MUHS boys’ hockey prevails in key contest

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team went a long way toward earning a home Division II quarterfinal game on Tuesday, when the fourth-place Tigers dominated visiting fifth-place Milton, 4-0.
MUHS is 12-4-2 with two games left in the regular season, vs. Harwood (8-8 as of Tuesday) at home on Saturday and at Mount Mansfield (8-9) next Wednesday. The Tigers will be trying to stretch a six-game unbeaten string (5-0-1) in those contests.
The Vermont Principals’ Association will announce playoff pairings on Thursday, Feb. 18. The Tigers could host a quarterfinal on Feb. 23 or 24, or a first-round game on Feb. 20 if they do not hold serve in their final two games.
Milton dropped to 12-6 and three points behind the Tigers in the D-II standings, still in fifth place, but could have passed them with a win on Tuesday.
Coach Derek Bartlett said the Tigers knew the importance of defeating Milton.
“It means a lot as far as the standings go. A loss there, and we’re not sitting where we are,” Bartlett said.
After a scoreless first period, the Tigers took charge with three second-period goals, one each by Tyler Crowningshield and Colton Leno and one fluky goal officials credited to Eli Tucker.
Milton goalie Eric Roy made 14 of his 28 saves in the first period to keep the Tigers off the board until then.
“In the first period we were pressuring. We were getting some opportunities. We knew we had to get traffic in front of the goaltender tonight, because Eric is a phenomenal goaltender,” Bartlett said. “We weren’t able to get anything by him, but I felt good about the way we were playing.”
Between periods, Bartlett said the Tigers talked about getting more net presence around Roy. The tactic paid off three minutes into the period, when Crowningshield gave MUHS the lead.
Leno put a hard shot on goal from the top of the left-wing circle. The puck appeared to hit Roy in the mask before dropping to Crowningshield, waiting at the back post to knock it home. Eli Tucker got the second assist.
The Yellowjackets briefly pressured after the score, but the Tiger defense and goalie Doug DeLorenzo (11 saves) held firm. Play soon went the other way, and Roy stopped several bids.
Then the Tigers caught a break. They were whistled for a penalty, and Roy left his net for an extra skater with the Yellowjackets controlling the puck. A Milton skater made a blind pass backward from near the blue line, and it slid into the empty net. Tucker, the nearest Tiger to the play, got credit for the goal, and the Tigers easily killed their only penalty of the game.
At 12:11, Leno made it 3-0. Crowningshield sent him down the right side and joined him on a two-on-one rush. Leno reached the inside of the right circle and pinged in a shot off iron, high into the top right corner. Shortly afterward, DeLorenzo preserved the three-goal lead by denying Milton forward Liam Fersing from the slot.
In the third period, all three Tiger lines continued to win pucks and create chances.  
“As long as we could get the puck deep and sustain our forecheck, we could get turnovers off the wall,” Bartlett said. “We just kept pinching it off and creating turnovers, and had a sense of urgency to get pucks to the net.”
Leno made it 4-0 on a power play. Tucker started the play in the right corner, feeding Andrew Gleason at the right point, and Gleason quickly moved the puck to Leno in the left circle. Leno picked the near corner past a screened Roy at 9:58.
Meanwhile, Milton continued to get few chances at the other end, with Tiger defenders Gleason, Brian Kiernan, Krystian Gombosi, Josh Girard and Erik Sherman doing consistent work.
“We just tried to keep it simple in the D zone tonight when they got pucks in. We had the guys play with intensity on the puck, and then kept it simple and got it out of the zone,” Bartlett said. 
DeLorenzo made just three saves in each of the final two periods, including two glove stops in the game’s final minute to preserve the shutout.
Tuesday’s game followed a 3-3 tie on Friday at first-place Woodstock in which Bartlett was also pleased with his team’s play.
The Tigers in midseason suffered a three-game losing streak capped by a loss at 3-14 St. Johnsbury. Since then, Bartlett  said, they have focused on the task at hand and not the big picture, an attitude that has served them well and he hopes they retain through the postseason. 
“Since the St. J loss, that’s been our mindset,” he said. “One game at a time, one period at a time, and it’s an opportunity. Every night’s an opportunity, and the guys played like that tonight. They knew there was an opportunity to stay where they were in the standings and create some space between them and everyone else behind them. So they played well. So stick to that mantra.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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