Middlebury edges Williams, 3-2

Caitlin Conlon '16
Caitlin Conlon '16

MIDDLEBURY, VT – The Williams College women's hockey team traveled to Kenyan Arena Friday night for a crucial conference match up against top ranked NESCAC team Middlebury College. The Panthers were looking to clinch the top NESCAC seed with a tie or win tonight, while the Ephs were looking to deal Middlebury their first conference loss.

Despite coming off a loss this week to number 1 ranked Plattsburgh State, the Panthers were able to find the winning column tonight, edging Williams in a hard fought battle, 3-2. The win improves Middlebury's record to 17-2-3 (12-0-3 NESCAC), their only losses coming from the Plattsburgh Cardinals. The Ephs, who sit at second place in the NESCAC, now hold a record of 11-8-2 (8-3-2 NESCAC).

The opening frame featured aggressive play and solid goaltending from both sides. While the Panther and Eph offenses were each able to generate quality goal scoring opportunities, Annabelle Jones (Homer, NY) and Charlie Billadeau (Chaska, MN) came up with impressive saves to keep the contest scoreless. 

Jones and Billadeau continued to remain solid between the pipes for the duration of the opener, and Middlebury and Williams would skate into the locker room with nine shots apiece. 

The game remained knotted up at 0 until 6:01, when Middlebury struck first to take a 1-0 lead. On the 2-on-1, Michaela Thibault (Colchester, VT) took a high wrist shot that went over the shoulder of Billadeau and found the back of the net. The unassisted tally was her first career goal.

Undeterred, the Ephs responded with an equalizer on their first shot of the period. It all began with the first penalty of the evening, which gave the Ephs a powerplay opportunity with 9:11 remaining. They wasted little time, and registered the equalizer just eight seconds into the extra skater advantage. The Ephs won the draw, allowing the offense to set up and for freshman Hanna Beattie (Whitehouse Station, NJ) to rip a shot. Senior co-captain Gabby Vukasin (Princeton, NJ) tipped it past Jones to earn her 6th goal of the season. Caitlin Conlon (Sudbury, MA) also collected an assist on the play.

It looked as if the period would conclude even at 1. However, with under a minute to go, the Panthers notched their second goal of the night. On the 2-on-1, Katie Sullivan (Bethesda, MD) skated with it on the far side and took a shot. After Billadeau made the save, the puck popped out in the crease, where Hannah Bielawski (Evanston, IL) was waiting to send it home. Bielawski's lead goal came with 42 seconds remaining in the frame, giving Middlebury a slight 2-1 lead headed into the intermission. Katie Mandigo (Cornwall, VT) also aided on the play. 

The Ephs struck first in the final frame at 3:54, when the second Middlebury penalty proved to be just as costly as the first. With 12 seconds to go on the powerplay, Conlon set up Beattie, who beat Jones off a shot from the point. It was Conlon's second assist of the night, and the 9th season goal for first year, Beattie.

"I thought we did a great job of coming right back from their second goal and putting the pressure on them in the third," stated head coach Meghan Gillis. "By moving our feet and working hard, we were able to draw another penalty, and then we capitalized on the powerplay."

The Ephs became two for two on the powerplay with Beattie's goal, despite facing the best penalty kill unit in the conference. None of the NESCAC teams combined have been able to score two powerplay goals against the Panthers this season. 

After going 50 minutes without a penalty, the Ephs faced back-to-back penalties late in the contest, giving the Panthers their first look at a man-up situation. Williams killed the first, but the Panthers cashed in on the second powerplay chance off of a one-timer from Jennifer Krakower (Montreal, QC). Set up by Carly Watson (Montpelier, VT) and Sara Ugalde (Burlington, CT), Krakower's goal put Middlebury ahead 3-2 lead with 2:45 in regulation.

The game was far from over, as two Middlebury penalties gave the Ephs a golden opportunity to tie it up again late in the contest. Pulling Billadeau gave the Ephs a 6-on-3 situation for 42 seconds and several game tying shots, but Jones was resilient in net, allowing her team to hang onto their 3-2 lead as the buzzer sounded. 

Jones concluded the evening with 27 saves, while Billadeau turned away 23 bids.

"There were a lot of good things we did today, and to compete that well against the number two ranked team in the country is great. It really shows where we can play when we work as a team, so we're going to keep building on that for tomorrow's game," commented Gillis.

Williams has a chance to avenge tonight's loss and earn a split on the weekend tomorrow night at Lansing Chapman Rink. The puck drops at 7pm.
 
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