ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Middlebury Panthers defeated the St. Mary’s Cardinals, 3-1, at the ESL Centre in Rochester, N.Y., in the first semifinal game of the AWCHA Division III championship Friday. The win moved Middlebury into the title game Saturday night against Gustavus Adolphus, a victor over Williams in the other semi.
Looking at shots on goal (44-12 in favor of Middlebury), territorial advantage (overwhelmingly in favor of Middlebury), and puck possession (also strongly on Middlebury’s side), one would logically conclude this game was a blowout.
St. Mary’s did what it wanted to do, preventing Middlebury from getting quality scoring chances.
“A big part of our game is defense,” St. Mary’s coach Duncan Ryhorchuk said. “We want to eliminate good scoring chances, and then take advantage of our chances to score.”
That worked well through two periods of play, which ended 0-0 and 1-1, respectively. A lot of that was due not just to St. Mary’s defensive strategy, but to the outstanding play of goaltender Missie Meemken.
“First period, she kept us in the game,” Ryhorchuk said.
Middlebury finally broke the ice on a power-play goal 6:26 in the second. Michelle Labbe had the puck behind the net, and she found Angela Kapus unmarked off to the side of the slot. Kapus one-timed a wrister past Meemken on the near side.
St. Mary’s continued its strategy, and it paid off late in the period at the 17:09 mark. Emily Kearns dug the puck out of the corner and passed it up high to Tennie McCabe, just out from a line change. McCabe skated it into the slot area and beat Megan Hutchinson on the glove side.
“We didn’t want the second period to end,” Ryhorchuk said. “We were really coming on. They got to regroup and came out strong in the third.”
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to score. Labbe, just one day removed from being named the American Hockey Coaches Association’s D-III Women’s Player of the Year, got the game-winner. The assists went to Amber Neil and Audrey Pellerin.
Said Labbe, “St. Mary’s defense did a good job. They were physical, tough to fight with in front of the net.”
Erin Neil got the insurance goal at 9:03 on the power play. Labbe and Catherine Elkins got the assists. It appeared that Meemken had the shot, but it found its way in.
“I thought I had it,” Meemken said of the goal. “I knew it was under me, but I didn’t know where.”
“It’s tough enough playing Middlebury five-on-five, but when you give them enough power plays, they will hurt you,” Ryhorchuk said.
St. Mary’s will look to rebound tomorrow in the consolation game at 4:00 p.m. Their goal, according to their coach, is to “play to the best of our ability. Enjoy ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Middlebury prepares to play for a second consecutive championship, so expect another tough battle in the 7:30 p.m. game Saturday.
Just ask Ryhorchuk.
“Middlebury still deserves to be number one until somebody knocks them off,” he said. “However, I don’t think the difference between them and others is there anymore.”