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Men’s hockey breaks into win column vs. Connecticut

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s hockey debuted at home with a more traditional system this past weekend and earned a win and a tie to even the Panthers’ record at 1-1-2, all in NESCAC play.
On Saturday, the Panthers bolted to a 3-0 lead over Connecticut and hung on for a 3-2 victory, and on Friday they settled for a 2-2 tie with Tufts despite outshooting the Jumbos, 41-25.
Coach Bill Beaney was happiest with Saturday’s first two periods vs. the 1-3 Camels, during which the Panthers piled up a 25-16 advantage in shots on the way to their 3-0 lead. The Camels scored twice in the third period, during which they outshot the Panthers, 12-6.
“I think we had a couple real good periods today where we had a lot of jump, a lot of energy, good puck movement, created some chances and finished some chances,” Beaney said. “I thought that was a step in the right direction.”
On Friday, the Panthers were unlucky, as many rebounds didn’t bounce their way. But Beaney said luck typically follows determination, and he expects more from his attackers going forward — especially with the Great Northern Shootout coming to Kenyon this weekend. Middlebury will play Concordia at 4 p.m. on Friday, and then on Saturday either Plattsburgh or Norwich in either the consolation or final.
“The bottom line is we have to get a little grittier in front of each net,” he said.
Beaney expects improvement as the season progresses. His roster is young — only two seniors and eight freshmen and sophomores skated regular shifts this past weekend.
While the younger players adjust to college play, Panther veterans are also adapting. Beaney said he decided to forego Middlebury’s two-forward, three-back alignment in favor of a more traditional three-forward line.
“People are having to play different roles,” he said, adding, “The decisions, by the forwards in terms of coming back and supporting the defensemen, the defensemen being able to handle rushes two on two, (or) three on two with a backchecker, in those critical situations are different because we’ve always played with three in the back.”
One constant so far, he said, has been the play of junior goalie Liam Moorfield-Yee. After senior Mike Peters took the loss in the Panthers’ opener at Bowdoin, Moorfield-Yee has started three straight and made 23 saves in each of the games this past weekend. 
“I liked Liam in both games,” Beaney said.
PANTHER JUNIOR ZACH Haggerty fires the puck to hte front of the Connecticut goal during men’s hockey action at Chip Kenyon Arena Saturday. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
On Saturday, the new system worked well for two periods. After an early Camel power play during which Moorfield-Yee made a key save on Joe Giordano, the Panthers took control, with freshman Michael McClellan hitting a pipe and junior Jake Charles and senior George Ordway having good looks.
The Panthers’ aggressive forechecking finally gave them the lead: Sophomore Mike Najjar stole the puck along the left-wing boards, skated to goal and beat Camel goalie Tom Conlin (29 saves) high from close range at 11:17.
The Panthers made it 3-0 with two goals in 1:48 during the second period. At 4:46, junior Max Greenwald shot from the left point, and junior Evan Neugold tucked the rebound inside the left post.
The next goal came at 6:33 on the power play. Senior Derek Pimentel found junior defender Ronald Fishman alone between the top of the circles, and Fishman pinged a shot home off the left post.
But the Panthers had lost leads in their 2-2 tie at Colby as well as their tie vs. Tufts the night before, and the Camels made it interesting. After Moorfield-Yee made four saves on an early third-period power play, he could not stop Giordano’s one-timer from the left circle at 5:55. At 8:15, Joe Birmingham rapped a cross-crease pass inside the right post to make it 3-2.
The Panthers had the run of play for a while, but a power play at 15:40 gave the Camels a chance to tie. Moorfield-Yee gloved Dan Kelly’s bid from the high slot to preserve the lead, and the Panthers regained control to seal the win.
On Friday, the Panthers scored just once on seven power plays in the first 30 minutes in failing to defeat Tufts (0-3-1), which received 43 saves from goalie Mason Pulde.
Tufts had the best chance to score early, but Moorfield-Yee denied Tyler Voight on a shorthanded breakaway. The Panthers scored at 13:50 with their only power play goal, with Najjar netting a wrister from the left side on a feed from Ordway.
In the second period, Middlebury had nearly four straight minutes on the power play, but could not convert. Tufts got on the board with a five-on-three goal at 14:57, with Brian Brown scoring with a one-timer from the left.
Middlebury answered with 2:59 remaining with freshman Vincent Gisonti’s second goal of the winter. Junior Brendan McGovern chipped the puck ahead, and Fishman carried to the right-wing circle. He crossed to Gisonti at the far side from the short-range one-timer. The Panthers outshot the Jumbos by 30-12 in the first two periods.
The Jumbos tied the game with 5:43 to go, when Brown’s hard shot from a tough angle found the net. Tufts, which outshot the Panthers in the third period, 12-11, threatened again at 17:40, but Moorfield-Yee denied Brown’s point-blank bid.
 Beaney saw progress from Friday to Saturday in getting the puck in deeper, “not turning it over on critical areas of the ice,” and in the defenders getting “a little more composure” and the forwards gaining “a little more confidence.”
But work remains to be done.    
“We’re not where I’d like us to be, but we’re better after today than we were yesterday,” he said. “If we keep working at it we have a chance at the end. But we’ve got to play tougher. We’ve got to play more determined.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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