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Men’s hockey wins twice to earn home playoff game

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s hockey team capped off two solid weekends by scoring four third-period goals vs. visiting Hamilton on Sunday to win, 5-2, and clinch a first-round NESCAC home playoff game.
The Panthers, who also knocked off second-place Amherst, 3-2, on Saturday at Kenyon Arena, finished their regular season at 11-10-3 overall and 9-7-2 in NESCAC play.
That league mark, including a 3-0-1 surge in their last four games, puts them in fourth place, a half-game ahead of Bowdoin (14-8-2, 9-8-1 NESCAC).
Because they defeated Hamilton on Sunday, the Panthers will host Bowdoin this Saturday at 4 p.m. instead of having to go to Maine. The Panthers tied Bowdoin, 2-2, at home, and lost in Maine, 5-4, in overtime this season.
Trinity (20-4, 15-3), Amherst (14-7-3, 12-4-2) and Williams (14-7-3, 10-5-3) are the top three seeds. The top remaining seed after this weekend will host the NESCAC Final Four on March 8 and 9.
Before this weekend, the Panthers on Feb. 14 and 15 earned a win and a tie in a home-and-home series vs. Williams, results that followed a three-game losing streak that included setbacks against the league’s seventh- and eighth-place teams.
Coach Bill Beaney after Sunday’s win said the coaches and the Panthers gathered after losses on Feb. 8 and 9 and rededicated themselves to the fundamentals.
He described those as making sure to drive to the net strong on the attack, avoiding costly turnovers at the both blue lines, and being in the right position on the ice to support their teammates — and Beaney said that focus should serve them well moving forward in the NESCAC tournament, where he likes his team’s chances.
Following those principles also led to the team’s success against the Ephs and Jeffs, Beaney said, and to the team’s fast start against Hamilton on Sunday: The Panthers outshot the Continentals (5-15-3, 4-12-2 NESCAC) by 9-1 over the first 10 minutes and took a 1-0 lead on a sensational goal by senior Tom Freyre at 4:06.
Defender Robbie Donahoe ripped a shot that Hamilton goalie Joe Quattrocchi (37 saves) stopped. The rebound bounced into the slot behind Freyre, who was cutting from right to left. Freyre reached behind his back and backhanded the puck inside the right post.
But the Panther momentum slowly fizzled from there. Beaney afterward likened the game to the 1980 Olympics, when the U.S. team defeated Russia and then had to play Finland for the gold the next day. In that game, the U.S. overcame the emotional hangover to score three times in the third to win, 4-2.
Beaney said the Panthers probably eased off too much after their fast start, and credited Hamilton for continuing to work hard and killing two first-period penalties. Quattrocchi also kept it at 1-0 by diving across the goalmouth to stone Derek Pimentel as time expired.
In the second period, Hamilton took a 2-1 lead, but not until after Middlebury’s Evan Neugold rang the near post from inside the left-wing circle. Hamilton got on the board at 4:52, when Pat Curtis’s shot from the top of the left-wing circle broke off the glove of Panther netminder Liam Moorfield-Yee (19 saves) and into the net.
The Continentals went on top 5:05 later with a power-play goal from Brad Smelstor, whose long slapper found the top left corner of the net through a crowd.
Shortly afterward, Beaney called for time. He said he reminded his team to focus on “the little details” on every shift and let the result take care of itself. The Panthers soon regained control, and Quattrocchi made good stops on Brendan McGovern, John Barr and Mike Najjar as the period wound down.
The Panthers tied the game at 16:55 of the third, when senior Louis Belisle’s screened shot from the blue line found the net, with senior Ben Wiggins and Barr getting assists.
The Panthers went on top at 11:52, when Belisle attacked from the left-wing circle and his short shot deflected in off a defender for his team-leading 17th.
Middlebury made it 4-2 at 13:58 with a four-on-three power play goal. Ronald Fishman set up Barr in the high slot. Quattrocchi stopped his first shot, but Barr followed and backhanded the rebound home inside the right post.
Senior Michael Longo added an empty-netter, assisted by Rob Dobrowski. Six seniors played on Sunday for Middlebury on the team’s senior day, and all six recorded points.
On Saturday vs. Amherst, Middlebury took a 1-0 lead 1:20 into the second on the power play. Donahoe found Belisle on the left wing, and he wristed in a shot.
The Panthers made it 2-0 with another power-play goal at 9:14 of the period, this one scored by Fishman from the top of the right circle and set up by Pimentel.
Amherst’s Chris Roll converted a turnover at 12:18 of the period to make it 2-1, and the Jeffs tied it 1:19 into the third, when Conor Brown pounced on a rebound.
The Panthers regained the lead at 7:02, 34 seconds after Beaney called a timeout. Belisle carried the puck down the middle and fed Robbie Dobrowski on the right wing, and Dobrowski snapped a shot glove-side past Amherst goalie Dave Cunningham (30 saves). Moorfield-Yee stopped 16 shots for the Panthers. 

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