After their heart stopping semifinal victory, Elmira coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson said, “If you enjoyed today, tomorrow will be better.”
He was right.
In a national championship game for the ages, Middlebury College came from behind in the third period and held off a furious attack to defeat Elmira College, 4-3, and win a second consecutive NCAA title.
With 24 seconds left, the game hung on national player of the year, Laura Hurd. After intercepting a bad clearing attempt by Middlebury, Hurd found herself alone in the slot area. She only had her backhander to use, and fired the puck up high, seemingly beating Kate Kogut.
However, the shot was just off, sailing away from the net.
“A little wide,” Hurd described the shot. “I wouldn’t say I was expecting it to go in.”
Don’t tell that to Middlebury coach, Bill Mandigo, who had the perfect angle of the shot from the bench.
“She is a great player,” Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo said of Hurd. “I’m sure I’m as surprised as she is that it didn’t go in.”
The game turned around for Middlebury in the third period. The Panthers turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead as Emily Quizon’s two goals were sandwiched around a Gloria Velez score.
Quizon’s first goal came just 51 seconds into the period on the power play. With time and space at the right side of the net, she found an opening on the far side, and snuck it just inside the post. Goalie Edith Racine overplayed hugging the near post and didn’t cut down the angle properly.
“Going into the locker room after the second period having the power play, we knew we had to take advantage of it,” Quizon said. “That power play goal really helped us.”
Middlebury took a 3-2 lead on Velez’s goal at 6:20 thanks to sheer determination. Her initial shot was stopped, but she put the puck in while falling to the ice.
“All of a sudden I was on the ground, and I saw the light on, and I was flapping my arms,” Velez said. “I just kind of whacked at it.”
Just 1:37 later, the Panthers scored the all-important insurance goal.
Quizon took a pass on a quick rush and ripped a low slapshot that easily beat Racine just inside the post.
“One of the things we talked about coming in this afternoon is that our speed was going to be a factor,” Mandigo said.
“Just get it to the net,” Quizon said of the goal. “No strategy.”
After an Elmira timeout, the Soaring Eagles comeback attempt was in full force. The Panthers strategy of keeping their defensemen back allowed Elmira to start applying some pressure.
It finally paid off with five minutes left in the game, when Charissa Gawant somehow found the net through a crowd, but Elmira could not narrow the deficit any further. The defeat marked the end for the program’s inaugural senior class which won the first two NCAA D-III titles.
“They have just been unbelievable for four years,” a tearful Nemetz-Carlson said about his players. “That was a great game. Middlebury took advantage of their opportunities.”
Long after the game was over with many players having left the ice after the celebrations, Laura Hurd and Edith Racine went over to one of the nets, and reenacted that last second backhander shot that could have tied the game. This time, Hurd put it in.
“The people in this room here are some of the best college hockey players who will ever put on this jersey,” Nemetz-Carlson said. “Isn’t as fun as yesterday, but I can’t say I’m any less proud. I haven’t been here the whole time, but I may be the biggest fan.”
The game seemed promising for the hosts when they drew first blood on the power play at 7:06 of the first period. Gawant netted the goal as she skated around the net and back out front, turned and shot. Kogut had trouble handling the puck, fell on her back hoping to cover it up, but it was too late as it already made its way across the line.
Middlebury outshot Elmira in the opening period, 10-5, but couldn’t get the bounces past Racine. The frustration ended just 52 seconds into the second period, however. A flurry in front of the net with lots of sticks swinging at the black disc eventually resulted in the puck crossing the line. Emily McNamara was credited with the goal.
After the lull in play that followed the Middlebury goal, Elmira took control with three minutes left in the second period. Laura Hurd did her magic, taking a pass from Stacey Calic at center ice and breaking into the Middlebury zone down the right side with one defender back. Hurd raced down, cut to the left to shake the defender off, and flipped a backhander past Kogut for the go-ahead goal.
“Palmer gave me a great pass off to the side,” Hurd said. “We broke it out and I think one of the D must have pinched because we had the wide open lane. I saw the girl come really hard, so I made a move on her and tried the backhand which sometimes works. It worked that time, but not later on.”
The period ended with Elmira up 2-1, but Middlebury was on the power play entering the third period, setting the stages for Quizon’s comeback heroics.
“Believe it or not, it’s as if we never won it before,” Quizon said. “I don’t really know what to say. It’s a brand new feeling every year.”
Last year, Gloria Velez’s family went to the men’s championship game because her brother was a senior, figuring that Gloria had a few more years left. They were right.
“They are right here today!” she said. “They are very excited.”