Rocky Start for Men’s Hockey, As They Fall to 0–4

By HEATHER BOEHM

The men’s hockey season is in full swing, with four games under the Panthers’ belts. The Panthers took to the ice on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Kenyon Arena looking to improve on last years run. With an 0–4 start, after their first two weekends of play, the young team is figuring out where it needs work and the pace of Nescac play.

The Panthers dropped the season opener to Colby falling 9–1. Saturday they tightened up their play and challenged Bowdoin in a 2–0 loss.

On Nov. 18, in the season opener, the Mules cruised past the Panthers from the first few minutes of the competition. Colby quickly got to work and broke past the Panther defense. At 2:43 in the opening period, the Mules’ Mike Rudolph found teammate Mario Benicky who tallied the first goal of the contest. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Colby did not take long to double their total within the first five minutes of play as another shot whistled past Panther goalie Stephen Klein ’18.

Less than 20 seconds later, Middlebury’s response came from Brendan Dawson ’20. He kept the Panthers in the game after creating his own opportunity and going the length of the ice for the tally. This cut the Colby lead to one goal as they headed into the second period. Middlebury would be unable to add to their total despite a number of scoring opportunities, including a couple of chances later on in the match.

Building off of momentum, the Mules capitalized on their lead netting three shots past the Panther goalie in the second period. Two of those strikes were on Mule power plays – at the 15:46 and 7:34 marks. The Panthers wasted a golden opportunity in that stanza, failing to score despite having a five on three power play advantage for almost two minutes.

In the last period, Colby continued to exploit a porous Middlebury defense, increasing their advantage by four. Benicky and J.P. Schuhlen each realized a hat trick, which helped to solidify the Mules’ first conference victory of the season.

Klein shared time between the pipes with Brian Ketchabaw ’20 and Henry Cutting ’19. The three netminders had 18, nine, and three saves respectively. Middlebury trailed Colby in shots on goal by 39–23, going a long way to explain the significant score differential.

Trevor Turnbull ’20 reflected on the team’s first appearance.

“I think it was more about execution than strategy,” said Turnbull. “We have a young team that is eager to erase last year’s mistakes, and I think that played against us come game time being that we came out with more nerves than energy.”

These nerves would come up again as Middlebury took to the ice to face Bowdoin the next day on Nov. 19. While the result was not the desired outcome, the Panthers showed a much improved defense that allowed only two goals to the visiting Polar Bears.

Bowdoin, coming off an 8–16–1 season last year, batted the puck past the Panther goalie with 11:43 gone in the first period to capture the early lead. The Panthers had a few opportunities within the first few minutes, but the visitors from Brunswick denied their attempts.

In the second period, the Panthers came to life outshooting the Polar Bears 13–5, but they were unable to capitalize on this significant shot differential.

Bowdoin secured their first triumph of the season with under eight minutes left in the game, when Thomas Dunleavy knocked a rebound past Middlebury.

With under two minutes of play, the Panthers had a power play and were up by two players where they pulled Klein to try to force a goal, and put them on the board. But, Bowdoin’s defense was bulletproof, however, and they were able to maintain their shutout.

The Panthers showed offensive improvement compared to their duel against Colby, by outshooting the Polar Bears 39–27.

“This week we are going to practice keeping our game fast and simple, trying to not do too much with the puck,” said Joey Piccinini ’20 after the opening-weekend thud. “If we are just able to do the little things better, we should see some success in the tournament this weekend.”

While Piccinini’s statement reflected the team’s optimism, it was not enough for the Panthers to come out on top this past weekend against either Lawrence and Norwich. The Panthers kept busy over the break and celebrated Thanksgiving by skating around their home rink at the PrimeLink Great Northern Shootout. The tournament’s contenders included Middlebury, Norwhich, Lawrence, and Plattsburgh State.

The Panthers were knocked out of the main draw with a 6–3 loss to Lawrence, although Middlebury started to show some significant strides as they led 2–1 after one period and were tied half way through the third.

Nonetheless, the Panthers put up a strong fight against Lawrence in Kenyon Arena in the first round. Middlebury came out firing in the first period, with an aggressive offense that the Vikings were not prepared to face. The Panthers wasted no time in penetrating the Lawrence defense, and ultimately found their opportunity.

In the first few minutes, transfer Owen Powers ’20 paved the way for the first goal of the game as he swatted the puck back to Ryan Ashe ’21 after winning a faceoff. It was Michael Fahie ’21 who then found the back of the net and pulled the Panthers ahead. But the Vikings took less than three minutes to respond to the Panthers, equalizing the score. The Panthers proceeded to double their lead when Kamil Tkaczuk ’19 found an opening past the Viking goalie at the 8:59 mark.

Middlebury’s greatest challenge throughout the second period came from numerous penalties. However, the stanza held scoreless until Lawrence was able to breach the Panther defense and climb to 2–2 heading into the final time frame.

With a tie game on the line, the Panthers would have to compete with the intensity they had in the first period in the last 20 minutes.

Three minutes into the last stanza though, Lawrence’s Jake Roeper slid a shot past the Middlebury keeper, lifting them to a one goal advantage. But, the Panthers were able to momentarily erase the Vikings’ lead after Powers skillfully struck a shot past their goalie. This would be Middlebury’s last response to Lawrence, as the Vikings secured their spot in the next round of the tournament slapping back three quick goals past the Middlebury defense and finalizing the total to 6–3.

“The biggest thing for us is tightening up our systems and playing a full 60 minutes,” said Ethan Cohen ’19. “The team we are capable of being has been there in stretches all season, and it was there for much of this weekend.

“Focusing on cutting down on mistakes will get us where we need to be,” Cohen added. “It’s definitely early enough to turn the season around and we believe that we’re capable of doing so.”

Finally, last Saturday Nov. 25, the Panthers looked to take another step forward against the defending national champion, Norwich, in the consolation round. While the Panthers came up short in the tall task, losing 5–1, they had an opportunity to match up in the season’s early going against one of the country’s best.

For the first nine minutes of the matchup, neither team was able to get on the board. It was only off of a power play that Norwich tallied their first goal. Seconds before the 15 minute mark, Fahie tapped in the second goal of his career as a Panther, matching the Cadets’ total and pulling the Panthers even 1–1 with the national champs. Unfortunately, this would be Middlebury’s last scoring play of the tournament.

The Cadets would go on to net four more shots in the last two periods, with no response from the hosts. Middlebury only trailed Norwich 33–27 in shots on goal, but they were not able to capitalize on these opportunities as Cadet goalie Tom Aubrun was stellar, recording 26 saves. Middlebury also failed to exploit three power play opportunities, coming up empty handed on each of them.

Fahie was named to the all-tournament team.

The men’s hockey team will continue to battle for their first victory this weekend against another couple of Nescac rivals. Tomorrow they will be at Connecticut College and Saturday they travel to play at Tufts.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Leave a Comment




Middlebury College's only student-run newspaper.
Rocky Start for Men’s Hockey, As They Fall to 0–4