The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team closed out its regular season Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Middlebury College.
After knocking off the the No. 9 Panthers (14-7-3), the No. 1 Cardinals (23-2-0) will begin what they hope will be another run to a national championship with an NEWHL semifinal tomorrow against SUNY Oswego (10-12-3).
Tuesday’s regular-season finale, which was originally scheduled to play a week earlier, began strongly for PSUC, who recorded eight shots on goal before Middlebury got its first. The Panthers adjusted and applied some pressure in the latter part of the first period.
With the Cards leading shots 16-9, the teams went to intermission scoreless. PSUC head coach Kevin Houle praised senior goaltender Kassi Abbott for her role in that.
“She played great, especially in that first period and a couple of power plays where she faced one, two, three rebound shots in a row and stood tall to keep the score 0-0 at that point,” Houle said.
It didn’t take long for the Cards to score in the second period, as a breakout pass from freshman Taylor Whitney 90 seconds in found forward Kaitlin Drew-Mead at center ice, putting the sophomore on the breakaway for the opening goal of the game.
After the breakaway goal, PSUC had momentum and continued to keep the Panther pinned in their own end of the ice for much of the second and third periods.
The Cards led shots on goal in the game 45-21, with most of their shots coming from close to the goal. Overall, Houle was pleased with the team’s play despite not scoring from down low.
“Tonight, we weren’t able to score those grinding-type goals,” Houle said. “But we did carry the play and played most of the game in their zone.”
PSUC gave itself a little breathing room in the third period when Abby Brush picked up a turnover in the neutral zone. Brush skated in on net and put the puck behind goaltender Anna Goldstein despite being hindered by the stick of Middlebury defender Elise Park.
Park was called for hooking on the play and the Cards had a two-goal advantage.
“When I took off, I felt the girls right behind me, and I just thought ‘you have to shoot this as hard as you can,’” Brush said. “When it went in, it was relieving.”
The Panthers pulled within one with less than five minutes remaining in the third period with a goal by Anna Zumwinkle, but PSUC responded by once again pinning the Panthers in their own zone after that.
By the time Middlebury was able to get Goldstein off the ice for an extra attacker, less than one minute remained in regulation. Abbott made several key saves and held on to the lead.
“I always think the game is 0-0,” Abbott said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, I’m always playing hard. It doesn’t matter if a goal goes in or not.”
Sophomore forward Annie Katonka sealed the victory with an empty-net goal, her team-leading 26th tally of the season.
With the win, PSUC finished the regular season at the top of the Division III PairWise rankings, which will determine the seeds for participants of the NCAA tournament. Those rankings will factor in results in conference tournaments, so the Cards will have to keep winning to solidify their bid for home ice throughout the postseason.
PSUC will begin the NEWHL tournament tomorrow against Oswego, who finished fourth in the five-team conference.
While the Cards finished a perfect 16-0-0 in conference play this season, the Lakers earned a tie against PSUC last season and a road win in 2016.
“We have to be ready,” Houle said. “We’re 4-0 against them, but I think they have as much talent in our conference as any other team.”
The teams will face off tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.
“We’re looking forward to the test,” Houle said.