Women’s Hockey Loses to Middlebury in NESCAC Finals

The women’s hockey team took to the road this past weekend to play a pair of games at Middlebury, hoping to take home their second NESCAC title in as many years. They began their campaign against Trinity, eventually winning a tight game 4-3 in overtime on a clutch goal from Ellen Swiontkowski ’12. They advanced to the final on Sunday against the NESCAC’s top team in Middlebury, who had dealt a crushing 4-0 defeat to Bowdoin the day before. The women found themselves playing from behind for most of the game, making a valiant effort to pull within one goal in the final period before eventually falling 4-3, which proved to be a season-ending defeat.

On Saturday, Amherst skated onto the ice to take on third-seeded Trinity. They played a pair of games against Trinity earlier in the season on the Bantams’ home ice, winning one easily 6-2, but ending the second in a 2-2 tie. This time, the Lady Jeffs looked in impressive form from the start, taking a 1-0 lead after just 93 seconds of play, as senior Randi Zukas made a quick pass to sophomore Geneva Lloyd, who duly put the puck away past Trinity goalkeeper Alexa Pujol. Just two minutes later, senior captain Courtney Hanlon made it a 2-0 lead when she pounced on a rebound, adding to her team-leading tally of goals scored this season.

It wasn’t long before the Bantams took flight, however, and showed why they were seeded third in the conference: a goal midway through the first period cut their deficit in half, and another goal midway through the second period brought the game to 2-2. It didn’t take Trinity much longer to really stretch their wings and soar to take their first lead of the game, scoring a third unanswered goal 15 minutes into the second period. The Jeffs got their offense going again with a power play goal set up by Hanlon and finished by Swiontkowski.

Neither team found the back of the net in the third period, so the teams entered sudden-death overtime with what would probably be a season-ending loss on the line. The Jeffs had a great chance just 3:35 into overtime, but Pujol made a spectacular save to keep her team alive. The upset was not to be, however, as Swiontkowski took advantage of a turnover and made her second goal of the night to wrap things up for the Jeffs.

The final on Sunday was fittingly set between top-seeded Middlebury and the second-seeded Jeffs. In the opening period, Middlebury was the first to strike. They took advantage of an early power play, and a flurry of shots resulted in a 1-0 lead for the home team. The first period ended with the score intact, and just 3:34 into the second period, the Jeffs were whistled for a delay of game infraction, giving the Panthers a penalty shot. Amherst goalie Caroline Hu ’11 made a big save to deny the penalty shot attempt, and just five minutes later, the Jeffs tied the game at 1-1 with a power play of their own. Lloyd made a nice pass from behind the net to Swiontkowski, who deftly fired it into the net.

The rest of the period, however, belonged to the Panthers. A relentless barrage of shots resulted in three unanswered goals over the span of just five minutes, and the teams left for the second intermission with Middlebury comfortably in the lead, 4-1.

If Amherst looked down and out at that point, it didn’t stay that way for long. The third period saw the Lady Jeffs respond on both ends of the ice. Midway through the third period, junior Stephanie Clegg scored to bring her team within two, and a tally from Lloyd during a power play made it a one-goal game with just four minutes left in regulation. The pressure remained on the home team, as Amherst continued their improbable comeback. With a late penalty coming against the Panthers with just 56 seconds left to play, the Jeffs pulled Hu from the net to add another skater for a 6-on-4 advantage. But the Panthers proved resilient, allowing just a single shot on net in the final minute and held on for the 4-3 win. Overall, the Jeffs held a slight advantage in shots at 25-24, but fell just short of the win.

On Monday, the Div. III selection committee announced the seven teams that will be competing for this year’s crown, and unfortunately, upsets in other conference title games meant that those teams were chosen over Amherst. Thus, the season came to an end for the two-time Div. III defending champions, who finish with a truly excellent record of 19-6-2. Interestingly, they outshot their opponents in every game they played this season. With so many key players returning next season, the Lady Jeffs are sure to be a force throughout the division for years to come.