Coming off an upset win in the quarterfinal round of the NESCAC tournament against Amherst, the men’s hockey team traveled to Brunswick, Maine for a shot at reaching the program’s second consecutive NESCAC title game. Despite getting within two goals of Bowdoin on Robbie Dobrowski’s ‘15 third period goal in the conference semifinal game on Saturday, March 2, Middlebury fell short of the Polar Bears 4-2, cutting short its bid for the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year.
The Panthers entered the game against Bowdoin hoping that the Polar Bears might struggle to find their offensive rhythm early on, as they did the week before in their 5-3 quarterfinal win against Hamilton. Bowdoin needed a three-goal third period to get by the Continentals, considered to be the weakest team in the tournament field.
Bowdoin, however, bested Middlebury goalkeeper Mike Peters ’15 twice in the first period on a pair of goals from forward Danny Palumbo. Already trailing after Palumbo’s first, the Panthers conceded with just 39 seconds remaining after a nifty passing play from a trio of Bowdoin players to head into the first break down 2-0.
Head coach Bill Beaney spoke about the effect of the demoralizing last-minute goal.
“If you take a hard look at the game, the goal that really hurt us was the goal with 39 seconds left in the first period,” said Beaney. “I thought we played a poor first, and if we could’ve come out down only one goal it would’ve been a morale victory.”
In the second period, Peters put together a string of solid saves at the four-minute mark before Bowdoin broke the away team’s defense once more to stretch its lead to 3-0. This time, Daniel Weiniger intercepted the puck at the Panther blue line before beating a Middlebury defender to finish a snap-shot past Peters 7:29 into the period.
Beaney touched on the difficulty of being three goals down at that point in the contest.
“In the second, our goal was then to come out and get it back to one goal, we had two good looks [early on] and couldn’t convert,” he said. “They got another one and [3-0] is a tough lead to overcome.”
Even though the shot tally remained even through much of the game, with Middlebury’s 17 third-period shots actually giving the Panthers a 34-29 game advantage, Bowdoin frustrated the Panther attack through much of the game.
This changed at the 16:27 mark of the second when All-NESCAC second-team selection Robbie Donahoe ’14 broke through the Bowdoin line late in the period, putting home a rebound off an initial shot from Mike Longo ’14. Down two goals at the end of the second, Beaney called on his team to repeat a similar performance from earlier in the year.
“Basically what we said is, ‘in November we were down 4-2 in the third and we came back to tie 4-4,’” said Beaney. “I told them it was no different now than then. It seemed as though every time we got one they countered with one, though, and we could never get it back to a one-goal game.”
Bowdoin opened the third period by notching a goal at 3:42, before Middlebury’s Dobrowski, with an assist from Max Greenwald ’16, cashed in on a flurry of action in front of the net to make the score 4-2.
Then, with 10 minutes left to play, Middlebury earned a final chance for a comeback in the form of a two-man advantage on a pair of Bowdoin penalties. The Panthers failed to convert on the opportunity, going zero for three on the power play overall in the game.
“I thought that was going to be our opportunity to get back into the game. We had a couple of good lucks and I thought that the puck was in the right place, but we weren’t able to execute,” said Beaney. “You need some luck on the power play, and we didn’t get a whole lot of it on that one. I think that had we gotten one there it would’ve changed the game going forward.”
To finish the game, Polar Bear goalie Max Fenkell stopped 16 of 17 shots in the third period to put Bowdoin in the NESCAC finals with a 4-2 win.
The next day, Sunday, March 3, Bowdoin skated to the NESCAC championship with a 2-1 win against Williams, who defeated Trinity 4-2 in the other semifinal the day before.
The Panthers are now left to face another offseason of work to get Middlebury back to the NCAA tournament. Not since Middlebury lost to Plattsburgh State in overtime three years ago in January 2010 has the team seen NCAA tournament action.
The Panthers will look towards a bevy of returning talent, including NESCAC Rookie of the Year Matt Silcoff ’16, who finished the season with 11 goals and 13 assists, and All-NESCAC second team selection Donahoe to do the job next year.
“There were a number of games this year where Matt was best player on the ice for either team,” said Beaney. “If he can take a step back and put in some work in the offseason, he really could become one of the great Middlebury players. While, I thought Robbie on Saturday up in Maine was the best player on the ice, period – he was all over the ice making plays and creating chances.”
Beaney also pointed to the coaching staff’s frustration over Louis Belisle ’14 not receiving an all-NESCAC selection after his stellar play this year, both on offense and defense.
As the season came to an end on Saturday, graduating captain Mathieu Castonguay ’13 is confident the team will have a number of players returning to leadership roles.
“There is a ton of firepower returning to the team next year and I think that Peters can be proud of what he accomplished [in net] towards the end of the season,” he said.
Peters is also proud of how is team performed towards the end of the year.
“I think that the team really stepped it up at the end of the year,” said Peters. “I think that we have a lot of talented first-years on the team who now have gotten acclimated to college hockey and we will look to them to be more consistent contributors next season.”
Panther faithful now begin the eight-month wait for puck drop in November 2013.