Men’s Hockey Fights to No. 5 NESCAC Seed

By Andrew Rigas

The Middlebury men’s hockey team did not lose this weekend at Kenyon Arena, tying Hamilton 1-1 and defeating Amherst 3-1 on Feb. 20-21. Despite the tie result, the team finished one point below Hamilton and fifth in the NESCAC standings, one spot away from hosting a NESCAC playoff game. The Panthers will travel to Clinton, N.Y. to play fourth-seeded Hamilton in the NESCAC quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Entering the game against fourth-ranked Hamilton on Saturday, Feb. 20, Middlebury needed to defeat the Continentals to have a chance to secure the fourth seed and a home playoff game. Hamilton opened the scoring fewer than five minutes into the first period when Conor Lamberti shot from the left point and Brandon Willett deflected the puck past Middlebury netminder Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16.

Two minutes later, Ron Fishman ’16 tied the game on a wrist shot from the right side. Travis Stephens ’18 passed to Fishman who wristed the puck through traffic and into the back of the net to tie the game at one.

Neither team scored in the second period, but Hamilton generated more shots by a margin of 14-4 and had one shot denied by the post when Rory Gagnon hit iron three quarters of the way through the period.

Moorfield-Yee made several game-saving stops in the third period as both teams fought for the much-needed win and things began to get chippy — the teams combined for 12 penalties in the contest.
“Right now, every game is a playoff game and we are fighting for a home playoff position,” Captain Evan Neugold ’16 said.

Over four minutes had elapsed in the final period as action picked up. Lamberti set Kenny Matheson free on a long pass down the middle of the ice. Matheson found himself alone with only Moorfield-Yee to beat, but Moorfield-Yee denied Matheson’s shot and the rebound attempt. The Panthers counter-attacked and Zach Haggerty ’16 ripped a shot from the open left side, but it went just wide. In the last minute of regulation, Hamilton had a two-on-one opportunity, but Scott Vasquez could not convert and the two teams headed to overtime.

Midway through the overtime period, Mark McLellan ’18 beat a Continental defender to a puck in the neutral zone and skated in all alone. He went right and shot, but Hamilton netminder Evan Buitenhuis made a glove save to continue the game. In the dying seconds, Moorfield-Yee gloved Robbie Murden’s, the NESCAC overall scoring leader, shot from the left to force one more face-off with one second remaining. The Hamilton player taking the faceoff sent the puck in the direction of Moorfield-Yee, who made a kick save, his 38th of the day, to end the game in a 1-1 tie. The tie was Middlebury’s seventh of the season, a team record, and their second with Hamilton, who they tied 3-3 in the season’s first matchup.

The tie with Hamilton meant Middlebury could not move into fourth in the NESCAC, but the game against Amherst the next day still had meaning for the Panthers. With a win, they would move past the Lord Jeffs into fifth in the conference, and it was senior day for the team.

“[This weekend] is even more special considering it’s senior night for nine of us,” Neugold said.

This time, the Panthers scored first when Max Greenwald ’16 passed the puck cross-ice to Haggerty, who redirected it for a goal, his team-leading eighth of the season. They added to the lead early in the second period with two goals in one minute. At the 3:41 mark, Fishman scored his second goal in as many games from a difficult angle off assists from Paul Falvey ’16 and Stephens. Exactly one minute later, Spencer Cage ’19 set up Jake Charles ’16 for his sixth goal of the season.

Down by a score of 3-0, Amherst went on the power play twice in the second period and converted on their second man-advantage with a shot from the point.

“Three out of the last four games we have given up two leads, so our focus is on becoming a team that can close when we have the lead,” Neugold said before this weekend.

Middlebury accomplished that on Saturday and secured a 3-1 win to finish fifth in the NESCAC, two places higher than last year.

“Playing a full 60 minutes is something that we’ve been emphasizing all year long, and it was great to see it happen on Sunday against Amherst,” said Fishman, one of five seniors to contribute to the scoring effort.

Moorfield-Yee saved 21 shots in the contest and earned his second win of the season.

“Having three seniors score all three goals and having Liam in net for the win is pretty special given that it was an emotional day,” Fishman said.

Middlebury and Hamilton will meet for a third time on Saturday, Feb. 27 in Hamilton and the winner will move into the NESCAC semifinals the following weekend.

“To beat Hamilton on Saturday,” Fishman said, “it’s going to take a full 60-minute effort from everyone.”