Tigers stomp Stowe to get back in the D-II hunt

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team surged over .500 with a pair of wins last week, including 6-2 at home on Saturday over Stowe, the team that defeated the Tigers in the 2014 Division II final.
Along with a 6-2 win over visiting Mount Mansfield on Wednesday and a 14-2 romp at Lyndon on Jan. 3, the Tigers are 4-3-2 and back in the D-II hunt.
Some of the reason for the bounce-back is due to the Tigers’ schedule — their losses came to D-I Rutland and to a pair of tough New York teams, Lake Placid and Northeast Clinton.
But senior captain Justin Stone, who paced the Tigers vs. Stowe with two goals and an assist, said the team is playing better because they have put in the necessary effort.
“We’re doing the little things pretty well,” Stone said. “We’re working hard in practice, and it’s paying off.”
After watching the Tigers compete hard for 45 minutes vs. Stowe on Saturday, Coach Derek Bartlett said there are several reasons his team is improving. 
“Playing Lake Placid, playing NCCS, playing a team like Rutland, gets us ready for the league,” Bartlett said. “We should be competitive in our league. They’re really starting to play well together. The chemistry is starting to come together with the lines.”    
And the Tigers don’t see their effort in practices and games as drudgery, Bartlett said, but as something they enjoy.
“The bottom line is they’re having fun,” he said. “You watch the way they play, when they compete they’re having fun, which is huge.”
On Saturday, the Tigers shook off two early deficits. After both teams started slowly, Stowe’s Sam Lively found the far corner from the left-wing circle at 6:35 to give the 3-6 Raiders the lead. Soon afterward, Tiger goalie Sawyer Ryan (19 saves) denied Stowe standout Chad Haggerty from point blank.
Then the Tigers began to come on strong. After forward Colton Leno missed just high at the 10-minute mark, defender Nathan Lalonde sent forward Tyler Crowningshield into the left side of the Stowe zone. Crowningshield slipped past a defender and beat Stowe goalie Dylan Whitaker (20 saves) with a high backhander from the slot at 10:51.
But the Tigers took a late penalty, their second, and Stowe converted when Cole Whitaker’s screened shot from the right circle found the upper right corner. Stowe finished with a 9-7 shots edge in the period.
Then in the second, the Tigers outshot the Raiders, 12-2, and scored four times. Three times crashing the net paid off, and the fourth was a Stone solo effort.
“Everybody just woke up,” Stone said. “We saw what was working and got it done.”
At 1:37 Leno backhanded home a rebound of a Stone shot. The Tigers pressed, and Whitaker denied Crowingshield’s backhand from the slot, and Morgan Huestis shot the rebound just over the bar. Whitaker later gloved a Crowningshield bid from his doorstep.
Stowe carried play for a few minutes in the middle of the period, and Ryan preserved the tie by stopping Jackson Felis and Lively. The Tigers kept close watch on Haggerty and kept him off the board, in part thanks to marking by Jerry Niemo.
Then the Tigers took charge. Lalonde (three assists) worked the puck into the right-wing circle, and Marty Niemo outmuscled two defenders to get the puck into the slot, where linemate Eli Tucker one-timed it into the lower left corner at 10:14.
At 12:46, it was 4-2. Defender Krystian Gombosi sent the puck toward the right end of the Stowe blue line. Stone levered himself past a Raider along the boards, curled into the slot and whipped the puck into the near side.
The Tigers applied a back-breaker at 14:59 on a power play. Defender Andrew Gleason shot from between the circles. Whitaker stopped the shot, but the rebound popped to the onrushing Gleason, who tucked the puck inside the left post.
Bartlett said the Tigers’ plan of clearing the zone quickly and simply, getting the puck deep and working hard paid off.
“We were under their sticks, we were in their faces and we were on their hips, and that’s what we said at the beginning before we went out: If we do those three things, we’ll be in good shape tonight,” he said.
Stowe created a little pressure in the third, with a 10-7 edge in shots, but Ryan made a couple fine stops, notably an acrobatic save on Holden Southall that had his teammates giving him fist-bumps.
Stone made it a 6-2 final by taking a Lalonde feed from the left and blasting home a short one-timer from the slot at 10:41.
On Wednesday, the Tigers defeated Mount Mansfield, 6-1, after taking a 4-0 first-period lead. Seamus Eagan scored four times, while Lalonde and Gleason each added a goal and Brett Viens picked up two assists. Ryan stopped 20 shots on the Tiger goal, while Pheoniz Lamonda made 21 saves for the 4-7 Cougars.
In the 14-2 win at Lyndon, Josh Girard and Gleason scored two goals apiece. Girard scored his first career varsity goal vs. the Vikings, as did Jerry Niemo, defender River Payne, Gombosi and forward Jack Donahue. Also lighting the lamp were Eagan, Leno, Viens, Lalonde, Marty Niemo and Stone. Lalonde and Stone set up three goals apiece, and Leno added two assists. Doug DeLorenzo backstopped the win with six saves.
Looking ahead, Stone said more of the same effort could go a long way, although the Tigers would focus on one night at a time. 
“It’s anybody’s game. If you show up to play it can be your night,” he said.
Bartlett also feels positive moving forward.
I really like what we have,” he said. “They work hard. They’re playing hard. They listen. The system looks good.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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