MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Middlebury scored twice in the final minute of regulation and then added a game-winning marker in the third minute of overtime to escape with an improbable 3-2 victory over the Connecticut College women's ice hockey team in a NESCAC quarterfinal matchup on Saturday afternoon at Kenyon Arena.
Trailing 2-0 after two periods of play, the Panthers were knocking on the door throughout the third period and held a lopsided 11-3 advantage in total shots during the final frame of regulation. Senior Bailey Mertz (Glenville, N.Y.) and the Camel defense denied anything and everything for more than 59 minutes, but the hosts were able to break through twice with an extra skater to force extra time. With 36.7 seconds left, Katherine Jackson centered a pass from the right side to Jenna Marotta, who rocketed a shot from the top of the slot that made its way past Mertz to slice the deficit in half.
Middlebury (15-7-3) then elected to keep an extra skater on the ice and came up with the puck shortly after losing the ensuing faceoff. Anna Zumwinckle eventually got a good look from just behind the left faceoff circle that was saved by Mertz, but a rebound came out and was eventually finished by Jackson through a scrum of players from both teams with just 16 seconds remaining to send the contest into overtime.
The Panthers then completed the rally at the 2:23 mark of the extra session, which began with a strong forecheck led by Jenna Letterie that allowed the hosts to regain possession. Jackson, who had already factored into the first two goals, rifled in a shot near the right faceoff circle that was stopped by Mertz. Letterie collected the rebound and was also unsuccessful with trying to get the puck past the Camels' senior goaltender, but Madie Leidt was able to roof the second rebound past a diving Mertz to give the Panthers the sudden victory.
After a scoreless and evenly played first period which saw each team attempt seven shots on target, Connecticut College quickly cashed in on a power play that carried over into the second to get on the board first. Junior Lauren Helm (Frisco, Texas) sent the puck from the left point down to Erin Dillon (Hazlet, N.J.), who found senior Paige Michel (Essex, Conn.) at the top of the slot for a shot that found its way inside the left post just 27 seconds into the frame. Dillon and Helm were credited with assists on the play.
The Camels then doubled their lead on a breakaway opportunity just 1:33 later on a play that began with junior Kylie Wilkes (Howell, N.J.) winning a faceoff. Michel swung the puck behind the net to classmate Elena Gualtieri (Rome, N.Y.), and the captain found a racing Dillon who skated in on goaltender Lin Han from the left side and backhanded a shot into the nylon.
Although Connecticut College had its changes to add to the lead, Middlebury gained control the rest of the way and would send a barrage of shots at Mertz for the remainder of the second and throughout the third period. But after failing on their first 28 attempts, which included gaining four power play opportunities after the second Camel goal was scored, the Panthers' offense came alive, and the hosts were able to score three times in a span of three minutes to advance to next weekend's semifinal round for the 17th time in 18 years.
Mertz made 31 saves in her final collegiate game inside the crease for Connecticut College (10-11-3, which was making its 12th straight appearance in the NESCAC Tournament. She ended her career with a .937 save percentage, 1.34 goals against average, 24 victories, and 12 shutouts. Han turned away 17 shots to pick up the victory for Middlebury.
Connecticut College's seniors - Jordan Cross (Saugus, Mass.), Olivia Good (Woodbury, Conn.), Gualtieri, Mertz, and Michel - will graduate as the second-winningest class in school history after helping the program record 55 victories over the last four years. The Camels are also slated to return more than 20 letterwinners next season.