The Middlebury men’s hockey team hosted a pair of NESCAC opponents, Connecticut College and Tufts University, this past weekend, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The two-game set started off with mild frustration, as the Panthers surrendered the game-tying goal to Conn. Coll. with 1:35 remaining in the third to settle for a tie. That frustration was erased on Saturday, however, as NESCAC Player-of-the-Week Louis Belilse ’14 propelled Middlebury past Tufts in a 9-2 blowout win with a record-tying performance, netting four goals and two assists. The team now sits at 3-1-2, 2-0-2 in the NESCAC, tied for second in the conference.
Head coach Bill Beaney explained his team’s mentality heading into the weekend after losing 5-4 to in-state rival Norwich in the heartbreaking final of the PrimeLink tournament on Nov. 24.
“Obviously the week before was a tough loss to Norwich, but we were more concerned with the first home game,” said Beaney. “With so many guys playing their first home game, we were worried about nerves and how players would react. At the beginning, we played good defense but we were tentative. Later, we came on and were in great shape, and got the three goals.”
The Panthers started off the game with three good scoring chances in the game’s first seven minutes, but it was the Camels who got on the board first at the 10:06 mark. Connecticut then added another tally 3:37 into the second.
Terrence Goguen ’16, a first-year defender, finally solved the Camels’ keeper off a point shot, with assists from Belisle and Evan Neugold ’16, on the power play 12:05 into the second period. Thomas Freyre ’14 then tied the game for Middlebury 3:05 later, again on the power play, this time off a pass from Goguen. Freyre found the net once more 12:28 in the third for the Panthers’ third extra-man goal, giving Middlebury the 3-2 lead.
However, just as it happened the previous week, the Panthers fell victim to a late goal. What Beaney called a “seeing-eye” shot eluded Middlebury goalie Nick BonDurant ’14, evening the score at 3-3, and that result held through the five-minute overtime.
“It’s one of those things that happens in hockey all the time,” said Beaney. “Part of what makes hockey such a great game is that a team can be outplayed, yet still come out with a tie. Unfortunately, we were probably the team that outplayed them, and I thought we might have deserved better than the tie.”
Saturday erased any feelings of disappointment, however, as the Panthers came out flying against Tufts and had the Jumbos on the ropes by the end of the first frame. Belisle scored his first two goals for the Panthers in the first period, using his speed to blow past Tufts’ defenders in the neutral zone and create odd-man chances. Michael Longo ’14 also scored his third of the year, as the Panthers outshot Tufts 14-3 in the first.
The second period saw the Jumbos pull first-year keeper Derek Metcalfe in favor of regular starter Brian Philips, who played in Tufts’ 5-3 loss the night before at Williams. Philips faired even worse, though, as he was replaced later in the period in favor of Greg Jenkins, Tufts’ third goalie in the game.
Trevor Pollock ’13 converted on his first of the year 4:41 from a shot by Goguen. Robbie Dobrowski ’15 then scored his first career goal off a feed from Belisle at 10:32. Dobrowski ended the day with two goals, scoring late in the third as well. Belisle then recorded his hat trick at 12:50 on an end-to-end rush, before scoring his fourth of the game just minutes later at 13:45.
Belisle’s goal pushed the Panthers lead to 7-0. With an assist on Chris Steele’s ’13 goal with 53 seconds left in the third period, Belisle then tied the modern era (since 1965) record for points in a game with his sixth. He might have broken this record too, as he ripped a shot off the crossbar mid-way through the third period.
The junior defenseman said he was happy that his strong play benefited the team.
“It really was a team effort, and I was fortunate to find myself in scoring position at the end of great plays made by my teammates,” said Belisle. “My line mates and I had great chemistry in the game and connected some nice passes, we used our speed to get by the other team’s defense and we took advantage of our scoring opportunities.”
The game against Tufts finished at 9-2, with seven Panther players recording at least two points.
Assistant coach Jamie McKenna commented on the team’s performance.
“A lot of the guys had strong games for us against Tufts. And I think that’s what you’ll see from this team going forward,” said McKenna. “We have a lot of players that can contribute offensively on any given night and that’s what is going to really help us this year. When all the players are focused and tuned in, you’ll see nights like the one against Tufts. When they aren’t, you’ll see games like the one against Connecticut College.”
BonDurant recorded 11 saves and allowed one goal for the Panthers, and was substituted for sophomore Michael Peters ’15 late in the game. Peters was strong in his debut, letting up one goal on eight shots in the frame.
The big story of the weekend, however, was Belisle’s historic performance.
“What we’ve found with Lou is that coming out of the back the way he does he can find open ice and attack people with speed. As a forward, he didn’t have as many chances to attack open ice with the puck,” said Beaney. “As I’m looking at it as a coach, it’s kind of a head scratcher in that I’m wondering why I didn’t do it before. He’ll probably stay in the back, both because he can generate offense and he can break the puck out of the zone. He is a very tough guy to forcheck.”
Belisle reflected on his achievement.
“It’s definitely a great feeling, so many great players and successful teams have represented Middlebury over the years, and being part of this really is something that I will remember for a long time,” said Belisle. “It’s not something that you think about when you play, I learned after the game that I had tied the records. It feels amazing, and I am happy to contribute offensively to the team’s success.”
Beaney was also impressed with Dobrowski’s two-goal game.
“Dobrowski had the first two goals of his career, and it was nice to see him do well,” said Beaney. He’s put in a lot of work to be ready for this year. He was a guy that only played in two or three games last season, so his performance is a good story of perseverance.”
The Panthers get set to take on Hamilton this Friday night, Dec. 7, before a date with reigning NESCAC champion Amherst on Saturday at 4 p.m. When asked if Amherst was particularly important given the loss to them in NESCAC last season, the answer was definitive.
“I will tell you when Saturday comes around, our guys will be ready to play and there will be extra incentive, no question about it,” said Beaney.