Emily Kazprzak jumps into Maeghan Forsyth’s arms after scoring her game-winning goal against the Middlebury Panthers in the Classic title game Nov. 25.
By Michael Purtell
The Plattsburgh State Cardinals women’s ice hockey team left Middlebury with some hardware after winning the Panther/Cardinal Classic over nationally ranked competition. The Cards dominated the No. 9 ranked Wisconsin-Eau Claire Blugolds 6-1 Nov. 25 and ousted the Middlebury Panthers 3-1 for the title Nov. 26.
Plattsburgh’s success in the tournament earned it the Panther/Cardinal classic title and another week at No. 4 in U.S. College Hockey Online’s DIII women’s hockey poll. Lilla Nease received the SUNYAC Goalie of the Week and Tournament MVP and forward Zsofia Pazmandi received a third consecutive SUNYAC Rookie of the Week after a three goal weekend.
The Cardinals faced off against the western Blugolds for the first round of the tournament in a clash of top-10 talent. Pazmandi entered the game red-hot and scored the Cardinals’ first two goals in just the first two minutes of action. The second of which became the game winner off an assist from forward Ava Mattaliano and a fancy finish. Her performance was a follow up to her two consecutive selections for SUNYAC Rookie of the Week, both of which followed two goal performances. She earned her third the day after the tournament’s conclusion.
“I usually do this move on a breakaway and I always fall after I score,” Pazmandi said. “It was a nice pass from Ava, I was very happy. I think our line has been really good in these two games and I’m happy to be in that second line with them.”
The first period ended without another goal, and despite leading in shot attempts 11-6, the Blugolds were staring down a 0-2 point deficit. The Cardinals continued to build their lead for the rest of the match.
Forward Lilli Bills provided the Cardinals with another early goal by netting a shot 3 1/2 minutes into the second period. Blugold forward Maddie Hulter responded with Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s only goal of the night on her second shot of the period at the 7 1/2 minute mark.
The Blugolds only tallied three shots in the second as the Cardinals stepped up and grew their lead after being outshot in the first. Defenseman Aizah Thompson once again put the Cardinals up by two goals two minutes later, making sure the Blugolds knew no goal would go unanswered.
Thompson cashed out on a second goal with two minutes left in the third period. Forward Riley Calhoun sealed the game at its final score in the last minute.
Five separate Cardinals also recorded an assist in the game: Ivy Boric, Ciara Wall, Mattaliano, Sydnee Francis, and Julia Masotta.
The Cardinals pose with the Classic champions plaque on Panthers ice.
The championship game was a battle between the titular Cardinals and Panthers, a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament semifinals. If the Cardinals lost, it could end up pushed outside of the top five ranked teams, something Plattsburgh hasn’t been since 2012.
Both teams displayed what made them such highly ranked teams. Middlebury’s defense was staggering, meeting Plattsburgh’s skaters in the neutral zone, stripping the puck or forcing into passes early in transition. This culminated in the Cardinals’ lowest shot total in the season so far with 17. The Panthers shot 38.
“They were aggressive, they were physical and fast. They played their game plan, and they played with tenacity,” Head Coach Kevin Houle said. “We weren’t able to get pucks out, we weren’t able to establish a forecheck, so you got to give them credit for the way they played 100%.”
Scores were null until just seven minutes to go, when Masotta put in a close shot off the faceoff and a quick assist from Boric. The team exploded in celebration, and the tone of the game shifted in the positive as the scoring drought ended.
Forward Emily Kasprzak found the flaw in the Panther goalie three minutes later, as she sank the game winner off an assist by Mattaliano. The Panthers responded with two minutes left in the contest. The Panthers threatened overtime when Masotta committed a delay of game penalty, putting Plattsburgh at a disadvantage.
Pazmandi won the faceoff, Balfour and Boric blocked two shots and Pazmandi launched the puck into the open net from the defenders half in the remaining 24 seconds.
Two teams playing at such a high level in a tournament final is bound to create competitiveness, and it showed on the penalties throughout. The first pair came at the 13-minute mark of the first, when Taya Balfour got tied up with a Panther, leading to two minutes of four-on-four play.
The next seven penalties resulted in power plays, five for Middlebury and two for Plattsburgh. Neither team scored on these opportunities, and Plattsburgh generated two shots with the skaters advantage.
Nease held down the goal in a dominant fashion, registering 37 saves in the game. Late in the game, a two-on-one Panther fastbreak created a well-executed cross pass and weak side shot, which Nease slid perfectly to cover and deflect. In moments like that, all she’s thinking about is one thing: “Make the save,” Nease said.
Kendall Wasik brings up the puck on offense, supported by Bridget Orr (21) and Julia Masotta (7) at Middlebury Nov. 25.
She won MVP with 60 saves over the two game stretch. Pazmandi was also honored with a spot on the All-Tournament squad.
“This was a tough game. Every time, coming to Midd is always a battle,” Nease said. “It was a fun tournament this year, that’s for sure.”
The Cardinals will battle with its conference rivals the Cortland Red Dragons today, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m. Cortland was the only team to defeat Plattsburgh during the time of the NEWHL last season. Another conference game follows the next day against the Canton Kangaroos. Both games will be hosted on campus. Middlebury will have a second chance at the Cardinals on Jan. 9, 2024 at Ronald B. Stafford Ice arena.