MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s hockey team enjoyed a big weekend, winning the Panthers’ own Holiday Classic by knocking off St. Michael’s on Friday, 6-2, and Neumann on Saturday, 3-1, and giving Coach Bill Beaney his 500th victory at Middlebury.
The 5-3-2 Panthers also snapped a three-game losing streak, but they were just as happy Beaney earned his landmark victory, according to Holiday Classic MVP Derek Pimentel, who picked up a goal and three assists in the two games.
“A big part of the reason a lot of us come to Middlebury College is because of the winning tradition that the hockey program has here, and I think Coach Beaney is a big part of the reason for that,” Pimentel said. “It’s special to be a part of the team that gives him the milestone.”
Beaney afterward thanked his wife, players, many assistant coaches, the program’s longtime trainer and bus driver, and his employer of 27 years, during which his teams have gone 500-164-47 and claimed eight NCAA Division III titles.
“It gives you a reason to reflect back on how fortunate you’ve been, how you’ve been surrounded by such great people and had an opportunity to work at a school like Middlebury College,” said Beaney, whose total of 586 D-III wins is unsurpassed. “And for that I’m thrilled.”
Beaney was also happy to see his team rewarded for its effort. He said the Panthers had not played poorly during their losses, and he saw the tournament results as due to what he called the team’s “best week of practice.”
“We were dictating the pace of play … It’s just that we didn’t get the saves at the appropriate time, and we didn’t get the goals on the opportunities that we had,” he said. “Hopefully the tournament is going to put us in a position to really take the next step.”
Pimentel said the Panthers’ plan coming into tournament was to “look at the small details and build from the bottom up,” and that approach worked.
“Coming back after the holidays and getting two wins, especially at our tournament, is awesome,” Pimentel said. “It’s good that we were able to come back as a team and really grind out (the wins).”
On Friday, the Panthers started slowly but pulled away for their 6-2 win over St. Michael’s (1-8-1 after a consolation win over Southern Maine on Saturday). Middlebury was outshot, 7-6, in a scoreless first period in which neither team gained sustained puck possession.
PANTHER GOALTENDER DREW Michals faces a shot from Neumann's Ryan Luitten during Saturday's championship game of Middlebury's Holiday Classic. Michals made 19 saves in Middlebury's 3-1 win. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
But the Panthers outshot the Purple Knights, 23-3, in the second period and emerged with a 2-1 lead. They scored first 3:53 into the second when Pimentel (three assists) sent George Ordway down the left side, and Ordway beat SMC goalie Dave Donzanti (41 saves) from the left-wing circle.
SMC’s Josh Dickman tied the game from the high slot on a solo move, but the Panthers made it 2-1 at 19:29 on Jake Charles’ power-play goal from the slot.
The Panthers then made the most of their third-period chances to bury four more goals. Louis BeLisle broke up a clear just outside the SMC zone, carried to the goalmouth and beat Donzanti high to the blocker side 1:57 into the period. Matt Silcoff made it 4-1 by cashing in the rebound of a Ronald Fishman shot from the point.
SMC’s Kevin Altidor made it 4-2, but Mike Najjar and Cameron Romoff padded the Panther lead. Najjar roofed a backhand after taking a feed from Ben Wiggins on a two-on-one break, and Romoff netted his own rebound from Donzanti’s right, with Pimentel and Max Greenwald assisting. Panther senior goalie Nick BonDurant made 14 saves.
Pimentel said on Saturday the Panthers started playing the way they had hoped after Friday’s first period.
“Coming out slow is not exactly what we wanted. But after sitting down and taking a deep breath, coming out in the second period was really Middlebury hockey,” he said. “I think we really went uphill from there and hopefully that can carry us on until next weekend.”
Against Neumann (5-4-3 this season, the ECAC West champion last season), the Panthers took charge early, outshooting the Knights, 11-5, in a scoreless first period. Pimentel, linemate Evan Neugold and defender Robbie Donahoe had the best chances for the Panthers. Freshman goalie Drew Michals, making his first collegiate start, made two tough saves, denying Nick Perruccio and Kajon McKay from close range.
Neumann goalie Braely Torris (29 saves) did well to stop Silcoff early in the second, but could do nothing to prevent the first goal of the game at 4:27. Terrance Goguen’s shot from the right point was blocked out front, and Brendan McGovern pulled it loose from a knot of players and snapped it into the upper right corner.
The Panthers added their other goals later in the period on a power play after Neumann’s Matt Mazzarolo was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for an elbow to the head.
At 12:12 BeLisle skated in from the left point and wristed the puck into the right side of the net from the high slot, with Andrew Neary assisting. Thirty-four seconds later, Wiggins shot from the left point and it banked home off the prone Pimentel, who had been decked by a defender.
Neumann picked up the pace in the third, but got just one puck past Michals, who was solid with 19 stops. Shane Topf, cutting in unmarked from the left side, netted the rebound of Anthony Pino’s shot from the right-wing circle at 15:38.
Beaney said he liked “all aspects” of Saturday’s game, and he attributed the success to the Panthers’ work ethic.
“They realized all the little details they have to execute to be successful. I think that confidence comes from preparation. And I think these guys have done a very good job in terms of preparing,” he said. “Who knows how far we can go, but I do know this team has the ability to really do well over the course of the year. I’m just thrilled with the way that they work.”