Men’s Hockey Lose Six of Seven, Fall to 5-7-2 on the Season

By Owen Teach

Following a promising start to the season that saw the Middlebury men’s hockey team with a record of 4-2-2 at the end of first semester exams, winter break and early January were far less kind to the Panthers. After a disappointing Holiday Classic hosted at Kenyon Arena that saw Middlebury drop consecutive one-goal games to Babson and Wentworth, the Panthers have struggled out of the gate in the new calendar year, posting only one win against Wesleyan out of four games. The team, 5-7-2 overall (4-2-2 in NESCAC,) now must look to rebound from a pair of losses this past weekend against first-ranked Norwich and 11th-ranked Plattsburgh with the heart of its NESCAC schedule approaching.

The slow start to 2013, in many ways, mirrors the trials of last year’s men’s hockey team during the same period. The Panthers posted a lackluster 2-5-2 record last January before winning seven out of eight games to reach the conference title game against Amherst. Head coach Bill Beaney is all too aware of the similarities between this and last year’s team.

“We are now in the same predicament now as we were last year at this time,” said Beaney. “Hopefully we can go on the same kind of run as we did last year to finish this off.”

The year started off well, with a 4-3 win against Wesleyan on Friday, January 4, marking a chance for the Panthers to erase a Holiday Classic tournament that the Panthers, according to Beaney, would like to forget.

“Our confidence was shaken by how poorly we performed in the Holiday Tournament,” said Beaney. “We always gear things towards the NESCAC teams, so to get a win on a road was a good boost for us.”

Louis Belisle ’14 echoed his coach’s remarks.

“We did not end 2012 the way we wanted to, and the team was ready to start 2013 on a better note,” he said. “NESCAC games are always very important for the rankings, and we knew the importance of getting a good start to the new year. We came in the game with a lot of energy and competed the way we did earlier in the year, and that’s what brought us success.”

Against Wesleyan, the Panthers enjoyed solid production from first-years Matt Silcoff ’16 and Evan Neugold ’16, who recorded two and three points in the game, respectively.

Neugold opened the scoring with his third tally of the season just 1:10 into the first period. Then, tied 2-2 headed into the final frame, Silcoff found the back of the net at 6:23 and 8:25, both off primary assists from Neugold, to put the Panthers ahead for good in what became a 4-3 victory.

The next day against Trinity, the Panthers continued the offensive output by putting 54 shots on Bantam keeper Benjamin Coulthard. Middlebury was stymied, however, as Derek Pimentel’s ’15 power-play goal with four seconds remaining in the first period proved to be the only time the Panthers bested Coulthard.

Despite the high shot count, Belisle was not happy with his team’s performance.

“We had a lot of scoring chances but could not capitalize, and Trinity took advantage of the opportunities they got,” said Belisle. “It is frustrating to not end up on top in this type of game, we need to be more opportunistic around the net. The players and the coaching staff were not satisfied with a 2-1 loss, we needed the win and did not get it done.”

Returning home on Tuesday, Jan. 8, the Panthers hosted a rematch of first-ranked Norwich, a team that narrowly defeated Middlebury in this season’s PrimeLink tournament in November. The Panthers held their own against the nation’s top Division III team, but the Cadets converted with two late third-period goals to seal a final score of 3-1.

Belisle, while disappointed with the loss, found the effort to be encouraging.

“I believe that the team once again put up a good fight against Norwich, we only gave them a few chances in the third period,” said Belisle. “We learned that we couldn’t let our guard down against a team of that caliber, and that cost us the game. We know that we can compete against any team in this league, and although we did not get the win, we know the game could have gone either way.”

Last Friday, Jan. 11, however, the Panthers lost to Plattsburgh State by a score of 7-1, a troubling score line for both Beaney and Belisle.

“From the first drop of the puck, we let Plattsburgh play their game and impose their rhythm on us,” said Belisle. “We did not play with the desire to win and the intensity that had made us a tough team to beat earlier in the year.”

“We set up schedule against Norwich and Plattsburgh to toughen us up against good teams headed into conference play,” said Beaney. “Given this, we quite honestly didn’t show up against Plattsburgh, which was cause for concern. We did not play hard, and they had us beat in every facet of the game. It wasn’t a scoring or defensive problem, but we had to be sharper in all aspects of the game.”

Despite only trailing 2-1 at the end of the first period, the Panthers then allowed five straight goals in a loss that was eerily similar to a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Plattsburgh almost exactly a year ago.

A bright spot for the Panthers has been the development of first-year goalie Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16, who despite having an 0-5 record on the season has impressed his head coach.

“I have been pleased with his play in every game. I took him out [against Plattsburgh] because the rest of the team wasn’t playing and I didn’t want to subject him to it,” said Beaney. “He will play this weekend and I feel very good about where he is in his development.”

On the whole, Belisle points to the need for his team to transition back to what made it successful in the early going.

“I believe that we have a very talented group of players, but skills alone will not put the puck in the back of net,” said Belisle. “We need to go back to what worked earlier this season, play an intense game, takes lots of shots on net and be aggressive on rebounds and lose pucks, and good things will happen.”

Looking forward, the Panthers, who still sit at fourth in the NESCAC in spite of their recent woes, will face Colby and Bowdoin in conference action at Kenyon Arena this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18 and 19.