Men’s Hockey Falls to Amherst in NESCAC Semis in Nine Seniors’ Last Game

By Andrew Rigas

They always say it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. The men’s hockey team discovered that on Saturday. After defeating defending NESCAC champion Amherst twice in the regular season, the fourth-seeded Panthers could not do so for a third time, falling to fifth-seeded Amherst 4-2 in the NESCAC semifinals on Saturday, March 5 at Trinity.

Amherst advanced to the NESCAC championship for the third straight season, where they fell to Trinity 5-1. The Panthers finished their first season of Head Coach Neil Sinclair’s second stint with an 8-11-7 record, the third straight year they have finished with a losing record following 24 consecutive winning seasons. However, this year’s Panthers advanced to championship weekend for the first time in three years after failing to make it out of the quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015.

Middlebury thoroughly handled Amherst both times in the regular season, getting ahead early and allowing one goal in two games. On Dec. 12, the Panthers traveled to Amherst and shut out the hosts 2-0. When Amherst visited Middlebury on Feb. 21 in the second-to-last game of the regular season, Middlebury won by two goals, 3-1, in the seniors’ last game in Kenyon Arena.

All of that meant nothing when Saturday arrived, and Amherst jumped out to a 1-0 lead 8:48 into the contest when John Festa beat a Middlebury defender and sent a wrist shot into the bottom corner for his first career goal.

“We had our chances,” Sinclair said. “We had chances and weren’t able to capitalize on them early on in the game, so we were fighting from behind for the rest of the game.”

At the 4:54 mark of the second period Middlebury went on the power play and threatened to score numerous times. Amherst netminder Connor Girard saved every shot that came his way as his team successfully killed the Middlebury power play. The Panthers struggled on the power play all season, scoring only nine times, fewest in the conference.

On an Amherst power play later that period, Topher Flanagan found Thomas Lindstrom wide open in front of Middlebury netminder Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16. Lindstrom received the pass and beat Moorfield-Yee to the top right corner, giving Amherst a 2-0 lead.

Still up 2-0 entering the third period, Amherst’s Patrick Arena added one more to his team’s lead early on, batting the puck out of midair and into the back of the net. With only 15:38 seconds remaining in the game, the Panthers faced a 3-0 deficit and the end of the season loomed large. Seven and a half minutes later Mike Najjar ’17 got Middlebury on the board, beating Girard from long-range to bring Middlebury within two goals with 8:06 remaining.

Time worked against Middlebury from that point on and the Panthers pulled Moorfield-Yee with 3:35 left in the game. 24 seconds later, Festa scored his second goal of the game and the first of his career from beyond the red line.

Max Greenwald ’16 ended his career with pride as he scored the Panthers’ second goal of the day with 52 seconds remaining when, he got to his own rebound and pushed the puck home for his fourth goal of the season. But 52 seconds later the horn sounded on the Panthers’ season and the careers of nine seniors: Greenwald, Moorfield-Yee, Evan Neugold ’16, Terrance Goguen ’16, Ron Fishman ’16 (who was named second team all-NESCAC for leading all defensemen in points – Jake Charles ’16, Zach Haggerty ’16, Brendan McGovern ’16 and Paul Falvey ’16. Fishman made the All-NESCAC second team, scoring five goals and assisting on 12 more this season, which led all defenseman in points in NESCAC play.

“The senior class brought a lot to the table for the last four years and they’ve been a huge part of the Middlebury hockey program,” Sinclair said. “I’m very grateful in my first year back here they were welcoming and made the transition go really smoothly, and am proud of what they were able to accomplish on the ice. It’s going to be really sad to see them go.”