Women’s Hockey: Panthers Take NESCAC Crown, Topping Amherst 4-1

Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information

MIDDLEBURY — Top-seeded Middlebury scored four unanswered goals, topping visiting Amherst 4-1 on Sunday to claim the 2017 NESCAC Championship along with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The tournament field will be announced on Monday. The title was the ninth for the Panthers (19-6-2) since the tournament began in 2002 and their second straight. Fifth-seeded Amherst finished the season at 14-8-4.

Middlebury, which is ranked sixth nationally, had one of the better early chances to open the scoring less than seven minutes into the contest. A shot from the right point by Anna Zumwinkle got caught up in traffic, but Jessica Young swooped in and swatted the free puck on goal. Amherst goalie Sabrina Dobbins held her ground, making the save to keep the game scoreless. The Purple & White scored first on a play that started in their own zone. Katie Savage carried the puck from her end of the ice and pushed a pass up to Sara Culhane. Culhane fired a shot from the left circle that Panther goalie Julia Neuburger stopped, but Culhane slid in the rebound at the 12:47 mark. Neuburger later kept it a one-goal difference with a nice skate save on a shot by Savage directly off a faceoff.

In the middle stanza, Middlebury tied the game at 1-1 when Zumwinkle put a shot on goal from the point that Lizzie Sheline touched over to Janka Hlinka, who deposited her eighth goal of the season at the 5:38 mark. The hosts took the lead 2:45 later when Young drove the net on a rush and redirected a shot from Sheline. The goal was her team-leading 16th of the season and extended her point streak to seven-straight games.

Dobbins kept the Purple & White close in the early stages of the third period, making timely stops on Young and Rachael St. Clair. Neuburger responded with a key save on Jocelyn Hunyani with her catching glove with 5:58 remaining. On the next trip up the ice, the Panthers tacked on another goal when Young slid a pass into the slot to Sheline, who beat Dobbins glove side for a 3-1 lead. Neuburger came up big again seconds after the goal, stopping Emma Griese’s tip with her left pad.

Amherst was awarded a power play with 4:31 and at the midway point, Dobbins went to the bench for an extra attacker to make it a six-on-four advantage. The Panthers killed off the penalty and Carly Watsoniced the victory, collecting an Amherst turnover in the neutral zone and sending the puck into the visitor’s net from just inside the red line with 43 seconds on the clock.

Neuburger finished with 30 saves, while Dobbins made 18 as the guests held a 31-22 advantage in shots. Middlebury’s penalty-killing unit was perfect again, erasing all four Amherst power plays and have not allowed a power-play goal in the last 10 games (34 straight chances).

Young finished the tournament with three goals and three assists in three games, while closing in on the 100-point plateau. She sits at 98 points on 43 goals and 53 assists in 85 contests.