Middlebury Women’s Hockey Falls in NESCAC Title Game, Will Host NCAA Quarterfinal

(L-R): Anna Van Kula (22) and Katie Sullivan (20) battle with a Trinity player during Sunday's NESCAC Championship game. (photo courtesy of Will Costello)
(L-R): Anna Van Kula (22) and Katie Sullivan (20) battle with a Trinity player during Sunday's NESCAC Championship game. (photo courtesy of Will Costello)

The third-ranked Middlebury women’s hockey team advanced to the NESCAC Tournament championship game before falling by a 3-2 score in overtime to 10th-ranked Trinity on Sunday in Kenyon Arena. The Panthers, the league’s top seed, made their way to the final via a 4-2 victory Saturday over fifth-seeded Bowdoin, 4-2. Middlebury gained an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament and will host fifth-ranked Norwich in a quarterfinal game next Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

In Saturday’s semifinal win, Middlebury senior Emily Fluke (Bourne, Mass.) scored two goals to lead the top-seeded Panthers in the win. In the first period off a faceoff with 8:20 left, junior Katie Mandigo (Cornwall, Vt.) looked to put the hosts on the board. She laced a lefthanded shot that Bowdoin goalie Lan Crofton slid to her right and kicked away with her pad. A little more than eight minutes later at 16:33 with Middlebury on the powerplay, senior Hannah Bielawski (Evanston, Ill.) ripped a shot from the right point that found the back of the net on stick-to-stick passes across the blue line from sophomore Carly Watson (Montpelier, Vt.) and rookie Jessica Young (Mission Hills, Kan.).

At 4:15 of the middle period, Fluke doubled the Panther lead. Rookie Janka Hlinka (Stratford, Conn.) won the puck behind the Polar Bear goal, fed a nifty pass to Young who flew by her. Young centered a pass on the doorstep to Fluke, who one-timed the puck into the upper portion of the net. For the period, the Panthers held a 12-4 edge in shots on goal.

In the third period, the teams traded goals with Middlebury scoring first and Bowdoin quickly answering. Rookie Elizabeth Wulf (Larchmont, N.Y.) put the Panthers ahead by a 3-0 count at 5:54 with a quick wrister from just inside the right dot. Just 27 seconds later, Bowdoin cut the deficit to 3-1 when Colleen Finnerty collected a rebound on the doorstep and scored off a shot from the left side by Schuyler Nardelli.

At the 9:01 mark of the period, Fluke scored her second of the game. Watson laced a shot from the left point which was saved. Crofton was unsure where the puck ended up on the rebound, and Fluke pounced on it and tapped it in. A little under a minute later, Bowdoin's Miranda Bell scored the Polar Bears' second tally of the game when she jumped on a rebound following a shot in transition from Chelsea MacNeil.

With both sides trading scoring chances in the final minutes, Bowdoin pulled Crofton with 1:42 remaining but weren't able to pull any closer as the hosts advanced to Sunday's championship game for the 10th time in conference tournament history.

For the contest, Middlebury held a 29-21 advantage in shots as Panther senior goalie Madeline Marsh (Kanata, Ont.) tallied 19 saves for the win, while Crofton was credited with 25 stops.

With her goal and assist in Saturday’s game, Bielawski has now amassed 97 career points with 27 goals and 70 assists.

During Sunday’s championship game, Trinity’s Cheeky Herr scored 54 seconds into overtime, leading the third-seeded Bantams to their first NESCAC Championship with a 3-2 overtime victory over top seed Middlebury.

Trinity appeared in its second title game overall and for the first time since 2010, while Middlebury participated in its 10th championship contest. The Panthers suffer their first overtime loss this season (4-1-3) in eight games.

In the first period, Trinity's Lucy Robinson looked to get the Bantams on the scoreboard 1:25 into the game, but missed wide on an open Middlebury net. With Trinity keeping the offensive pressure up, Herr put the Bantams on the scoreboard at 2:58. She skated in on the left side and wristed a shot that deflected off a player and caromed into the short side of the net for the 1-0 lead.

The Panthers had a pair of five-on-three opportunities minutes later which lasted 24 and 49 seconds but couldn't net the equalizer. Middlebury had a great opportunity to score again following a turnover at the Trinity blueline. Rookie Maddie Winslow (Manchester, Vt.) skated to the loose puck and fed Young at the 11:09 mark, but Young's shot from the left side missed wide.

A little more than two minutes later, Trinity doubled its lead at 13:13. Off a faceoff in its offensive zone, Delaney Harrop threw a shot from the right point that Marsh saved, and Robinson fired another quick shot that Marsh padded away. Keeping the pressure up, Emma Tani put home a rebound on the right side from just outside the crease. In the period, Middlebury held an 18-12 advantage in shots on goal.

Early in the second period and shorthanded, Robinson skated in and looked to make it 3-0 in favor of Trinity, but Marsh stymed her with a pad save on the breakaway. A little more than two minutes later, Wulf cut the Panther deficit in half at 4:21 with her sixth of the season. Winslow won the puck along the boards and sent a pass to Mandigo. She muscled her way into the middle of the ice and sent a knuckling shot that was tipped in by Wulf. With a little more than four minutes left in the period, Robinson broke in and made a quick feed to Tani but Marsh made a pad save, keeping it a 2-1 game.

In the third period with the Panthers on the powerplay, Winslow tied the game at 2-2 with 3:41 elapsed. Bielawski laced a shot from the right point that was saved. Watson collected the rebounding puck in front and poked it toward Winslow, who forced the puck into the net on a scramble in front of the crease. The goal was Winslow's 10th of her rookie season.

A little less than three minutes later, Trinity goalie Sydney Belinskas kept the score at 2-2 with a sprawling save to right on a backhanded shot by senior Katie Sullivan (Bethesda, Md.). Over the final minutes of the period, the action was back and forth with each team having scoring chances, but neither could tally the game-winner.

During the overtime period, Trinity's Shelby Labe intercepted an errant pass near the blueline. She sent a pass toward the Panther goal that Herr tipped up and over the outstretched glove of Marsh for the game-winning tally. The goal was Herr's second of the game and gives her 19 for the season.

For the contest, Middlebury held a 44-22 advantage in shots as Marsh tallied 19 saves in the setback, while Belinskas was credited with 42 stops. The Panthers were 1-6 with the extra skater on the ice, while the Bantams didn't score in their one opportunity.

• Women’s hockey record: 20-4-3
• Up next: 3/14 vs. Norwich – 7:00 (NCAA Quarterfinal)