Missed Opportunities Cost Men’s Hockey

By Andrew Rigas

The men’s hockey team remained in the top four of the NESCAC after going 2-4-2 since leaving for Winter break. The Panthers’ record stayed even in the conference with a 1-1-2 record over that time, including a win over then fifth-ranked Amherst and an overtime loss to No. 8 Trinity.

“We have put ourselves in a perfect position to secure a home game for playoffs or even host NESCACs if we play the way we are capable of playing for our remaining conference games,” Team Captain Evan Neugold ’16 said. “It is in our hands, which is what you always want as a team coming down the second half of the season.”

Entering their game at Hamilton on Friday, Dec. 11, the Panthers still stood undefeated in the NESCAC at 2-0-2. Middlebury jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Ronald Fishman ’16 and Max Greenwald ’16, but Hamilton scored three unanswered goals in seven minutes in the second. Travis Stephens ’18 tied the game in the final period, and neither team could score in overtime as it ended in a 3-3 tie. Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16 made a career high 49 saves.

The following night Middlebury travelled to face no. 5 Amherst for a battle of undefeateds in the NESCAC. Behind Stephen Klein’s ’18 33 saves, the Panthers shutout the Lord Jeffs 2-0, earning some redemption after losing all three matchups last season. Greenwald put the Panthers ahead a little over 13 minutes into the contest, Mark Lyman ’19 added one more in the second period, and Klein did the rest as he recorded his second shutout of the season.

In their first action of the new year, the Panthers hosted the Middlebury Holiday Classic on Jan. 2-3. In their first game, the Panthers handled SUNY Canton 6-3 as Moorfield-Yee won his first game of the year in net and Vincent Gisonti ’18, Spencer Cage ’19,  Neugold, Jake Charles ’16, Brendan McGovern ’16, and Zach Haggerty ’16 all scored goals.

Middlebury faced Neumann in the championship the next day. All of the scoring occurred in the second period, and, after building a two goal lead, the Knights held off the Panthers for a 2-1 victory. Down 2-0, Stephens put the Panthers on the scoreboard by carrying the puck the length of the ice and slinging a wrist shot below the crossbar. Middlebury outshot Neumann 20-9 in the period and 48-29 in the game, but could not beat the Knight netminder and tournament MVP Tyler LeFebvre more than once.

“We need to be able to finish and put the puck in the back of the net when it counts,” Neugold said. “Those one goal games were all great games, unfortunately the other teams finished their chances and we didn’t.”
The Panthers returned to action the following weekend when they travelled to Wesleyan on Jan. 9. Matt Doherty ’19 drove home a shot from just inside the blue line to put the Panthers ahead in the first period. Mike Najjar ’17 made it 2-0 early in the third period off a rebound. After Wesleyan tied it up, Neugold swatted a rebound out of midair and into the back of the net to put Middlebury ahead again. Just 1:33 later, Wesleyan knotted the game at three, and the game ended that way, 3-3—even as the Panthers outshot their opponent again (33-24).

The next day, Middlebury stayed in Connecticut to face off with no. 8 Trinity. The Panthers drew first blood 2:31 into the game when Najjar slotted one beneath the crossbar. Trinity responded a little over five minutes later to tie the game, but Kamil Tkaczuk ’19 notched his first career goal and gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead after the first period. Trinity tied the game over halfway through the second period, and that score held through the rest of regulation. However, with twenty seconds left in regulation, Stephens earned a trip to the box for charging, leaving the Panthers a man down for 1:40 in overtime. On the power play, the Bantams tallied the game-winner 58 seconds into the overtime period, giving the Panthers their first NESCAC loss—the third game in a row they outshot their opponent (36-23) but failed to win.

The Panthers’ next two games did not get any easier as they faced No. 11 Norwich on Tuesday, Jan. 12 and No. 4 Plattsburgh St. on Friday, Jan. 15. Against Norwich, Haggerty put Middlebury ahead 4:05 into the first period, but Norwich responded with a power play goal to tie the game later in the first. The Cadets took the lead early in the second period which they quickly followed with a shorthanded goal, but Neugold added one for the Panthers to make it 3-2. Norwich extended their lead to three with two power play goals, one in the second period and one in the third. Charles netted an unassisted goal, but that was it for the Panthers as they  lost 5-3.

Neither Middlebury nor Plattsburgh St. could find the back of the net in the first third of action on Friday, but Plattsburgh’s Michael Radisa scored twice in the second period to cripple the Panthers. The Cardinals added an insurance goal and skated away with a 3-0 win.

“We played very well in all 3 games. Just a couple of mistakes cost us,”  Neugold said. “We know we can compete with the best teams.”

Sitting at 4-6-4 overall, Middlebury returns to the ice this upcoming weekend when they travel to Maine to play at Colby and Bowdoin Jan. 22-23, as they look to snap the three game losing streak.