Women's Hockey To Host NESCAC Championship Weekend

February 27, 2012

The Middlebury women's hockey team will host the 2012 NESCAC Championship in Kenyon Arena. The Panthers will take on Trinity, Saturday, March 3rd at 1:00 p.m., followed by Amherst vs. Bowdoin at 4:00 p.m. The winners meet in the title game on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are priced at $5 for adults, $3 for students and are on sale now at: http://boxoffice.middlebury.edu/index.php. You may also call 802-443-6433 or stop by the McCullough box office during normal business hours. Tickets will also be available at the door.

Defending conference champion Middlebury College will have the opportunity to win a seventh league title this weekend when the top-seeded Panthers host the final rounds of the 2012 NESCAC Women's Ice Hockey Championship at Kenyon Arena in Middlebury, Vt. Saturday's semifinals feature the same four teams from the past three years with Amherst, Bowdoin, and Trinity joining Middlebury in search of the championship trophy. Action gets underway when Middlebury takes to the ice at 1:00 p.m. on March 3 against Trinity and will be followed shortly after by Amherst facing off against Bowdoin. Sunday's championship between Saturday's winners is slated for a 2:00 p.m. start.

Tickets for both days are $5 for adults and $3 for students. A live webcast along with live audio will be available for all three games this weekend.

The chase for the number-one seed came down to the final weeks of the season for the second year in a row. Amherst and Middlebury both opened the year 6-0-0 in NESCAC play before the two teams met for a set in Amherst on Jan. 13-14. The Jeffs won the first outing of the weekend, 3-2, before the Panthers responded with their own 3-2 victory the next night. Amherst gained the advantage in the standings when Middlebury lost in overtime at Hamilton on Jan. 27, however the Panthers pulled even two weeks later when the Jeffs stumbled versus Trinity. Middlebury, idle in conference play on the final weekend of the schedule, obtained the tie-breaker advantage over Amherst on Feb. 10 but ended up not needing it, as the Jeffs finished a half-game behind after earning a tie at Bowdoin in the season finale.

Ever since Amherst won its first league title in 2007, coming via a 2-1, triple-overtime thriller at Middlebury, the Lord Jeffs and the Panthers have fought for supremacy in the NESCAC with each team securing two league titles during the span. Middlebury, the program with more conference championships than any other, edged Amherst in the 2011 final for its sixth crown, downing the Jeffs 4-3. The recipe for success for the Panthers over the years has been a productive offense combined with a stingy defense. Middlebury appears to have the right mixture of both at the right time as it heads into the weekend leading the conference in scoring at 3.80 goals per game while posting a 1.44 goals against average that is second among the nine teams. The Panthers also boast a potent power play, converting at a .257 percent rate. During Middlebury's quarterfinal against Colby, the Panthers struck for five goals in the second period, four on the power play, in a 5-1 win.

Leading a skilled set of skaters is junior forward Lauren Greer (North Hampton, N.H.). Greer, a standout two-sport athlete at Middlebury who was honored in the fall as the NESCAC Field Hockey Player of the Year, is one of six Panthers with 20-plus points this season, collecting a team-high 27 points (2nd NESCAC) on 11 goals and 16 assists. Sophomore Sara Ugalde (Burlington, Conn.) sits three points behind Greer on the Panther stat sheet with a team-high 13 goals, 10 of which came against conference foes.

Middlebury will meet Trinity (15-10-0, 9-7-0 NESCAC) in the NESCAC tournament for the first time since the two engaged in an epic battle during the 2010 semifinals. It what still stands as the longest game in conference history, the Bantams ousted the Panthers in the fourth overtime by a 2-1 score. The win gave Trinity its first and only final appearance, eventually succumbing to Amherst the next afternoon in overtime, 2-1. This season, the Bantams got off to a rocky start, going 1-6-0 overall prior to winter break. Whatever fourth-seeded Trinity's New Year's resolution may have been, it's worked well as the Bantams are 14-4-0 since Jan. 1, including a 3-1 victory over Hamilton in this past weekend's quarterfinals. While Trinity is just 1-5-0 against its fellow semifinalists, three of the five setbacks have been by two goals or less.

