In a regular season filled with its fair share of high and low points for the Middlebury men’s hockey team, the squad managed to rebound from a lackluster 5-7-2 start to post a 12-10-2 overall record, good for fifth place in the NESCAC with an 11-5-2 mark in conference play. This past weekend saw the Panthers split a pair of road games, recording a commanding 6-1 win against Hamilton before falling 5-3 to Amherst on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15 and 16.
Middlebury must now again make the drive to Amherst this coming Saturday, Feb. 23, for its quarterfinal matchup in the conference tournament, as Trinity’s 10-5 win over Bowdoin on Monday, Feb. 18, solidified the Panthers in the conference’s number-five spot.
Perhaps the turning point of the season can be traced back to a 7-1 loss at Plattsburgh on Jan. 11, the final game in a woeful stretch of play that saw the Panthers mired in a 1-6-0 slump. Since that loss, the Panthers have righted the ship, going 7-3-0 over the final 10 games of the year to secure a NESCAC tournament bid. Forward Michael Longo ’14 talked about how that game changed things for the team.
“The Plattsburgh game struck at our pride more so than anything else this season,” said Longo. “We had been kind of floating through the season with mixed results until that game which brought many of our problems into focus. It has been a better daily approach to practice that has made us more successful over the past month.”
The change in approach has paid dividends for the team, clearly demonstrated by the offensive display put on in the first 10 minutes of the Hamilton win. Matt Silcoff ’16 and Ben Wiggins ’14 broke the game wide open in its first 85 seconds, netting goals on a pair of second-chance opportunities. Connor Frick ’16 then blasted a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle 8:31 into the game before Silcoff added his second of the game on a backhand attempt a minute later.
Despite Hamilton adding one in the last minute of the first period, the Panthers cruised to an emphatic victory with Evan Neugold ’16 and Robbie Dobrowski ’15 each adding tallies for the 6-1 win. Neugold and Silcoff led the way for the Panthers, recording three points apiece. Head coach Bill Beaney spoke about his team’s strong performance.
“We started the game with a lot of jump, and I thought the guys were skating well and were alert,” said Beaney. “We really demoralized Hamilton, and instead of sitting back we went ahead and got the fifth and the sixth goals with solid execution in all aspects of the game.”
Both Longo and Beaney were impressed with the efforts of the first-years.
“Silky and Neugold have been great offensively for us,” said Longo. “They have had amazing years are just a part of a really, really good [first-year] class. Although Silky and Neugold may get more recognition because of the points, guys in that grade have been getting it done in other ways all year. In addition to their on-ice performance, they have made some of the elderly members of the team feel like they are 21 year-old freshmen all over again.”
Beaney spoke to the importance of the duo’s continued point production.
“As I’ve spoken about before, our scoring has been spread out,” said Beaney. “However, for us to be successful, Matt and Evan need to be consistent threats.They’re both on our power play and got some quality minutes against Hamilton. They generated solid offense, both themselves and getting people in the back involved.”
The 5-3 loss to Amherst on Saturday may prove more troubling for the Panthers, as the team will face the same squad in the NESCAC quarterfinals this Saturday after losing five straight games to the Lord Jeffs dating back to January 2011, including last year’s conference tournament championship game.
Middlebury held a 3-2 lead 6:25 into the third period against Amherst on Saturday after George Ordway ’14 scored on the power play off assists from Louis Belisle ’14 and Dobrowski. Things then fell apart for the Panthers, however, as Amherst netted three goals in the game’s final 12 minutes to secure the 5-3 win. Despite the last period letdown, Beaney is complementary of his team’s effort.
“We played solid for two-and-a-half periods, and the only time we didn’t play solid was in the first 10 minutes of the game,” said Beaney. “I think if we play that way again I like our chances of beating them again. It was a tough loss, but it was also a good experience for our goaltender. [Mike Peters ’15] had his way for the last two games, and against Amherst he faced some more shots than he was used to.”
Speaking on the goaltending situation, Beaney is keeping his cards close to the vest as to who will start Saturday at Amherst, although it appears that whoever performs better in practice will get the nod. Peters has started the past three games for the team, although Dan Fullam ’14, Liam Moorfield-Ye ’16 and Nick BonDurant ’14 have all started in net for the Panthers this year.
According to Longo, the team isn’t worried which guy is back in net.
“It’s very unique to have so many guys capable of stepping in and performing at a high level,” said Longo. “Such depth at goalie makes practices even more competitive. The great thing about our goalie situation is that each one can bring us success in the playoffs, and whoever earns it during practice will be the one who ultimately gets the start on the weekend.”
Looking towards the NESCAC tournament this weekend, Beaney says it could be anyone’s for the taking.
“I think that any one of the top six teams can win,” said Beaney. “It comes down to who is sharper, who is healthier and whose special teams and goaltending can get it done – that’s playoff hockey. I look back to our national championships, and the three things that stand out are strong special teams, good goaltending and your third line is better than theirs.”
Middlebury travels this weekend to Amherst in the NESCAC quarterfinals.