MIDDLEBURY — The Division II Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team outplayed visiting D-I Rice for most — but not all — of Tuesday’s home game, and settled for a 2-2 tie.
With a record of 10-2-3 and four regular-season games left, the Tigers remain in the hunt for the top seed in the D-II playoffs, trailing only 14-3 Stowe.
The Tigers on Tuesday outshot the 6-8-1 Green Knights, 30-23, and controlled the first two periods despite missing two skaters who have recently played key roles, Sawyer Hescock and Keenan Bartlett.
But Coach Derek Bartlett was more concerned afterward with the Tigers’ second consecutive lackluster third period. After two periods on Tuesday, the Tigers led, 2-0, and had outshot Rice, 23-5. On Saturday, the Tigers dominated last-place Hartford before surrendering three goals in the final 2:20 in a 3-3 tie.
Bartlett noted that Tuesday was the fourth time the Tigers have lost a late lead, and for that reason they have yet to reach their full — and considerable — potential.
“It was 30 minutes of good hockey, really solid hockey, sound hockey, really smart hockey,” he said. “And then for some reason in the third period we didn’t duplicate what we did in the first two periods. ... At this point it’s getting a little frustrating, because the guys do play so hard. They do play good hockey, and they’re not rewarding themselves for their efforts early in the game.”
Given the missing skaters, Bartlett only deployed two lines — Graham Barlow, Tim Shea and Colin Babcock formed one, and Andrew Myhre, Chris Hickley and Nick Leach the other — and two defensive pairings — Ryan Crowningshield and Sawyer McLaughlin, and Steel White and either Jordan Stearns or Cody Gendreau.
But he refused to use tired legs as an excuse in the third period, and the Tigers did outshoot Rice in overtime, 3-0.
“I felt they were solid leg-wise. I just thought in the third period we just didn’t make good decisions with the puck. We weren’t poised,” Bartlett said. “Hopefully this is just another one of those games that is all part of the journey. We’ve got to find a way when we get close to the playoffs to play with a lead in the third period.”
Both teams skated well in Tuesday’s first period, but the Tigers won most battles for the puck and protected goalie Nick Bruch well — Bruch had to make only three of his 21 saves in the first period.
As time went on, the Tigers began to press, and they broke through for both their goals in the final 1:06. First Shea sprung Babcock into the Rice zone with a two-line pass. Babcock sealed off a lone defender and lifted the puck over sprawling Rice goalie Robert Street from point-blank range.
Soon after, the Tigers broke up Rice at mid-ice with another good defensive play, springing Shea down the left wing on a two-on-one with Barlow. Shea carried to the bottom of the circle and fired across to Barlow, who tipped the puck inside the right post at 0:16 to make it 2-0.
In the second period, MUHS outshot the Knights, 16-2, but did not score even on a five-on-three power play. Street (28 saves) denied Leach from the slot, Stearns from the right point, a Hickley slapper from the left wing, and Myhre from the point. White also fired high on a breakaway, and the Tigers couldn’t convert rebounds and saw several shots sail wide.
Bartlett would have liked to see the lamp lit, but praised the Tigers’ play.
“When the momentum is going our way, the kids get up and down. They fly, and they have energy,” he said. “We just have to find a way to bury those rebounds.”
In the third the Knights started winning puck battles and outshot the Tigers, 18-4. Bruch made a number of nice stops, including one on Harry Foreman after which he knocked the rebound away from Cole Zweber. But the Tigers failed to clear, and Foreman fired again from the right side. Bruch saved again, but this time Hayden Provost was alone to backhand the rebound inside the far post at 3:17.
Bruch denied Provost and Zweber from the slot before Rice equalized at 8:31. Bruch made two stops as the Knights peppered him, but Foreman tucked the second rebound home.
Bruch preserved the tie with two point-blank saves on Zweber, and then the Tigers generated some chances. But Street stopped bids by Hickley and McLaughlin, and it was onto OT. There, Street stopped shots by Myhre, Shea and Babcock, and the Tigers had their second straight deadlock.
The Tigers are at Mount Mansfield on Saturday, and then host St. Johnsbury on Monday at 4:15 p.m. in a make-up game.
Bartlett will be looking for the Tigers to play like he knows they can.
“Once again, it’s being able to play for 45 minutes,” he said. “These guys have shown in multiple, multiple games how good they can play this game.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.