MUHS boys’ hockey surges past Raiders

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team on Saturday earned arguably its biggest and certainly its most dramatic win of the winter, scoring three times in the final 6:27 to erase a 2-0 deficit and defeat previously unbeaten U-32, 3-2.
Sparking the comeback was senior Brett Viens, who plays the hybrid center/defenseman position in the Tigers two-up, three-back system.
Viens started buzzing the U-32 net after Raider Lucas Eldred gave his team a 2-0 lead with a sensational effort 20 seconds into the third period, and eventually scored twice, including the game-winner with 1:17 left in regulation.
In all, Tigers put 11 shots on net in the third period after notching just seven in the first two periods. They came to life with relentless forechecking, including by defenseman Ziven McCarty, who broke up a clear and scoring the tying goal. 
Viens said the 5-3-1 Tigers were able to lift their play.
“I guess we just found it within ourselves,” Viens said. “Our theme for the season has been ‘passion.’ And I guess the passion just really came through there.”
The win followed a Wednesday home game in which the Tigers had to settle for a 1-1 tie with Colchester when the Lakers’ Luke Dion scored with three seconds left in regulation. Henry Hodde tallied in the second period for MUHS, with assists from Viens and Eli Tucker. Tiger goalie Jeffrey Stearns made 18 saves, and goalie Jake Rocheleau stopped 17 shots for the 2-5-1 Lakers.
Viens said although the Tigers were 2-1-1 in their four games before Saturday, they believed they could play better. They also gave up two third-period goals in losing to Lake Placid on home ice.
“These past few games haven’t been as strong as we wanted them to be,” he said. “Once it came to game time and the puck dropped, we wanted to win. We played our hearts out.”
Coach Derek Bartlett said the Tigers played hard, but not well, for the first two periods, squandering too many chances by being out of position and not passing well. But he said they raised their game when it mattered.
“For two periods we weren’t putting our best out there,” Bartlett said. “Credit to them. They figured it out. They came together. And I think they feed off of No. 7 (Viens) quite a bit. It’s great seeing them respond that way.”
The 6-1 Raiders held the edge in the first period and took the lead at 6:47. Brendan Marineau put a shot on goalie Doug DeLorenzo (12 saves) immediately after a faceoff in the left circle, and Eldred popped the rebound inside the right post.
That was a rare Tiger defensive lapse. Tiger defenders Andrew Gleason, Krystian Gombosi, Brian Kiernan, Alexander Yurista and McCarty all had solid games, and all 11 wings and centers who took regular shifts took their defensive responsibilities seriously.
Team defense has been a strength, Bartlett said: The Tigers have allowed two or fewer goals in seven of nine games.
“The forwards are being disciplined in their back pressure,” he said. “We lean on our goaltending, and our defense, that’s where we start.”
In the second period, the Tigers’ depth up front began to give them more territory, but chances were few. After two first-period shots, they launched just five more. The best chances came mid-period, when Raider goalie Rory Hynes stopped Hodde, from Yurista, and then denied Eli Tucker and then Viens’ rebound bid. Devon Kearns, on a Kamrin Bartlett feed, also saw a U-32 defender deflect his point-blank shot high.
DeLorenzo was busier. He stopped Conor Barret on a breakaway nine minutes in and then seconds later was in the right place to take a Zach Legue screened slapshot off his facemask. Late in the period he made back-to-back saves on Brady Hill and Owen Guthrie.
But he couldn’t stop Eldred 20 seconds into the third period. The bigger, more physical Raiders broke up a clear along the left board, and the puck popped in the middle to Eldred. He slipped it through a defender’s legs, went in alone on DeLorenzo and snapped the puck into the upper right corner.
The tide turned, but DeLorenzo had to make one more big stop about eight minutes in, kicking aside another breakaway after the Tigers lost the puck at the Raider blue line.
A minute-and-a-half later it was 2-1. Gombosi sent Viens steaming down the slot. Hynes stopped his 25-footer, but Viens kept coming and stuffed the rebound home in the crease.
With 2:41 to go, McCarty pinched down the right boards to block a clear, picked up the puck, skated between the circles, and ripped a slap shot inside the left post, and it was 2-2.
The Tigers kept bottling up the Raiders, who called time with 1:26 to go and a faceoff in their end. But the Tigers won the faceoff. Tyler Giorgio controlled along the right boards and centered to Kolby Farnsworth in the slot. Hynes denied his one-timer, but Viens was waiting off the left post for the rebound and stuffed home the game-winner with 1:17 to go.
Viens said it was an important result for a young Tiger team competing at a higher level this winter.
“This is pretty big for us. If we had lost it, it would have put us back at .500,” Viens said. “There’s still a lot of games left, but the season’s gone by pretty fast, and to win a game against an undefeated team like that, that’s ahead of us in the rankings, that’s a big mental aspect for us.”
Bartlett said the Tigers could make some noise if the play for 45 minutes like they did for most of Saturday’s third period.
“When we play the way we are capable of playing,” he said, “I truly believe we are capable of playing with anybody in the state.”    

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