MIDDLEBURY — In the 2011-2012 season the Middlebury College women’s hockey team posted a 21-4-3 season that included a NESCAC title and an NCAA Division III tournament appearance and started with 3-2 and 6-0 wins over Colby.
This past Friday and Saturday at Kenyon Arena, Middlebury opened with 3-2 and 5-1 wins over the White Mules.
Those results don’t necessarily mean the Panthers will roll to another 20-win season, said senior defender and captain Heather Marrison, who assisted Friday’s late game-winner and Saturday’s third goal.
But they are still confident after the weekend sweep, said Marrison, part of a defensive corps that allowed Colby only 26 total shots on goal in the two games.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it was a good way to start,” she said after Saturday’s game. “Today we put a few more pucks in the net than yesterday. It’s good to get going, and I think we have a good year ahead of us.”
Marrison noted that about as many freshmen (four on Saturday) as seniors (she is one of five) are already playing important roles on a balanced team.
“Our talent is pretty distributed, freshmen through seniors are all contributing,” she said.
That balance showed this past weekend: Seven Panthers scored, and nine picked up assists.
And Coach Bill Mandigo said the Panthers were not at full strength. Two more freshmen he expects to contribute, forward Anna Van Kula and defender Katy Kim, are hurt. Van Kula is expected back this weekend, when the Panthers host fellow D-III powers Amherst, Elmira and Plattsburgh, and play Elmira on Saturday and Plattsburgh on Sunday.
“We think we’ve got some pretty good first-year players who will help us,” Mandigo said.
After the Colby games, Mandigo said the Panthers have to improve on working the puck out of their own end and moving without the puck to give puck-carriers more options.
“We’ve practiced 12 or 13 times,” Mandigo said. “Now we’ll go back and figure out the things we need to improve on. The kids will work hard … They know they’ve got to get better.”
Still, a lot went right on this past Friday and Saturday. On Friday, they outshot Colby, 40-12, in the 3-2 win. But Colby led after one period, 1-0, despite being outshot, 13-3. The Mules’ Samantha Slot nick deflected Maddie Dewhirst’s pass past Panther goalie Annabelle Jones at 10:10.
Middlebury tied the game in the second period with a five-on-three power play goal. Colby goalie Brianna Wheeler (37 saves) stopped senior defender Madison Styrbicki’s blast from the slot, but Hannah Bielawski pounced on the rebound to tie the game at 5:21. Colby had a chance at 2:00, but Jones (10 saves) denied a Megan Fortier breakaway.
Middlebury took the lead 3:21 into the third period when Emily Fluke finished after taking a pass from the left wing from freshman Katie Mandigo, coach Mandigo’s daughter. Colby tied the game with 3:38 to go, when Meredith Reynolds banked the puck in off Jones.
The Panthers answered 38 seconds later. After a Colby turnover, Madeline Joyce carried the puck in on the left wing and beat Wheeler far side.
Saturday’s first period had a different feel, as Colby played Middlebury on even terms and the shots favored the Panthers by just 7-6. But Middlebury led after one, 2-0.
After one Colby shot sailed just high, the Panthers earned a power play. As it wound down the Mules could not clear a shot from the right point, and the Panthers converted in the scramble that followed. Wheeler stopped Jennifer Krakower, but Bielawski stuffed the rebound inside the left post at 8:18, a second after the power play expired.
Four minutes later, Panther goalie Laura Pinsent (13 saves) stopped Breanna Davis on a partial breakaway. Shortly after that, Panther Sara Ugalde won a faceoff in the Colby end Molly Downey, to the left of the goal, shot, and the puck bounced back to Ugalde cutting in, and she put it away at 13:07.
The Mules had a power play early in the second period, but defense by forwards Emily Fluke and Katie Sullivan as well as Marrison prevented any real threats. Freshman defender Julia Wardwell also made a nice defensive play early in the period.
At about 10 minutes of the period the shots stood at 9-9. The Panthers then outshot the Mules, 18-5, the rest of the way for a final 27-14 edge.
At 9:56, the Panthers got their third goal. Senior forward Maggie Woodward set up behind the net and fed Marrison cutting in from the right point. Wheeler stopped Marrison’s 15-footer, but freshman Carly Schaeder tucked the rebound inside the left post for her first as a Panther.
Late in the period, Bielawski stole the puck at center ice, skated to the left-wing circle, and centered to Sullivan for the conversion with 16 seconds to go.
Senior Lauren Greer made it 5-0 at 4:34 of the third; her shot from high in the left-wing circle bounced in off Wheeler’s pads.
That play ended Wheeler’s night with 12 saves. Angelica Crites entered and made 10 saves, including robbing Ugalde twice in the final 1:30 and making another nice stop on Mackenzie Martin. Crites also got help from the crossbar on Laura McConney’s 25-footer.
Colby scored at 10:43, when Annie Papadellis finished after taking a behind-the-net feed from Lauren Guarente.
Mandigo said the Panthers might have played better on Friday, but liked the “gritty goals” they scored on Saturday.
“They battled a little harder in front of the net for rebounds,” he said.
As for the big picture?
“We’ll continue to get better and work at it and see where we are in February. So much of it is team chemistry and the injury bug,” Mandigo said. “But I think they’re a pretty good group.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.