No. 5 Women’s Hockey Grapples with Middlebury for NESCAC Lead
By Matt Fernald '13, Sports Section Editor
The two-time defending national champion women’s hockey team did not enjoy a great start to the 2010-2011 season, dropping early games away against nationally-ranked teams RIT and Norwich. But since their 5-2 loss to Norwich, the Jeffs have gone 5-1-1, earning big wins over Elmira, Conn College, Middlebury, and Saint Anselm.

Their final game of 2010 came against No. 5 Norwich, a rematch of last year’s NCAA final. Unlike that game, which saw the Lady Jeffs race to a quick lead before closing it out 7-2, this showdown saw Amherst clinging to a slim 2-1 lead going into the third period. The Cadets, however, turned up the heat in the final frame, scoring on four of seven shots on goal to take the game 5-2. Courtney Hanlon ’11 and Emily Vitale ’12 scored goals for Amherst in the loss, while goaltender Caroline Hu ’11 made 26 saves.

The Jeffs were able to rebound in a big way the following weekend, defeating No. 3 Plattsburgh and No. 6 Elmira to win the Cardinal-Panther Classic tournament. In the first round against Plattsburgh, both teams came out playing extremely well. Plattsburgh eventually took the lead late in the third period, but two quick penalties against them gave Amherst the two-man advantage with 2:25 to play in the period. Hanlon again came through for the Lady Jeffs, scoring her sixth goal of the year to tie the game and send it into overtime. After seeing no score in overtime, the game went to a shootout to determine who would advance in the tournament, and here, Amherst came out with the victory, 2-0. (The game was officially recorded as a tie.)

The Jeffs played the final of that tournament the following day against Elmira, in which they needed no shootout to claim a 1-0 victory. Geneva Lloyd scored for Amherst during a power play at the start of the second period, and a flawless performance from Hu sealed the win for the Jeffs.

Returning to Amherst, the Jeffs practiced for a week before sweeping a doubleheader on the road against Connecticut College. The Jeffs enjoyed an offensive explosion, winning the games 5-0 and 5-3.

Six days later, the Middlebury Panthers visited Amherst to play a pair of weekend games. Middlebury and Amherst were undefeated in NESCAC heading into this clash. The game remained scoreless through two periods as neither squad could get themselves on the board, despite the Jeffs’ outshooting the Panthers 23-10. In the final period, however, Middlebury turned up the heat in a big way, firing 21 shots at Hu in that frame alone while holding the hosts to a mere four shots. After finally breaking the Jeffs’ defense 5:35 into the period to score the first goal of the game, they followed up with another tally about seven minutes later, relentless at both ends of the ice. A final goal with 0.9 seconds left capped off what was a very disappointing outing for Amherst on home ice.

Returning the following night to do battle with the Panthers, the Jeffs were determined to turn the story around. Again, they looked stronger than their opponents at the start, outshooting them 14-5, but again the first period ended tied at 0-0. An early penalty against Amherst in the second period looked to put them in danger, but the defense held and, a few minutes later, earned a power play of their own. They quickly capitalized on their man-advantage, firing a shot that careened off the shin guard of a Panther defender and into the net to grant the early lead to the Jeffs.

Their momentum was short-lived, however, as Middlebury fought back with a goal of its own. Thus, the top teams in NESCAC were tied at 1-1 heading into the final frame. For a while, it looked as if it might end that way, neither team allowing many shots on goal. But another penalty against Middlebury gave the Lady Jeffs the advantage, and for a second time, they capitalized. Hanlon curled the puck around the back of the net and stuffed it in to score the go-ahead goal. A late push from the Panthers failed to break the Amherst defense, and the Jeffs secured their revenge over their long-time NESCAC rivals, 2-1.

“Middlebury is our NESCAC rival and we respect them because they always play a fast-paced game all over the ice,” said Clegg. “Friday night’s game was similar to our previous encounters, consisting of endless forechecking and fierce defense on both sides. Despite the loss, we were even more pumped up for Saturday’s game and out for some serious revenge.”

Just four days later, the women played host to nationally-ranked Saint Anselm College. The Hawks had won their previous eight games, but the Amherst women utterly outplayed the Hawks from the outset. In the first period, the Jeffs’ defense did not allow a single shot on goal, and senior Randi Zukas scored to take an early 1-0 lead. Early in the second period, Fisher made it a two-goal advantage as she followed up a slap shot from Zukas with a sharp backhand finish. The Hawks, however, began a comeback around the middle of the period as they lifted one into the corner of the net to make it a 2-1 game. The Jeffs returned for the final frame even hungrier for victory: Just over five minutes in, senior Cianna Wyshnytzky slipped one under the goalie’s pads, and two unassisted goals from senior Megan Curry gave Amherst the dominant 5-1 victory.

This past weekend, Amherst traveled to Hamilton College to play a pair of games against the Continentals. In the first game, the Jeffs outshot their opponents 42-17. One lone goal from senior Brittany Evans was all they needed to wrap things up, 1-0. The Continentals pulled their goalie midway through the third to get an extra skater on the ice, but still could not break the solid Amherst defense.

The Lady Jeffs took to the ice the following day looking for more of the same. Things began well, as sophomore Geneva Lloyd gave Amherst a 1-0 advantage at the end of the first period. Zukas extended the lead to 2-0, with a goal toward the end of the second period. A power play goal from junior Ellen Swiontkowsi made it 3-0 heading into the final frame.

But the Continentals did not give up easily, mounting a furious rally in the third period. Hamilton’s first goal came 32 seconds into the frame. They followed that up with a power play goal on a 5-on-3 advantage, which ended Amherst’s streak of killing 39 consecutive power plays. This momentum shift, however, did not deter the Jeffs, as senior Julia Koch scored another goal to take the team up 4-2. When Hamilton got another power play, they pulled their goalie and used the 6-on-4 advantage to pull within one, but got no further as the Jeffs held on for a close 4-3 win. The Jeffs have now won their last 13 games against Hamilton, and improve to 10-4-2 overall. (8-1-1 in NESCAC)

“Recently, the scores haven’t been accurately reflecting how well we’ve been playing,” commented Clegg. “We’re really coming together as a team, both offensively and defensively, and if we continue on our recent scoring trend, we’ll be unstoppable.”

The Jeffs will earn a well-deserved break before they play host to the White Mules of Colby College for two games on Friday and Saturday.

Issue 12, Submitted 2011-01-26 23:01:28