Looking to shut down the opposition this weekend is sophomore goaltender Alexa Pujol (New Canaan, Conn.). An All-NESCAC Second Team member during her first stint with the Bantams last winter, Pujol (12-7-0) is second in the NESCAC in save percentage at .935 and fourth in goals against average with a 1.73 mark.

Hoping to reclaim its position as the conference's top team will be second-seeded Amherst (20-4-1, 13-2-1 NESCAC). Although the Jeffs missed out on the top spot in the standings for the second year in a row, they still managed to put together an impressive resume of victories against both conference and non-conference foes en route to a 20-win season. The past five years have been the best in program history for Amherst. After winning their first league title in 2007, the Jeffs have appeared in the NESCAC final every winter since and have won two additional championships along with two NCAA crowns (2009, 2010). Amherst punched its ticket to the semifinals by shutting out Connecticut College 3-0. Like Middlebury, Amherst ranks among the league leaders in multiple categories with a 3.24 goals per game offense that is second only to the Panthers and a 1.20 goals against mark that is second to none. The penalty kill has also been a point of pride for the Jeffs this season, killing off a NESCAC-best .903 percent of opponents' opportunities.

It's said that a team's best penalty killer is its goaltender, and for Amherst that saying goes double. The Jeffs have two of the top netminders in the league in Sinead Murphy (Rochester, Minn.) and Kerri Stuart (Tewksbury, Mass.), as the senior Murphy is 12-2-1 with a 1.06 goals against average and a .950 save percentage - all conference-best figures - while sophomore Stuart is 8-2-0 between the pipes with a .930 save percentage and a 1.30 goals against mark. In front of the net, junior defender Geneva Lloyd (Calgary, Alberta) has proven to be one of the best two-way players in the league. A candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year, Lloyd's 23 points on nine goals and 14 assists are the best among blue liners.

Back in the semifinals for the third year in a row is third-seeded Bowdoin (12-9-4, 9-6-1 NESCAC). The Polar Bears barely made it out of the opening round as they needed overtime to get past a pesky Williams squad, 3-2. Bowdoin used to be a regular in Sunday's title game, as the Polar Bears appeared in each of the first five finals and won the conference championship twice, first in 2002 and again in 2004. Since finishing as the runner-up in 2006, though, the Polar Bears have reached the semifinals only three times and twice they've been denied in overtime an opportunity to return to the finals. In its past three playoff meetings with Amherst, Bowdoin has gone winless, however the Polar Bears did manage a 2-2 tie with the Lord Jeffs just before the start of the tournament.

Looking to lead their team back to the Sunday showcase is the tandem of junior leading scorers Kayte Holtz (New Berlin, Wis.) and Kim Tess-Wanat (Fond du Lac, Wis.). Holtz had a remarkable sophomore campaign consisting of a team-best 25 goals and once again sets the tone with 15 tallies and 17 assists through 25 games (15-17-32). Tess-Wanat is just behind her classmate on the Bowdoin score sheet, recording 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points.

Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 25 at Higher Seeds
at No. 1 Middlebury 5, No. 8 Colby 1
at No. 2 Amherst 3, No. 7 Connecticut College 0
at No. 3 Bowdoin 3, No. 6 Williams 2 - OT
at No. 4 Trinity 3, No. 5 Hamilton 1

Semifinals - Saturday, March 3 at Highest Remaining Seed
No. 4 Trinity at No. 1 Middlebury - 1:00 p.m.
No. 3 Bowdoin vs. No. 2 Amherst - 4:00 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, March 4
Semifinal winners - 2:00 p.m.

--courtesy NESCAC--