Williamstown, MA – Sunday afternoon at Lansing Chapman Rink, visiting number four seed Bowdoin College faced off against the host three seed Williams College in the NESCAC Championship game. No strangers to playoff matchups against one another, Bowdoin defeated Williams in the quarterfinal round each of the past two seasons. The defending champion Polar Bears also knocked off the Ephs in the 2002 title game, the only previous championship appearance for Williams.
Williams scored the game's first goal for the second day in a row. Off the opening rush, the Ephs regrouped in neutral ice and first year Hanna Beattie flipped a dump in on Bowdoin first year goaltender Lan Crofton. The puck took a strange bounce in the crease and squeaked through Crofton's legs 34 seconds into the game. This mishap put Williams up 1-0, and the assists were given to Cristina Bravi and Emily Krueger.
Play went back and forth until the 8:32 mark, when Krueger took an offensive zone tripping minor. However, the Eph penalty kill unit remained perfect on the weekend and kept the visitors off the board.
Later in the period, Williams doubled its lead. Crofton made a left pad save on a firm wristshot from junior defenseman Caitlin Conlon's point bid, but the rebound popped back into the slot, where freshman Chelsea Stevenson buried her one-timer to notch her second goal of the weekend. Stevenson's goal at 11:28 came from Conlon and Krueger.
With 30 seconds left in the period, Bravi gloved a puck down at center and moved in for a partial breakaway, but the puck rolled off her stick and safely into Crofton's trapper for a whistle.
After the ensuing faceoff, Polar Bear junior Colleen Finnerty took a neutral zone tripping penalty. The period ended with 1:46 left on the minor to carry over to the second period. Shots were 11-9 in favor of Williams after one.
Bowdoin gave the Ephs fits with good shorthanded forechecking to open the period, but Williams opened up a three-goal lead on the powerplay 59 seconds into the period. The Ephs finally broke out of their own zone with a nice give and go passing play. Bravi used her speed down the left wing and made a power move towards the goal. Her first shot was denied, but Gabby Vukasin pounced on the rebound to give the Ephs some breathing room. Bravi and sophomore defenseman Talia Simon were credited with assists.
Following the goal, Bowdoin head coach Marissa O'Neil pulled Crofton in favor of Beth Findley.
Bowdoin got on the board 29 seconds later. Off a good cycle play, Bowdoin's Schuyler Nardelli spun on the left wing boards and wired a shot towards Eph goaltender Charlie Billadeau. The rebound was kicked to the far side and Polar Bear sophomore Ariana Bourque was in perfect position to end Billadeau's shutout streak. Nardelli and Finnerty assisted on Bourque's tally.
Bowdoin carried the tempo for the majority of the period, but Williams got its three goal lead back at 17:05. The play started on a beautiful toe drag move by Michaela Levine to enter Bowdoin territory. Findley denied her breakaway attempt, but the Ephs kept the puck in and continued a strong shift. Junior Andree Heller put a shot towards Findley from a bad angle, and Bravi poked the rebound home for her third point of the night. Krueger recorded her third assist on the game as well.
The second period ended with Williams up 4-1. Shots were 21-20 in favor of the visiting Polar Bears after two.
The third period saw solid back and forth play, but no changes to the scoreboard. At 3:54 Levine took a checking minor in the offensive zone, and at 10:54 Nardelli took a minor of her own for Bowdoin, but neither team could cash in.
Following Nardelli's minor, the Ephs engineered a four minute shift in Polar Bear territory to get closer to their first title. While the Polar Bears pulled Findley with 2:30 to play, the Eph defense remained strong and kept Bowdoin from narrowing the deficit.
The game ended with Bowdoin holding a narrow edge in shots, 29-26.
Eph head coach Meghan Gillis had the following to say after her team's first conference championship: "That first goal definitely helped us settle in quicker, and gave us more confidence for the rest of the game. It was a great 120 minutes this weekend by Charlie the past two days, and that is a big reason why we are where we are."
With the win, Williams improves to 15-9-3. The team will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, with the full bracket getting released on Monday.