Middlebury boys’ hockey bears down for big wins

MIDDLEBURY — In the early and middle part of January, the Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team hit the road for three straight Division II games and lost them all to fall to 7-4-1.
The low point came on Jan. 16, a 3-1 loss at 3-11 St. Johnsbury in which the Tigers fell behind by 3-0 and could not rally despite outshooting the Hilltoppers by 44-17.
The Tigers brought that baggage back to the Memorial Sports Center last week for two key league games — and won both, 7-3 over a Stowe team, which entered the game with a 9-2 record, and 2-0 on Saturday against North Country, which came in at .500 looking to move up in the standings.
Senior co-captain Colton Leno, who picked up two goals and an assist on Wednesday and the opening goal on Saturday, said the Tigers learned a lesson while losing those road games.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” Leno said. “It just showed if we we’re not going to work hard, then we’re not going to win games. And once we started working hard again, we’re pulling out the victories.”
Coach Derek Bartlett said home ice helped the cause, but that something else seemed to click in for his team, especially at the offensive end.
“Since the St. J game they’ve had the mindset that we need to outwork our opponent,” Bartlett said. “And when we do that we’re going to get more opportunities. And that’s going to be the key to our success.”
The two victories, coupled with losses on Saturday by Stowe and Milton (both now 9-4), moved the Tigers back into third place in the point standings, in position to host a quarterfinal. Six games remain in the regular season. Only one of those, at first-place Woodstock on Feb. 5, comes against a team now ahead of them in the standings.
On this past Wednesday, the Tigers scored the game’s final four goals, all in the last six minutes, to snap a 3-3 tie and overcome Stowe forward Chad Haggerty’s hat trick.
After a scoreless first period, Haggerty scored twice in the second, while Leno scored and set up Erik Sherman’s first career goal, and the teams entered the third at 2-2.
Leno gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead at 3:32 of the third, but Haggerty equalized at 8:13. The Tigers responded with strikes from Henry Hodde at 9:02, Tyler Crowningshield at 11:36, Jerry Niemo at 11:54 and Tyler Giorgio at 13:01.
Andrew Gleason assisted two goals, and Niemo, Brett Viens, Crowningshield and Krystian Gombosi also set up scores as the Tigers found the net seven times after managing just two goals in their three road losses.
Tiger goalie Sawyer Ryan made 11 saves, while Dylan Whitaker stopped 15 shots for Stowe.
One reason Bartlett said the Tigers finished strong vs. Stowe, which they also did on Saturday, is that his third line — Marty Niemo, River Payne, and either Eli Tucker or Jack Donahue — has earned more ice time.
“It’s been the last two games we’ve been doing that,” Bartlett said. “We’re trying to go three as much as possible.”
Bartlett has also made some personnel adjustments, moving Payne to that unit from defense, and adding Brian Kiernan and Josh Girard to the starting defense to join Gleason and Gombosi. Riven McCarty has also returned from injury and is spelling the top four defenders. 
“We’ve made some adjustments in the lineup,” Bartlett said. “Vs. Stowe we were opportunistic and we were able to capitalize.”
TIGER JUNIOR ANDREW Gleason prepares to fire a shot from the side of the North Country goal during Saturday’s game at the Memorial Sports Center in Middlebury.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
On Saturday, the Tigers outshot the 4-5 Falcons by 15-4 in the first period, but could not dent goalie Dylan Simoneau, who finished with 25 saves, even with a five-minute power-play mixed in.
But 1:25 into the second, Leno gave the Tigers the lead with help from Crowningshield. Crowningshield circled behind the Falcon net and put the puck on Leno’s stick just off the left post for a point-blank one-timer between Simoneau’s pads.
But North Country found its legs and outshot the Tigers, 12-5, in the middle period. Tiger goalie Doug DeLorenzo (21 saves) did he best work when he moved to stop a Ben Sykes power-play one-timer off the right post and later held his ground on a Dawson Cote breakaway.
Crowningshield made it 2-0 1:08 into the third with a hard, low wrist shot from the right-wing circle after Gombosi sent him into the zone. The Falcons managed just five more shots, not counting one that just missed — Henry Delabruere tipped a puck that fluttered over both DeLorenzo and the crossbar, one of several Falcon shots that went wide in the later periods.
But overall the Tigers played solid defensively on Saturday. 
“The second period went to them,” Bartlett said, “and then the third period I thought we settled down a little bit better in the D zone, took care of the puck, made the simple play to get it out, and played with a little more compete.”
Leno said the Tigers will remember that effort gave them the results they wanted in both games last week.   
“Big win tonight, big win on Wednesday,” he said, “that’s just going to keep the bar where it is.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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