Middlebury boys’ hockey opens with a key win

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team on Tuesday used a big second period and nine minutes of effective penalty killing in the third period to earn a season-opening 4-2 win over visiting Division I foe Rutland.
After a sluggish first period in which the D-II Tigers fell behind, 1-0, they got second-period offense from two of their member-to-member players from other schools. Otter Valley senior Colton Leno notched the tying and go-ahead strikes, and Vergennes senior Tyler Crowningshield added another score in an action-packed second 15 minutes.
The Raiders cut the lead to one just after the Tigers killed seven straight minutes of penalties in the third period, with MUHS senior Sawyer Ryan (23 saves) coming up big in net. After the Tigers held the fort after another late penalty, Crowningshield delivered an insurance goal with 1:30 to go.
Crowningshield said the Tigers had opening-game nerves to work through in the first period, but once they did they were good to go.
“We just had a great game. We definitely took advantage of our speed,” Crowningshield said. “And when we settled down and got the jitters out, I think that really helped us.”
Knowing they defeated a D-I team should help the Tigers, too, he said.
“It’s really just a statement for us. It sets the tone for us,” Crowningshield said.  
Coach Derek Bartlett also said the win should give his team, which relies on many freshmen and sophomores, a shot in the arm.
“It’s huge. It just builds confidence,” Bartlett said. “We have seniors, but we have some guys being asked to play significant roles on the team and it’s their first year.”
Possibly also because the Tigers’ most recent scrimmage was 10 days before, they were out of synch in Tuesday’s first period. Tape-to-tape passes were few, Rutland often cleared its own zone with little resistance, and the Raiders also forechecked well.
The visitors took the lead at 9:06, when a Tiger defender tried and failed to keep the puck in the Raider zone, leading to a two-on-one at the other end. Raider Connor Ladabouche carried down the left side before finding Jacob Sabourin cutting into the high slot. Sabourin deked and beat Ryan with a backhand.
A minute later, Rutland’s Jacob Godfrey hit the right post with a close-range shot from the left side, one of several chances the Raiders couldn’t convert. The shots favored Rutland by just 5-4 in the period, but their territorial advantage was greater.
“It took us 15 minutes to get up to speed,” Bartlett said. “We were lucky to be down 1-0 after the first. And then the second period we just kind of refocused and said, ‘Stick to the system. This is what we’re asking you to do. Trust each other and do your job.’”
Early in the second, the Tigers got early energy from the Tiger forwards sophomore Jack Donahue and junior Eli Tucker, and Raider goalie Glen Mandel denied Tucker. At the other end, Ryan made key stops on Aidan Reilly and Bauer Hill.
Soon, Rutland began to find it harder to clear its zone, and the Tigers began to win faceoffs and attack out of their end.
Then the Tiger pair of senior Jerry Niemo and Leno applied the pressure, with Crowningshield and junior defender Andrew Gleason joining in. At 4:13 Leno struck. Crowningshield worked the puck behind the net to Gleason, who found Leno cutting inside the right-wing circle. Leno one-timed the pass into the lower left corner.
Mandel made a big mid-period save on senior defender Morgan Huestis’ slapper from the high slot, but the Tigers took the lead with two goals 41 seconds apart late in the period.
Leno scored the first. Mandel stopped his shot from the left side, but Leno backhanded the rebound home. Crowningshield got the second, tapping the puck around a defender at the blue line and outmaneuvering three defenders before tucking a backhander between Mandel’s pads at 13:54. Sophomore defender Krystian Gombosi picked up an assist on the play.
In the third period the Tigers were assessed a five-minute major 2:14 into the period for boarding. Ryan made saves on Ryan Pfenning, Hill and Godfrey, and several Tigers made key defensive plays: junior defender Erik Sherman, junior forward Brett Viens, Gleason and senior defender River Payne.
As the penalty expired, the Tigers were tagged for another two minutes. Viens, Sherman, Leno and Gleason made plays, and Ryan denied Hill. But just after the penalty expired, Hill picked up a loose puck to the right of the Tiger net and stuffed it home at 9:49.
At 11:43, Rutland went back on the power play. Leno, Crowningshield and Gleason did the heavy lifting on the penalty kill. Just after the penalty expired, Crowningshield knocked the puck loose on the forecheck and backhanded home a 12-footer for the clinching goal at 14:30.
Bartlett said the fact that he was able to use three forward pairs and three groups in the back for the first two periods meant his penalty killers were fresh when the game was on the line — depth will be a Tiger strength his winter.
“The effort all-around from everybody was great tonight,” Bartlett said. “Everybody contributed tonight, whether they were on the scoresheet or not.”
Crowningshield said hard work won the game on Tuesday, and the Tigers will remember that going forward.
“I would say we’re confident, but not cocky,” he said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We definitely need to get back to practice and work on the stuff we need to work on.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
TIGER GOALIE SAWYER Ryan kicks aside a shot during Tuesday’s game against Rutland. Middlebury won the game, 4-2.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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