakower from the point.
In the second, Fralick stopped two deflected Krakower shots from the point and gloved a Katie Mandigo backhander from the slot. The third power play gave the Panthers a brief two-skater advantage, but Fralick again held the fort.
The pace slowed in the third, but the Panthers had two golden chances on a two-minute two-skater advantage that began at 6:36. Again, Fralick stopped them, stoning Ugalde from the left side and Krakower from the slot.
Shortly after that, Jones denied a wraparound bid and the Panther defense cleared the puck from the crease. At 11:25, the Panthers went back on the power play, and Fralick twice snared Ugalde tips of Watson drives and stopped a close-range Anna Van Kula backhand.
Jones made a couple nice saves on a late Camel power play to help force overtime, and early in overtime came up big twice early on, once on an Izzi backhand from the slot. Van Kula and Watson had bids, and then the Panthers earned yet another power play, and yet again came up empty.
Then, suddenly, it was over. Justina Germano won a face-off to Shelley Moore in the left-wing corner. Moore skated to the left dot and snapped a shot that Germano tipped past Jones for the game-winner.
And the Panthers were left waiting for help this weekend.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]