Jeffs Blank Middlebury to Clinch NESCAC's Top Seed

AMHERST, MA – The seventh-ranked Amherst College women's ice hockey team earned a 5-0 victory over fifth-ranked Middlebury College Saturday afternoon at Orr Rink to secure the No. 1 seed in the upcoming NESCAC Championship. The Lord Jeffs have earned hosting rights in the conference tournament for the first time in program history.

Amherst (15-4, 13-0 NESCAC) won the 2007 and 2008 conference titles as the tournament's No. 3 and No. 2 seed, respectively. The Jeffs will host a quarterfinal game Saturday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m. against an opponent to be determined.

With the win, Amherst improved to 38-0-7 in its last 45 games against NESCAC teams, with its last loss coming at Middlebury on Dec. 2, 2006 by a 1-0 score. Middlebury dropped to 13-3-4 overall and 9-2-2 in the conference standings.

The first prime scoring chance of the game came with 14:25 remaining in the first period when Amherst senior Tarasai Karega (Detroit, MI) and junior Kate Dennett (Highlands Ranch, CO) started a 2-on-1 breakaway from the midline, but they could not get off a shot. Nearly two minutes later, junior goaltender Krystyn Elek (Summerville, SC) made a save on a point-blank Middlebury shot to keep the game scoreless.

The game's first goal came thirty seconds after Elek's point-blank save when the Jeffs were able to find the back of the net after a scramble in front of the goal. First-year Stephanie Clegg (Woburn, MA) was credited with the goal—her third of the season—with assists going to senior Anna MacLean (Edina, MN) and junior Molly Malloy (Stamford, CT).

The Jeffs made it a 2-0 game eight minutes into the second period when Karega fed sophomore Courtney Hanlon (Fullerton, CA) for her team-leading 11th goal of the season. Sophomore Megan Curry (Shorewood, MN) nearly made it a 3-0 game four minutes later when she beat the Panther goalie, but she got tripped up and was unable to finish. The teams headed into the second intermission with the hosts holding a 2-0 advantage.

It took only three minutes of third-period action for Amherst to strike again, as Dennett scored on a power play to give her team a 3-0 lead. Senior tri-captain Lindsey Harrington (Westford, MA) recorded an assist for the 92nd point of her career and the 17th of the season, with sophomore Julia Koch (Rochester Hills, MI) also getting credit for the helper.

Five minutes later, Middlebury's Annmarie Cellino received a pass from behind the midline and stormed toward the goal with an Amherst defender nipping at her heels. The heavy pressure prevented Cellino from getting off a hard shot, as Elek managed to sprawl out and poke the puck away to preserve the shutout.

Amherst added an insurance tally with 3:08 remaining in regulation to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Sophomore goaltender Alexi Bloom made a save on a wraparound attempt but could not stop the rebound, as Dennett poked the puck in for a power play goal.

The Jeffs had one more goal left in them as Karega brought the home crowd to its feet with just 35 ticks left on the clock. The senior drifted in from the left wing and ripped a wrist shot high and to the near post, and the puck crossed the goal line for Karega's 56th career score.

The Jeffs out-shot the Panthers by a 29-22 margin, as Bloom (6-3-2) made 24 saves and Elek (8-3-0) stopped 22 shots to earn the shutout. Amherst is now 3-0-3 against Middlebury in its last six meetings after the Panthers won the first 18 games of the rivalry's history.