MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team picked up a pivotal win on Friday, knocking off visiting Stowe, the first-place team in Division II, 3-2.
The victory over the 11-3-1 Raiders pushed the Tigers to 9-4, improved their winning streak to seven games, and coupled with their 4-2 comeback win at Milton (9-6-1) on Wednesday, bumped them up to fifth place in D-II, with at least a game in hand over the second-, third- and fourth-place teams.
MUHS has also beaten every team ahead of them in the standings — Stowe, Woodstock (10-3-2), Mount Mansfield (10-4) and Northfield (10-4) — except Northfield, which edged the Tigers at the Memorial Sports Center in December.
But according to Tiger senior captain Keenan Bartlett, whose second-period goal erased Stowe’s 1-0 lead, none of the victories meant more than knocking off a Raider team that was riding an 11-game unbeaten streak.
“It’s a huge confidence boost, and I think the biggest thing is it sends a message out to every other team in Vermont that we’re legit,” Bartlett said. “We’re back in the game this year.”
Coach Derek Bartlett praised the team’s poise in not getting discouraged when Stowe took a 1-0 lead with 12 seconds left in the first period, a goal that came against the flow of play.
Coach Bartlett said the Tigers might have learned something about poise and confidence two days before, when host Milton scored twice in the second period to take a 2-0 lead, but the Tigers rallied to win.
“That got us in the right frame of mind on how to deal with things,” he said “I liked what I saw Wednesday night, and obviously what I saw tonight when they scored first.”
Although the shots favored Stowe in the first period, 5-4, and overall, 16-14, the Tigers earned more territory, and defensemen Jordan Stearns, Andrew Gleason, Nathan Lalonde and James Ploof protected goalie Sawyer Ryan (14 saves) well.
“I think we possessed the puck well,” Coach Bartlett said. “Trying to keep the game in their end was important.”
The Tigers also showed better discipline about penalties than the Raiders, taking five to Stowe’s 10, one of them a double-minor in which a Raider was also whistled and another a call for too many men on the ice.
Coach Bartlett said playing cleaner has helped the Tigers since their 2-4 start.
“We’re not in the box as much as we were in the first five or six games,” he said.
The Tigers failed to cash in on their power plays, but Coach Bartlett said that was largely due to a trade-off he was willing to make: He juggled his line-up to make sure he had his best defensive players on the ice when the dangerous Stowe line of Chad Haggerty, Austin St. Onge and Sam Salvas skated.
“We had certain personnel we wanted on the ice when Haggerty was on the ice, and then with the power play we moved some kids around because of that,” he said. “We strategized around that, and the kids executed really well.”
The Tigers had the best chances in the first period. Only a back-check broke up Tyler Crowningshield’s first-minute breakaway bid, and Stowe goalie Wyatt Galfetti (11 saves) denied Justin Stone from the slot 30 seconds later. Rio McCarty later slid a backhander just wide, and Stone and Devin Dwire had bids during a Tiger power play.
Ryan stopped Phil McDermott from the left-wing circle in the fifth minute, but had little chance on Stowe’s goal, a 12-foot Luke O’Toole wrister into the lower left corner set up by Haggerty on a counterattack.
The Tigers maintained a slight edge in territory early in the second, and it paid off at 4:06. Stearns sent Colton Leno into the right-wing corner, and Leno fed Bartlett cutting toward goal. Bartlett’s angled shot beat Galfetti low to the far corner.
Good work by both goalies kept it 1-1 after two periods. Ryan stopped Salvas from inside the right-wing circle in the eighth minute and denied O’Toole in the late going after the Tigers took back-to-back penalties. During that penalty kill Stearns and Bartlett were effective. Galfetti stopped Stone twice, and then stoned Dwire after he stole the puck on the forecheck.
The Tigers took the lead at 4:46 of the third. Stone rushed down the left side, and the puck went to Dwire behind the net. Dwire came around the far side and slid a cross-crease pass to Nick Audet for the tap-in at the left post.
But the penalty for the extra skater cost the Tigers. At 6:42 St. Onge found Haggerty steaming down the slot, and his wrister found the net.
Two more Tiger power plays misfired, but with time winding down Crowningshield beat two Raiders down the right side and found Leno cutting to the net. Leno chipped the puck into the short side at 13:36 for the game-winner.
“We played a complete game,” Keenan Bartlett said. “We told ourselves if we kept taking shots they would go in eventually.”
Vs. Milton, goals by Dwire and McCarty (from Leno and Stearns) tied the score in the second period. Audet scored in the third, from Stone and Leno, and Bartlett provided a pad goal, from McCarty and Leno. The Tigers outshot the Yellowjackets, 32-20, and Ryan made 18 saves.
Keenan Bartlett explained how the Tigers have now won seven straight.
“We got our chemistry together. We realized after six games we were 2-4, and that’s not where we wanted to be. And we come to practice every day and put our nose to the grindstone,” he said. “And everything is just coming together nicely.”
Coach Bartlett agreed the latest win might have been the most important.
“We know what’s out there now,” he said. “We’ve seen the best in the state, and if we show up on any given night … stay out of the box, play a smart game, we’ll win games, 3-2.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.