Men’s Hockey Continues its Playoff Run

By Andrew Rigas

The third time was the charm for the Middlebury men’s hockey team against Hamilton.

After tying the Continentals in their first two matchups of the season, Jake Charles ’16 scored the winning goal 7:21 into overtime, and the Panthers defeated Hamilton 2-1 in Clinton, N.Y. on Saturday, Feb. 27, to advance to the NESCAC semifinals. They will play Amherst on Saturday, March 5, and the winner of that matchup will play for the NESCAC championship the following afternoon.

Only one point separated the Continentals from the Panthers in the NESCAC standings when they entered the game on Saturday. In the teams’ first matchup, Middlebury went ahead 2-0, before Hamilton scored three unanswered goals in the second period and Travis Stephens ’18 made it a 3-3 tie in the final twenty minutes of play. Then, one week before last weekend’s face off in the playoffs, the teams tied 1-1, setting up the quarterfinals as the rubber match between the fourth-seeded Continentals and fifth-seeded Panthers.

2:50 into the game, the Panthers scored first on Evan Neugold’s ’16 sixth goal of the year. Charles passed to Neugold in the neutral zone, and Neugold carried the puck down the right side. Neugold made one defender miss then slung a wrist shot past Hamilton netminder Evan Buitenhuis for a 1-0 Middlebury lead.

The Panthers took that one goal lead into the first break, but Robbie Murden tied the game just 39 seconds into the second period with his conference-leading 17th goal of the season. Middlebury attempted to clear the puck but was unsuccessful, and the puck found its way to the NESCAC leading scorer, who handled the rest, beating Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16 to the short side.

The Continentals had one more golden opportunity in the period on a two-on-one advantage. They drew Moorfield-Yee out of the net but shot just over the crossbar, and the game stayed tied entering the final 20 minutes of regulation.

Hamilton outshot the Panthers 17-5 in the third period, but could not beat Moorfield-Yee. Early on, Moorfield-Yee went to the ice to make a save and the puck rebounded precariously into the crease, but a Middlebury defender arrived to clear the puck away from the empty net. Without a decisive goal, the game went to overtime.

“As a goalie, your job description is to stop pucks,” Moorfield-Yee said. “To be able to do that over the past couple of weeks has been a rewarding experience.”

Seven minutes into overtime, a Hamilton player swung the puck around the boards behind his own net, trying to clear it, but it bounced to Charles in the center of the ice. Charles passed to Vincent Gisonti ’18 at the right post whose shot was stopped but rebounded out to the right. Charles was there to slide home the game-winning goal after 67:21 of action.

The Panthers got their second and most important overtime win in eleven tries, even though the Continentals outshot them by a margin of 41-25.

“Liam gave us all the confidence in the world,” Neugold said. “He absolutely stood on his head and made crucial saves when we made mistakes during the game. He played his biggest game in our most important game of the season.”

Moorfield-Yee’s 40-save effort between the posts garnered him NESCAC Player of the Week honors.

Middlebury now turns to sixth-seeded Amherst on Saturday, March 5, whom they will face at Trinity, the highest remaining seed in the bracket. The Panthers defeated Amherst both times during the regular season, by scores of 2-0 and 3-1. However, the Lord Jeffs were able to record six goals in the third period to come from behind and upset third-seeded Bowdoin and will be riding that momentum into this upcoming weekend.

In the other semifinal matchup, second-seeded Trinity will face eighth-seeded Tufts, who knocked off top-seeded Williams on Saturday. The winners of both games will compete for the NESCAC championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament the following day.

“It’s going to take the same level of commitment and buy-in that we played with against Hamilton,” Neugold said. “If every guy on the team is playing his heart out, playing the way we played Saturday and buying into the team system, then that’s all you can ask for.”

With two wins this weekend, the team would win its first NESCAC championship in six years and eighth in team history. Middlebury last reached the championship game in 2012, the season before this year’s group of nine seniors arrived on campus.