PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — For the fourth consecutive year, the Middlebury Panthers are headed back to the NCAA Championship game. The Panthers cemented their spot in tomorrow night’s game with a 5-1 victory over Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“The kids played well, they played hard. The goal was to play the late game tomorrow night and we’re doing that,” said Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo.
The Panthers’ offense was too much for the defensive-minded Pointers to overcome as five different players found the back of the net for three-time defending NCAA champions.
With 6:48 left in the first period, Karen Levin took an Annmarie Cellino pass in the right faceoff circle and zipped it through Pointer goaltender Amy Statz to put the Panthers on the board. Levin took Cellino’s pass and fired it on net, squeezing it through a hole under Statz’s blocker arm into the back of the net. The power-play goal gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in a period where the play was even between the two squads. The Pointers held an 11-8 shot advantage after one.
“Getting that first goal sometimes is just so relaxing for our team,” Mandigo said.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to double their lead. Just 1:11 into the second period, Ellen Sargent blasted the puck from the blueline. The puck soared lowly along the ice, tucking itself tightly inside the left post avoiding the skate of Statz. The two-goal lead gave the Panthers the momentum for the rest of the period as they held a 13-8 shot advantage over Pointers.
The penalty box doors also got a strenuous workout in the second stanza. Penalties, against both teams, were called fast and furiously as the period went on. The Pointers were whistled for six penalties for 12 minutes in the period while the Panthers totaled four infractions for 8 minutes.
Pointer coach Ann Ninnemann said that penalties have been a problem for the Pointers this season: “It’s always a battle for us; it does affect the flow of the game.”
Trailing by two goals entering the third period, the Pointers we’re determined not to quit, but the penalties proved to be costly.
“Regardless of the score, we’re not going to quit. We’re a 5-on-5 hockey team — that’s how we like to play,” said Pointer defenseman Chris Hanson.
In the third period, Middlebury struck shortly after the intermission, once again. This time it was Molly Vitt giving her team a three-goal lead and deflating an aggressive Pointer team. Vitt’s backhander from just outside the crease, 1:25 into the third period, trickled slowly between the legs of Statz.
Shortly thereafter, All-American Abby Kurtz-Phelan got into the mix. The senior took a Karen Levin pass just outside the crease and buried it past Statz to give Middlebury a 4-0 lead.
The Pointers eventually got on the scoreboard when Katy Lankey, shadowed by a Panther defender, went in on a shorthanded breakaway and tucked her own rebound over the shoulder of Middlebury goalie, Lani Wright.
However, that was all the Pointers could put together as the Panthers skated on to the 5-1 win with the help of a Shannon Sylvester empty-net goal.
“Not to take any credit away from Middlebury, but definitely we weren’t 100 percent today,” said Hanson.
The loss was especially tough on the seniors for the Pointers, who fell short in the semifinals for the second year in a row.
“This year really sucks,” Statz said. “We don’t get that chance again.”
The same can’t be said for the Panthers, however. Their seniors will look to capture their fourth title in as many years tomorrow night against the winner of tonight’s game between Amherst and Plattsburgh.