MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College women’s hockey coach Bill Mandigo said after Saturday’s home game vs. Williams he didn’t believe his team had played its best.
But the Ephs might need a little convincing: The Panthers outshot Williams, 33-10, in a 3-0 win that ended their first semester. Middlebury, ranked No. 7 in the most recent NCAA Division III poll, improved to 6-0, 5-0 NESCAC, while the Ephs fell to 1-4 overall and in the league.
Mandigo’s main gripe on Saturday was the Panthers didn’t work hard enough in front of Eph goalie Cat Tremble (30 saves). In their six wins — none against top-10 opposition — they have scored exactly three goals five times and five goals once, and Mandigo wants to see more offensive oomph.
Although the Panthers won most of Saturday’s battles for the puck, they weren’t necessarily winning them “in the important areas,” he said.
“I didn’t think we battled hard enough in front of the net to win pucks,” he said. “We get those shots, and those choice, juicy rebounds are sitting there, and we got to get them, and someone’s lifting our stick, or they want the puck a little more than we do. So we’ve got to find people who want to do that, who want to battle.”
Mandigo is also finding plenty to like this season. He agreed with an observer’s assessment that this year’s Panthers may offer more depth and skate more crisply than recent editions.
“I actually think we’re better. We’re faster, and we have better hockey players,” Mandigo said.
And he isn’t complaining about a goalie — senior Lexi Bloom — who has given up four goals in five games. In part, he said, those stats are due to a defense that includes sophomores Madison Styrbicki and Heather Marrison, senior Andrea Buono and junior McKenzie Stevens, all of whom played well vs. Williams.
“Lexi’s been outstanding,” Mandigo said. “And I think we’re better defensively.”
He was also willing to cut the Panthers a little slack because schoolwork mounts in early December.
“The last week of classes is always a tough week to play,” Mandigo said. “This week academics ... take a little bit more of a priority.”
Regardless of how anyone assessed the Panthers on Saturday, the Ephs could not match them. Middlebury outshot them by 13-3 in the first period and took a 1-0 lead. Marrison scored the goal at 6:39 on the power play. Heidi Woodworth won a faceoff to Marrison at the left point, and she skated to the middle of the ice and beat Tremble with a screened shot into the far corner.
Tremble denied bids by Panther forwards Julia Ireland, Madeline Joyce, Maggie Woodward and Woodworth to keep it a one-goal game after one. Bloom was tested once, stopping Eph Nicolle Perry from the slot on a power-play rush.
The Panthers made it 2-0 at 10:57 of the second. Stevens blocked a shot in the Panther end, and sent the puck up to Marrison, who went in two-on-one into the Eph zone with Woodward. Woodward’s shot from the right-wing circle deflected in off a defender behind Tremble.
The Panthers had more great chances: Anna McNally and Sara Ugalde made bids, and Tremble denied Buono’s screened shot from the left point.
Bloom made the best of her 10 saves late in the period, sliding across to the left post to make a pad stop on Sam Weinstein on a cross-crease pass, and coming out several feet to deny Jacqueline Berglass on a pass from the point.
After Ugalde fired wide and Tremble stoned Nora Bergman from close range in the third, the Panthers tacked on the final goal at 11:55. After Tremble made a point-blank stop on Joyce, the Panthers controlled the rebound and sent it back out front. The puck deflected off a defender, and Marrison picked it up and wristed home a 15-footer.
Tougher challenges await. The Panthers return to action at the Panther-Cardinal Classic in Plattsburgh on Jan. 2 and 3. Middlebury meets No. 10 Elmira and PSU meets No. 3 Amherst on the 2nd, and the consolation and final will be played on the 3rd.
In the long run, Mandigo likes the Panthers’ chances this winter.
“I think they work hard. There’s good leadership. There’s a lot of promise with this group,” he said. “We’ll see how far they can go.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.