AMHERST, MA – Sophomore Courtney Hanlon (Fullerton, CA) scored three goals in the second period to lead the Amherst College women's ice hockey team to a 6-1 win over Connecticut College in the NESCAC Championship semifinals at Orr Rink. On Sunday the top-seeded Lord Jeffs (21-4-0) will host the winner of Saturday's second semifinal game between second-seeded Middlebury and fourth-seeded Colby.
Amherst—ranked fourth in the latest USCHO national poll—set a new program record for wins in a season (21), increased its winning streak to eight games, and bumped its unbeaten streak against NESCAC opponents to 50 games (43-0-7). The Lord Jeffs finished with 20 wins and a NESCAC title in each of the past two seasons, as they will attempt to become the first team in conference history to win three consecutive championships.
The sixth-seeded Camels, who upset third-seeded Trinity in last weekend's NESCAC Championship opening round, end their season at 9-14-3 (6-8-2 NESCAC). This was the first time Connecticut College had advanced to the conference semifinals.
The game opened with the teams looking evenly matched, as the Jeffs and Camels each had early scoring opportunities. After Amherst failed to convert on an early power play, Connecticut's Rachel Nelson (Denver, CO) received a pass in front of the net and was left all alone to put a one-timer on target, but junior goaltender Krystyn Elek (Summerville, SC) knocked the puck away for one of her 12 saves of the first period.
Amherst took a 2-0 lead in the opening period thanks to goals from first-year Emily Vitale (Cheshire, CT) and sophomore Megan Curry (Shorewood, MN). After Vitale blasted a slap shot from the top of the face-off circle to beat Connecticut goalie Sara Christopher (Andover, MA) over her shoulder 8:54 into the frame, Curry poked in a rebound for a power-play goal with 3:39 showing on the clock.
Sophomore Courtney Hanlon (Fullerton, CA) scored three times in the second period to give the hosts some breathing room, with her first score coming just 21 seconds into the frame. She received the puck right in front of Christopher and had her initial shot stuffed, but she regained control and casually flipped a shot underneath the crossbar to make it a 3-0 game.
A power-play goal from Camel senior tri-captain Emily Mason (Williamstown, MA) came 4:36 into the second period. The visitors needed only nine seconds of a 5-on-4 to find the back of the net, as Mason's goal off the face-off was just her second tally of the season. The Connecticut bench came to life as it became a 3-1 game before Hanlon increased her team's lead to 4-1 and 5-1.
Hanlon's second goal came when the Jeffs made quick work of a power play opportunity. After winning a face-off in the Camels' end, Amherst played the puck along the boards and sent it back out to sophomore Randi Zukas (Glen Head, NY) at the point. Zukas sent a soft shot toward the net, and Hanlon was there to deflect the puck in mid-air for her team-leading 16th goal of the season.
Hanlon completed the hat trick when she scored during a 4-on-4 stretch with only 2:09 to play in the second period. The Jeffs looked primed to chalk up another goal before the second intermission when they went on a 5-on-3 advantage, but it was the Camels who nearly added another goal. Sophomore Kelsey Kirker (Milton, VT) intercepted a pass and headed straight for Elek, but she was taken down with two seconds remaining in the frame and couldn't put a shot on net.
The final period opened with 23 seconds of 4-on-4 hockey and a new goaltender for the Camels, as senior Lauren Mellen (Joliet, IL) replaced Christopher between the pipes. Christopher finished with 31 saves in her final start of the season.
Amherst would add another goal 9:14 into the third frame and hold on for the 6-1 win to advance to Sunday's NESCAC Championship title game. Vitale notched the game's final goal, with assists going to Curry and junior tri-captain Kirsten Dier (Appleton, WI). Hanlon (3-1-4) and Vitale (2-2-4) each had four points on the day to lead Amherst.
Elek finished with 34 saves for the Jeffs to improve to 13-3-0, while Mellen stopped 12 shots in her lone period of action.