Williamstown, MA – For the first time since 2006, the Williams women's hockey team played in a NESCAC semifinal contest. By virtue of the top two seeds losing in the quarterfinal round, the 3rd seeded Ephs hosted 4th seeded Bowdoin, 7th seeded Colby, and Williams' opponent, the 8th seeded Connecticut College Camels, at Lansing Chapman Rink.
These two teams met on the final weekend of regular season play, with each team capturing a win apiece. Williams earned a spot in the semifinal through a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Trinity, while Connecticut College knocked off top-seeded Middlebury in overtime, 2-1.
It did not take long for Williams' top line to strike first. NESCAC Player of the Year Cristina Bravi took a backhanded chance from behind the net. Camels junior netminder Kelsie Fralick made the initial stop, but the rebound was lying in the crease behind a sprawling Fralick. Both first year Emily Krueger and sophomore Michaela Levine took whacks at the loose puck, and Levine finally punched it home at the 6:16 mark. Assists were credited to Bravi and Krueger.
After a bevy of chances to open the game, the Camels got a quality look with just over four minutes remaining in the period, but Williams junior goaltender Charlie Billadeau made a diving stop to keep the Ephs up one.
The Camels continued with solid forechecking, and with 1:06 remaining in the period, Eph first-year Chelsea Stevenson was whistled for a checking minor. The visitors could not get a good setup though, and the period ended with Williams holding a narrow 1-0 lead. Shots after one were 8-7 in favor of Connecticut College.
The Ephs killed off the remainder of Stevenson's minor to begin the second, and at 2:22 of the middle frame Camel junior Amelia Dineen was called for a two minute penalty of her own to send Williams on its first man advantage. Only Krueger could manage a shot on the powerplay, and just as the two teams returned to even strength, Williams went a player down when junior Gwen Schultz took a penalty at 4:25.
The pace quickened during this two minute stretch. Off the faceoff, the Camels got a quick shot on net and Billadeau could not control the rebound. A Camel was in perfect position on the doorstep, but she fired a wristshot off the post. Levine went the other way for Williams and found open ice on a breakaway, but Fralick denied her forehand backhand deke with the right pad. Connecticut College then caught Williams on a change going back toward Eph territory. Camel first year Stephanie Izzi streaked down the left wing and fired a shot earmarked for the top corner, but Billadeau got a shoulder on it to preserve the one goal lead.
The Camels continued their pressure through the middle of the period and forced the Ephs into another precarious situation. Eph senior captain Gabby Vukasin was a step behind on defense and took a tripping minor at 11:33 to send the visitors on their third man advantage of the game.
Williams killed off its third consecutive penalty successfully, and the middle frame ended 1-0 once more. Connecticut College maintained its edge in shots, leading 23-20 after two.
Williams opened the third period with numerous opportunities, and finally doubled its lead at 6:42. Fralick denied two shots from Schultz, and the Eph second line got the puck to Hadley DesMeules at the point. She fired a soft wrist shot from the point that got through traffic. Fralick couldn't control the rebound, and Stevenson buried the loose puck at 6:42. The assists were given assisted to Vukasin and DesMeules.
At 9:54, Camel freshman Ashley Anctil took an offensive zone tripping penalty. The Camels won the defensive-zone draw and got a quick shorthanded chance from leading scorer Courtney Dumont. She executed a good deke on the odd-man rush, but Billadeau was patient and made a glove save to deny the shorthanded bid. The Ephs put a couple quality chances towards Fralick, but Bravi was whistled at 11:33 for hooking to create a four on four skating situation.
Following a stifling penalty kill, the Ephs played tactical hockey to use the clock against their opponent. With 4:14 remaining, the Camels used their timeout hoping to jumpstart a comeback. Williams' Hanna Beattie – conference Rookie of the Year – took a penalty immediately after the ensuing faceoff. The Camels then pulled Fralick to go two players up for the powerplay. Following a frenzy around Billadeau, Connecticut College took a costly penalty at 16:40 to negate its advantage.
After the penalties expired, the Camels had a final chance off a turnover by Williams defender Caitlin Conlon. Inside two minutes left, Dumont stole the puck and was alone in the slot, but Billadeau made her best save of the game – a jab of the blocker to deny Dumont's quality attempt. Williams played flawlessly the rest of the way, and Billadeau recorded her second shutout of the season.
Eph head coach Meghan Gillis had the following to say about her team's victory: "We're really happy for the girls; this win was quite an accomplishment for them. They played really well today against a tough Connecticut College team. They pushed back really hard the entire game, and it was a battle until the end. Billadeau also played unbelievably today. Her game was instrumental in our success today."
Connecticut College outshot the Ephs 32-28 for the game.
Williams will play the winner of the Bowdoin Colby matchup later this afternoon in the NESCAC Championship tomorrow. The Ephs have not played in the title game since the tournament's inaugural year in 2002. The puck will drop at 2 PM.