Men’s Hockey Looks To Rebound From Losing Streak, Secure Spot In Playoff

By Andrew Rigas

ntering its last weekend of the regular season, the Middlebury men’s hockey team still has a chance to earn a home game in the NESCAC playoffs, but those chances are much slimmer after a tough six game stretch that includes a current three game losing streak. The Panthers beat Connecticut College 1-0 on Jan. 29, tied Tufts and Wesleyan on Jan. 30 and Feb. 5, then lost to Trinity and Williams twice on Feb. 6 and Feb. 11-12, respectively, falling from fourth to sixth in the NESCAC standings.

Middlebury was the favorite entering its home matchup with Conn. College, who sat winless in the NESCAC on Friday, Jan. 29, but that was not the case for much of the game. It looked like the Panthers took the lead halfway through the first period when Terrance Goguen ’16 fired a shot from the left circle that appeared to find the back of the net, but upon conferring, the referees waved the goal off. Both teams had several power play opportunities, five for the Panthers and four for the Camels, but neither could capitalize on their advantages.

Late in the third period, as the Panthers attempted to kill a penalty, Vincent Gisonti ’18 out-hustled the opposition to a puck in the Camels’ end and wrapped it around, but Camel netminder Tom Conlin stopped the attempt to force overtime. Just past the midway point of overtime, Conn. College turned the puck over at their own blue line and Gisonti got to it first once again. He carried the puck down the left side and slung a wrist shot above Conlin’s left shoulder and just below the bar for his team-leading seventh goal of the season.
The 1-0 Middlebury victory was the team’s first overtime win in six tries this season. Stephen Klein ’18 was stout in net all night, stopping 24 shots, and recorded his third shutout of the season.

The following night, the Panthers hosted Tufts (2-6-3 in the NESCAC entering the contest) hoping to win two games in a row for the first time this season. However, Tufts scored first when David Lackner beat Klein on a rebound 5:56 into the contest on a Jumbo power play. Early in the second period, Tufts netminder Mason Pulde stopped a shot from Mark McLellan ’18, but Jake Charles ’16 was there to put the rebound in and tie the game at one apiece. Tufts went back ahead later in the period and held a 2-1 lead entering the final third of regulation.

Three minutes into the third period, Evan Neugold ’16 fed Mike Najjar ’17, who backhanded a shot past Pulde to tie the game. Less than four minutes later, the Jumbos once again responded to take the lead, converting on the power play for the second time in two tries. With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Middlebury went on the power play for the sixth time after failing to score in its first five one-man advantages. Almost immediately, the puck ended up with Klein, who handed it off to Neugold.

Neugold skated up the ice and into the Tufts zone, past the blue line and what looked like an intentional pick set by a Middlebury player. Neugold beat the Tufts defense down the right side and set up Brendan McGovern ’16 in front of a wide open net and the Panthers were able to tie the game at three.

“That definitely wasn’t how we drew it up, but we knew that it would be a 4-on-3 situation withalotofroomontheiceto make a play,” Neugold said. “I tried to take advantage of how much room they gave me and how flat-footed they were at their own blue line.”

The game ended in a 3-3 tie as neither team could score in the waning minutes of regulation or overtime.

The Panthers traveled to Connecticut the following weekend, Feb. 5-6, to face-off against Wesleyan and Trinity. On Friday, the Panthers took control against Wesleyan (2- 4-6 in the NESCAC) early, as Kamil Tkaczuk ’19 and McLellan scored within the first five minutes of the game. It marked McLellan’s first goal of the season. Wesleyan got one goal back later that period, but Neugold responded with his fifth goal of the season in the second third.

Shortly after Neugold’s goal, starting goalie Klein exited the game with an apparent injury and Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16 entered as his replacement between the posts. Late in the second period, Charles and Spencer Cage ’19 were both sent to the penalty box, and the Cardinals capitalized on the 5-on-3 power play to make it a one goal game entering the third period.

Wesleyan tied the game a little over eight minutes into the final period. Once again, neither team could break the tie, and the Panthers tied their second straight game.

After going ahead of Wesleyan 2-0 on Friday, Middlebury found themselves behind Trinity by the same score at the end of the first period on Saturday. Trinity scored on the power play 2:42 into the game and then later in the period, also, as the Bantams outshot the Panthers 16-2 in the first third of the game. Travis Stephens ’18 got the Panthers on the board a little over halfway through the second period, but Trinity regained its two goal lead later in the same period and then added an insurance goal in the third period for the 4-1 win. Moorfield-Yee stopped 39 shots, but the Bantams outshot the Panthers 43-18, thoroughly dominating play.

In their final two games before the spring semester began, the Panthers played a doubleheader with first-place Williams, traveling to Williams on Thursday, Feb. 11 before hosting the Ephs the next day, dropping both games by one goal after leading early by two.

Just past the halfway point of the first period on Thursday, Feb. 11, Zach Haggerty ’16 received the puck at his own blue line, beat three Williams defenders in the neutral zone and backhanded a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 Middlebury lead. The Ephs countered with a goal later that period, and the contest was tied after one period.

Haggerty scored his second goal of the game by being in the right place at the right time, getting to a loose puck in the crease and knocking it home 6:09 into the second period. Ronald Fishman ’16 extended the Panthers’ lead to two off a feed from Neugold and, with one period to go against the conference- leading Ephs, held a 3-1 lead.

The Ephs quickly and decisively took a 4-3 lead in less than 14 minutes. A minute after Williams took the lead, the Panthers went on the power play and Zach Weier ’18 scored his first career goal from the point, tying the game at four. Moorfield-Yee did all he could in regulation, saving 45 of the 50 shots on goal, but Colby Cretella beat him one minute into overtime to win the game 5-4 for Williams.

Middlebury scored first again on Friday when, on the power play, Stephens gathered a Najjar shot that ricocheted off the boards and slid it past Williams netminder Michael Pinios. Haggerty scored his third goal in two games and seventh on the season to tie for the team lead with Gisonti over halfway through the second period, but the Ephs answered with two goals to tie the game entering the final twenty minutes of regulation. They took the lead less than four minutes into the third and would not relinquish it the rest of the day.

“We made enough little mistakes that a team as skilled as Williams was able to capitalize on them and come back from a 2 goal deficit,” said Haggerty.
Middlebury pulled Moorfield-Yee with 1:12 remaining and earned a power play 37 seconds later, giving the Panthers a two-man advantage for the last 35 seconds of regulation. Tkaczuk took a shot to tie the game, but it was blocked and Williams won for the second straight night.

The Panthers, now 6-10-6 overall and 5-5-6 in the NESCAC, slid to sixth in the NESCAC standings, directly behind Hamilton in fourth and Amherst in fifth. In their final two regular season games, they host Hamilton and Amherst on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 20-21, with the opportunity to leapfrog both in the standings if they win both contests.