MUHS boys hockey season ends against tough U-32 team

MIDDLEBURY — In what might have been the Division II boys’ hockey championship game and not just a quarterfinal, on Wednesday No. 5 U-32 scored two late goals to edge No. 4 Middlebury, 2-1, at the Memorial Sports Center.
The teams entered the game with misleading records. The Raiders, 13-7-1 after the win, went 10-1-1 in their final 12 regular season games, while the 12-7-2 Tigers ended their season with an 11-3-2 record vs. Vermont D-II teams.
Two of those losses came to the Raiders, who after Wednesday were the highest seed left in the tournament: Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds Harwood, Missisquoi and Woodstock, all teams the Tigers defeated this winter, all lost their quarterfinals.
Tiger Coach Derek Bartlett said after the tough loss that he figured his team would have to play the Raiders at some point in the postseason if they were to win the title.
He was happy with the Tigers’ effort vs. U-32.
“We knew that we were going to see the best team in the state in the quarters. Unfortunately it wasn’t the finals,” Bartlett said. “We knew it was going to be a battle, and we were going to give them a better game than we gave them when we went up there, because we didn’t play well up at their place. It was a good hockey game. Our guys played for 45 minutes.”
The Raiders dominated the scoreless first period, outshooting the Tigers, 10-4, part of their overall 21-13 advantage. Tiger goalie Sawyer Ryan (19 saves) made several solid stops in the period, denying Connor Barrett from the left side and Lucas Eldred from the right side midway through.
Later on he denied Colby Brochu from between the top of the circles, and Tiger defender Krystian Gombosi stopped a Raider seeking the rebound. All the Tiger backs did good work — Nathan Lalonde, Andrew Gleason, Erik Sherman and River Payne as well as Gombosi.
The Tigers’ best chance came about four minutes in, but U-32 goalie Connor Carbo (12 saves) denied Seamus Eagan from the slot and Gleason’s rebound bid.
Bartlett was happy the Tigers survived the first period.
“We kind of weathered the storm a little bit,” he said.
The Tigers struck early in the second. Gleason, at the left point, sent a low shot through traffic that Carbo stopped, but could not control. A scramble followed, with Tigers Jerry Niemo, Eagan and Brett Viens all hunting the puck. Finally Viens stuffed it home off an Eagan rebound at 1:11.
 A little later, Tiger Colton Leno slid a shot just wide after a breakout pass from linemate Tyler Crowningshield. Then U-32 had a couple chances: Brochu hit a post, and Ryan stopped Barrett from the slot. The Tigers had a late power play, but could not convert. Shots favored the Raiders in the period, 8-7.
The Tigers played their best hockey early in the third, with the trio of Leno, Crowningshield and center Justin Stone — he and Lalonde are the team’s only seniors — creating pressure. But Niemo and Crowningshield could not convert Stone setups, and four minutes in Stone’s backhand from just right of the net went behind the desperately scrambling U-32 goalie — and trickled past the far post.
“We had that puck, and there was that one Justin had on his backhand that slid behind the goalie and came out the other side. From my angle it looked like it was going in,” Bartlett said. “We definitely had chances.”
The Tigers continued to control, but the Raiders equalized after breaking up a Tiger play at mid-ice. Brochu sent the puck to Barrett, and he skated inside the top of the left circle and rifled a shot into the upper left corner at 9:56.
At 11:44, Brochu notched the game-winner, chipping the puck into the left side of the net during a scramble after Eldred and Barrett won a battle in the right-wing corner.
The Tigers’ best chance to equalize came with a couple minutes to go, when Carbo snared a Lalonde bullet from the left-wing dot that was ticketed for the upper left corner. Even with the Tiger goalie out for the final 1:15, a U-32 defense that played well all game held fast.
“They’re a very good hockey team, a lot of depth,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said Wednesday’s 45-minute effort was typical for the Tigers this winter. 
“The guys have played hard. They’ve battled. They’ve competed. They’ve earned everything they’ve received and gotten this year, getting into the quarters and hosting here,” he said. “It was a great group, a real pleasure to coach.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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