By Nathanael LePage
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Plattsburgh State advanced to the semifinal round of the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament for the eighth consecutive season with a 5-3 win over Williams College Saturday at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.
The Cardinals (27-2) found themselves in a hole early in the game, as Meghan Halloran’s 19th goal of the season put Williams (21-5-3) ahead only 19 seconds into the contest.
While that 1-0 scoreline held after one period, Plattsburgh head coach Kevin Houle was happy with how his team responded after surrendering the opening goal and his message in the locker room was just to relax.
The Cardinals made a quick statement of intent in the second period, as Abby Brush got a breakaway within the first minute. Brush couldn’t find the back of the net on the initial shot, and put another shot just wide during the ensuing scramble, but the Ephs remained under pressure.
Plattsburgh got on the board three minutes into the period, though, as Madison Walker backhanded a rebound behind Williams goaltender Chloe Heiting to knot the score at one goal each. One minute and 20 seconds later, freshman Holly Schmelzer scored her third career goal to give the Cardinals the lead.
|Plattsburgh sophomore Annie Katonka rings a shot off the crossbar behind Williams goaltender Chloe Heiting in the first period of Plattsburgh's 5-3 quarterfinal victory over the Ephs at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena.
Photo: Nathanael LePage, D3hockey.com
Williams head coach Meghan Gillis credited Plattsburgh with taking the opportunities the Ephs gave them in the game.
“Plattsburgh did a great job capitalizing on some key D-zone mistakes that we made,” Gillis said. “That’s what great teams do this time of year.”
Williams tied the game again twice, but each time saw a quick response from Plattsburgh.
Less than a minute after Halloran scored a power-play goal in the second period, Mackenzie Millen again put the Cardinals in front. In the third, Halloran provided the assist to linemate Abby Brustad, but the Ephs fell behind for good four minutes later.
Heiting couldn’t cleanly handle a shot through traffic from Plattsburgh’s Hannah Kiraly from the blue line, and freshman Nicole Unsworth reached around the goaltender to put the rebound in. Only eight seconds later, Millen skated in off the faceoff and found the back of the net for the first two-goal lead of the game.
Williams was unable to recover after the back-to-back goals.
“I would think, certainly from a fan standpoint, it was a really exciting game to watch,” Houle said. “It was an exciting game for us to be involved in.”
Despite the loss, Gillis was pleased with her team’s effort on the ice against Plattsburgh.
“I think that’s why we’re playing this time of year,” Gillis said. “This team has shown up time and time again, and obviously the numbers back it. This is the best season Williams women’s hockey has ever had.”
Heiting made 31 saves in the loss for the Ephs, while Plattsburgh goaltender Kassi Abbott stopped 22 of the 25 shots sent her way.
The quarterfinal was only the fourth game all season, but second in a row, in which Plattsburgh trailed after one period. In the regular season, both instances resulted in a loss for the Cardinals, but they have been able to recover against Endicott in the first round and now against Williams.
That ability to come from behind could prove vital in the final two rounds.
“It certainly gives us some confidence that we can do that,” Houle said. “Hopefully, we’ll come out and score score first, we certainly have the ability to come back.”
With Saturday’s win, the Cardinals advance to play Adrian College (23-4-2), a 3-2 overtime winner against Elmira College Saturday, in the semifinal round. The Bulldogs handed Plattsburgh one of its two losses this season, a 1-0 shutout in November, but also lost 2-0 in a January rematch.
Houle said his team’s strength of schedule will be an asset heading into championship weekend.
“We play against tough opponents,” Houle said “It certainly gives us that experience, that confidence, heading into a big weekend like next weekend. We’ll be ready to play.”