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Women’s Hockey Takes National Runner-Up in Improbable Overtime Thriller

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JJ Akin contributed to this recap

BOX SCORE | PHOTO GALLERY

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. –Gustavus women’s hockey erased two deficits Saturday in the NCAA Division III championship game against Middlebury, with the second game-tying goal happening with just one-tenth of a second left in regulation, but the undefeated Panthers took home the title with an overtime goal. Gustavus ends the season with its first-ever NCAA second place finish at 25-4-2 overall.

Both teams went back and forth in the opening 10 minutes of the contest before Gustavus had its first power play opportunity after Alexis Ryan was called for tripping 11:06 into the game. Middlebury had nearly killed the penalty before Claudia Vira drew another whistle at 12:47 to extend the Gustavus advantage. Despite four Gustie shots on goal during the double-length power play, Middlebury took advantage of a miscue by the Black and Gold as Jenna Letterie broke up a pass and scored a shorthanded breakaway goal to open the scoring and put the host Panthers up 1-0 at 13:44. Despite entering intermission with a one-goal deficit, Gustavus outshot Middlebury 17-13 in the opening frame and held a 8-6 lead in faceoffs through the first 20 minutes of play.

It was a back and forth affair in the first half of the second period, with neither team generating solid scoring opportunities until Gustavus had a chance during a scramble in front of the Panther net at 8:15 that ended up with Panther goalie Sophia Merageas on the ice before the puck was eventually cleared away into the corner by Middlebury. Gustavus went on the power play again at 12:02 after a hardworking Tina Press (Sr., Cottage Grove) got hooked behind the net. The Gusties worked the puck around the offensive zone after the ensuing draw before Emily Olson (Jr. Delano) found an opening and pushed it to the low slot, where Clara Billings (Jr., Rochester) found a handle and snapped the twine to tie the game at 1-1 at the 12:30 mark.

Less than a minute later, Gustavus drew its first penalty of the game when Sophia Coltvet (So., Arden Hills) was whistled for interference at 13:20. The Gusties went to work on the penalty kill and held Middlebury to just one shot on goal, a dangerous sliding puck through traffic that goaltender Katie McCoy (Jr., Grafton, Wis.) locked up before Gustavus regained control and kept the Panthers at bay to get back to even strength. Middlebury pushed hard in the closing minutes of the second, but Brooke Power (So., Lakeville) and Jordyn Peterson (Sr., Brookings, S.D.) combined to block three straight shots from Claudia Vira before the Panthers’ Madie Leidt was called for tripping with 51 seconds left in the frame. Despite two Gustie shots on goal in the closing seconds, the teams entered the second intermission knotted up at one goal each. Gustavus led in shots on goal 16-12 in the second period, while Middlebury held a slight edge in faceoff wins at 10-9. The Gusties blocked nine shots in the period.

Gustavus started on the power play for the first 1:09 of the third period, but Middlebury cleared the puck effectively then took control of possession for the next four minutes before Gustavus regained the offensive zone. Despite tired legs, both teams raised the intensity level in the third, continually increasing the pace and taking shots more frequently as the sand in the hourglass of the season slipped away grain by grain.

Middlebury had an opportunity at 9:49 when a dangerous shot was redirected through traffic and bounced just wide of the Gustavus net. Power blocked another shot at 11:19 before Gustavus swung the momentum back with a two on one try where Merageas deflected a Hailey Holland (Jr., Aberdeen, S.D.) shot and the Panthers blocked a follow-up try by Press.

Both teams exchanged the puck with end-to-end play with about five minutes left before the puck went into the bench and allowed the competitors to catch their breath before a neutral zone draw at 4:07. In the waning minutes of regulation both teams were less crisp but somehow more energetic, trading possessions before Middlebury’s Leidt gathered up a rebound and scored with less than three minutes left in regulation to put the Panthers up 2-1.

Just when all hope seemed lost, Middlebury’s Eva Hendrikson was whistled for delay of game with 90 seconds left after the puck was flipped awkwardly into the air and got stuck in her glove for a split second too long. Now on the power play, Gustavus worked the puck around, survived three faceoffs, and pulled the goalie for a six-on-four advantage with less than 20 seconds left. After a scrum behind the net, the puck popped loose and found its way onto the stick of Molly McHugh (Jr., Minnetonka) with less than half a second on the clock. With a quick flick of the wrist, the puck popped the twine just as time expired. There was no call on the ice. The fans held their breath. The referees huddled, then went to the instant replay booth. After a lengthy review, the call was in: a good goal for the Gusties. The game was tied at 2-2 with 0.1 seconds on the clock.

In the opening minutes of the sudden-death overtime period, McCoy turned away a two-on-one opportunity and then immediately followed up with a clutch glove save at 18:25. Middlebury poured it on in the extra frame, peppering McCoy with 13 shots on goal to the Gusties’ four. The puck finally bounced the home team’s way for good when Ellie Barney worked her way down and scored 13:37 into overtime to give Middlebury the NCAA Division III National Championship.

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