The RIT women’s hockey team (26-1-2) scored three times in an eight minute span in the second period to open a 3-0 lead and defeat Middlebury, (22-5-1) 5-2 in front a rabid Ritter Arena crowd in the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey National Semifinal on Friday. The Tigers advance to their first NCAA Championship game, where they will face Norwich at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Senior Traci Galbraith scored a pair of power-play goals to lead the Tigers, who were 2-for-3 with the man-advantage. Kourtney Kuncihika added a goal and an assist, while Megan Kobar , and Kolbee McCrea also scored for the Tigers. Ariane Yokoyama and Tenecia Hiller dished out two assists apiece.
Maggie Melberg and Lauren Greer scored for the Panthers, who out-shot RIT 36-25, including 16-5 in the final period. The Panthers made a strong third period push, but could not solve RIT goaltender Laura Chamberlain, who was brilliant, stopping 34 shots, including 15 in the final period.
Middlebury goaltender Alexi Bloom stopped 21 shots.
Down 3-1 in the third period, Greer intercepted a pass at the RIT blue-line, took three strides in and wristed a shot past a screened Chamberlain to cut RIT’s lead to 3-2 with 8:17 left.
RIT responded just 1:09 later, on the power-play, as Galbrath fired a shot through traffic past Bloom, who was screened by Katie Stack (Batavia, NY/Rochester Edge) and Hiller to make it 4-2.
Middlebury had a late power-play and pulled Bloom, giving them a 6-on-4 advantage. The Tigers defense held firm, and after the power-play expired, Hiller fed McCrea who slipped behind the Panthers defense and slid a shot into the open cage for her 20th goal of the season.
The Tigers scored twice in three attempts with the man-advantage, while Middlebury was 1-for-8.
RIT Head Coach Scott McDonald was thrilled with his team’s effort, but praised Middlebury for their strong push late.
“Our special teams was the huge factor, our power-play was good, and our penalty-killing was the difference,” said McDonald. “We left it all on the ice, picked up the energy late and finished strong. Middlebury was tremendous in the third period, they gave us all we could handle.”
Neither team scored but had plenty of chances in a quickly played first period in which Middlebury had three power-plays to zero from RIT.
Stack had a golden chance in the opening moments, getting a rebound at the side of the net after a shot by Hiller stopped by Bloom, but Stack was denied in tight.
Sara Ugalde had Middlebury’s best chance of the period, ringing a shot off the left post from the face-off circle. Madison Styrbicki rang a shot that Chamberlain got a piece of and nicked the left post.
Middlebury had 1:14 of a 5-on-3 power-play, but were unable to get any shots on net due to some great shot blocking by the Tiger penalty-killers. Kristina Moss (Webster, NY/Buffalo Bisons) blocked a pair of shots in tight, one that saved a goal, along with Danielle Read .
The Tigers came out and dominated the first 14 minutes of the second period, scoring three times.
Galbraith gave RIT the 1-0 lead on the power-play 4:12 into the period, wristing a shot through traffic off a feed from Sarah Dagg. The point was Dagg’s 154th of her career, giving her sole possession of the career lead at RIT.
Kobar completed a nice passing play from Hiller and Stack, stuffing in a rebound off her own shot after a tremendous save by Bloom to make it 2-0 at the 8:04 mark.
Kunichika took a feed from Yokoyama in the slot and fired a shot past a sliding Bloom just inside the right post for her 14th tally of the season at the 12:24 mark.
Middlebury got one back on the power-play at the 15:18 mark of the period, when Melberg slammed home a rebound after McNally was robbed by Chamberlain in front. Madeline Joyce fed McInally, who looked to have Chamberlain beat, but the goaltender stood firm. The rebound came right to Melberg who was able to tally.
That goal seemed to energize Middlebury, as they control of the rest of the period and most of the final frame. RIT’s defense stood firm, blocking 27 shots attempted overall.
Middlebury holds an 11-3 lead in the all-time series. RIT has won the last two meetings between the two squads.
Panthers Head Coach Bill Mandigo thought Chamberlain stole the show for RIT.
“I thought it was a good game,” said Mandigo. “Both teams played very hard, but the difference was Chamberlain. She was outstanding. It was a battle of the two best goalies in the nation. RIT has three number-one lines, lots of people who can dangle and hang in there offensively.”
Middlebury will play in the NCAA National Third Place game against Gustavus Adolphus on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Norwich defeated Gustavus Adolphus, 5-4 in the first semifinal on Friday. Middlebury made its ninth trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers have now outscored opponents, 150-26 in 29 games this season.