Plattsburgh set to host Middlebury

Mar. 9—PLATTSBURGH — It's an all too familiar opponent that the Cardinals will square off against today.

No. 6 Middlebury (17-6-4) returns to the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena for the second time this season, and for the second consecutive season in the tournament, to face No. 4 Plattsburgh State (22-4-1) in a NCAA Division III women's hockey tournament quarterfinal.

"They play hard," Cardinals head coach Kevin Houle said. "They play the game, really the way it should be played. They just play hard to the whistle and we know what to expect from them.

"Middlebury is a great opponent and it's always a fun game to play."

Plattsburgh comes into the contest in the same, but different methods as previous years. It marks the 12th consecutive year the Cards have made the playoffs but first in 10 years that the team is not entering as conference champions.

Winners of 13 of their last 15, with the two losses coming to Cortland, the Cardinals are primed for a return trip to the Final Four.

"It hurt losing the title game last weekend and the girls felt that it's not not an easy pill to swallow," Houle said. "They had to chew on that for a bit to practice and we've had a really good week (of practice) and the girls are excited to play. They know what the next step is and they're looking forward to it

"They've put that game behind them. Hopefully there's a lot of season left, and, you know, it'll start with Middlebury (today)."

Plattsburgh holds a 27-11-4 all-time record against Middlebury, with a 9-1 record in the last 10 matchups.

The Cardinals won both of this season's matches by a combined score of 5-2. The first meeting was in the championship of the Panther/Cardinal Classic with a score of 3-1. The second meeting happened in January when the Panthers paid a visit to Plattsburgh.

It had been their first visit to the area since last year's postseason match, which saw the Cardinals advance to the Final Four after a 4-2 victory.

The programs have faced each other eight times in NCAA play, with the Cardinals owning a 5-3 edge. Plattsburgh State and Middlebury have met three times in the quarterfinals, three times in the semifinals and twice in the championship match.

Leading Plattsburgh on the ice is SUNYAC Player of the Year Julia Masotta (13-24-37) who earned the honor as the 15th Cardinal to receive it. Masotta ranks fifth nationally in .89 assists per game and her 1.37 points per game is eighth in Division III.

Her linemate, Ciara Wall (10-16-26) is just as formidable to take some heat off Masotta. Like Masotta, Wall and Ivy Boric, Mattie Norton and Kendall Wasik earned All-SUNYAC honors.

Wasik (2-22-24) has played admirably as team captain, leading the team in blocked shots at 51.

There's also the always persistent scoring threat in Zsofia Pazmandi (15-6-21), who was named the SUNYAC Rookie of the Year. Pazmandi is the seventh Cardinal to win the award.

"Certainly that usually bodes well for your program," Houle said. We announced them after practice when they came out and gave a little cheer for everybody. and it's great to see those accolades.

"But it's a team sport, and everybody here knows that the big prize is winning hockey games and being successful. So, I think everybody's looking towards the NCAA and not really concerned with individual accolades at this point."

Looking for a rebound will be goaltender Lilla Nease (1.02 GAA) after giving up a goal in overtime to lose the SUNYAC Championship to Cortland.

Nease is having a fantastic season as the primary net minder ranking second in the country with seven shutouts. Her GAA ranks eighth and she sits at ninth with a .804 winning percentage.

"She's had a great year," Houle said. "She's certainly been the reason for several wins this year. You know, I mean, close game. She's been great.

"She comes to work hard every day and is a great, great teammate and does a great job for us whenever called upon."

Houle said the team has to play their own game and if they do, good things can happen.

"We have to match their intensity," he said. "We have to at least be even on the special teams and we have to be disciplined.

"We can't get out of position. We can't be too excited. We've been caught out on the ice too long. Those are the things that hurt us when our shifts get too long. So we've got to cut down on our mistakes and just play a smarter game and stay out of the penalty box."

The game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. at Stafford Ice Arena.