PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Inspired by the return of national AHCA Player of the Year Emily Quizon, Middlebury kept hopes for a three-peat alive on Friday.
The Panthers (26-2) scored twice in the second period and held off a determined effort by Gustavus Adolphus (22-4-2) for a 2-1 win and a spot in the NCAA D-III final. Quizon provided the game’s critical first goal, and Middlebury goalie Kate Kogut made 25 saves, including 12 on 12 shots in the first period.
Quizon was playing her first game since injuring her right knee in the NESCAC final. There was a tense moment early in the game when she dove in front of a slapshot at the right point and took the shot off her injured knee. She stayed on the ice as the trainer hurried out, but she skated off and continued to play. It seemed Quizon did not have her lightning like first step, but she played with typical abandon.
“I need to be confident in what my trainer can do — if they think I can play, I’ll play,” she said. “You’re going to have to kill me to stop me from playing.”
Middlebury struck first at 6:45 of the second period when Karen Levin grabbed a loose puck and flipped it ahead to Quizon, who broke in alone.
“I was going off the ice for a change, when the puck was flipped out of our zone, so I waited for it to be onside,” Quizon said. “I recognized the goalie was pulled out of the net, so it was best to go around her. I faked the shot, waited for her to go down and found the opening in the five hole.”
Middlebury extended the lead to 2-0 at 17:09 just as a power play was ending. Annmarie Cellino broke hard down the right wing and drew the Gustavus defense before sliding a nice pass across to the top of the crease. Shannon Sylvester provided the one-timer finish by beating Gustavus goalie Kitty Hurley to her stickside.
“It was the end of a powerplay, and I was a little tired,” Sylvester said. “Cellino took it into the zone and I had a great pass, I just knew I had to get my stick on it for it to go in, and I did.”
“Middlebury has some kids that are really good with their hands, pretty good at head-manning the puck in transition,” said Gustavus coach Mike Carroll said:
Gustavus finally broke through with a five-on-three power play goal at 12:42 of the third period. Andrea Petersen faked a shot from the right point and fed the puck up to Margaret Dorer lower on the right wing. Petersen broke for the net, but Dorer slipped a pass across the front of the net to Kelly Crandall for a one-timer past Kogut.
Gustavus mounted serious pressure in the final minutes, pulling its goalie with 1:35 remaining. Gustavus got several chances close to Kogut but could not find the game-tying goal.
The game might have had an entirely outcome had Kogut not hung early as Gustavus outshot Middlebury 12-4 in the first period.
“We weathered the storm,” said Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo. “We knew they would come out and be aggressive and hungry. Getting through the first scoreless was a big plus for us.”
Among the first period highlights for Kogut — she robbed Gustavus’ Margaret Dorer with a beautiful kick save with her right pad on a slapshot from the left point. She made several saves from in close on Gustavus’ first power play of the game.
“I was worked in the first period, and it was to my advantage,” Kogut said. “I had a lot of shots and saved them all. It definitely makes me a lot more confident. I knew my team would go out and score some goals.”
Middlebury next plays No. 1 seed and host Plattsburgh. The Cardinals beat the Panthers 4-1 this season, but only Middlebury is the two-time defending NCAA champion.
“This is why we work so hard at the beginning of the season,” Quizon said. “The preparation is totally worth it to get here. It is an exciting feeling.”