Tiger boys’ hockey opens with home victory

MIDDLEBURY – The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team didn’t know what to expect from visiting Brookline, Mass., in the Tigers’ season opener on Friday, but figured out if they stuck to their system they could compete.
That plan worked, as the Tigers earned a 3-2 victory behind a balanced attack – three players scored, and four contributed assists — and strong goaltending — sophomore goalie Jeffrey Stearns stopped 28 shots, including a breakaway.
The Tigers were under the gun early on, but senior co-captain Tyler Giorgio said once they took the lead on sophomore defender Devon Kearns’ power play goal late in the first period they settled in and played their game.
“We had to battle some battle some adversity in the first period. We were a little rusty getting the puck out of the defensive zone,” said Giorgio, who picked up an assist on junior Ben Turner’s second-period shorthanded strike. “But as the game went on we started using our system to get the puck out, and I think we started working as a team a little more.”
Coach Derek Bartlett agreed the Tigers improved as the game went on, and he was happy they played as well as they did given they had only one scrimmage to prepare for the opener and started the game with two defenders sidelined with minor injuries and lost a third, Ziven McCarty, when he needed medical attention after a suspicious, but uncalled, hit late in the first period.  
“I thought we responded. The composure was pretty good. I thought it got better as the game went on. I felt the first period, our composure with the puck, we just weren’t taking care of it. We were just creating chances for the other team. And I thought we did a better job of that,” Bartlett said. “It was like a scrimmage, so there was a lot to work on. But I like the core we have. The guys need to work hard and get better, and it should be an exciting season.”
In that first period Stearns made nine saves, including a key stop on Warrior sophomore Colin Finnegan from the slot five minutes in. Sophomore defender Robbie Bicknell made a big defensive play a minute later, and shortly after that senior defender Alexander Yurista hustled back to bust up a potential two-on-none break.
At the other end junior forwards Kolby Farnsworth and Cooper O’Brien created the best Tiger chances until the power play, which came at 11:44.
Farnsworth started the scoring play with a rush into the left-wing corner and a feed back to senior Krystian Gombosi at the left point. Gombosi found Kearns in the slot off the left post, and his shot went in off Warrior goalie Felix Madsden-Hardy’s glove and into the upper far side at 12:31.
Brookline opened the second period with 1:27 of power-play time, but it didn’t go well for the Warriors. Giorgio and Turner broke up a play just outside the Tiger defensive end, and Giorgio
Middlebury Union High School senior Brian Kiernan mixes it up in front of the Brookline goal Friday night. 
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
controlled and tapped the puck forward to Turner heading for open ice. Turner beat the defense into the slot and at 0:26 beat the goalie between his pads from about 12 feet out.
Just after the penalty expired the Tigers nearly made it 3-0, but Kearns’ wrister from the left circle rung the left post.
Brookline made it 2-1 at 5:11 by crashing the net. Stearns stopped an Ellis Vish shot from the left circle and then a Jack Friedman rebound bid from point blank, but Finnegan backhanded the second rebound inside the right post.
The Tigers answered with sustained pressure and a pretty goal from O’Brien at 7:57. Sophomore forward Kamrin Bartlett won the puck behind the Brookline goal, circled counterclockwise and fed O’Brien out front. O’Brien chipped it over Madsden-Hardy from the edge of the crease just before the goalie could knock it away.
With 1:45 left in the period Stearns preserved the two-goal lead by flashing his right pad to kick away Chris Hernandez’s low, point-blank one-timer.
The Tigers opened the third period on a power play, but also had their worst stretch of the game. First, they allowed Hernandez to skate in on Stearns, who kicked aside the breakaway bid. Then they took a penalty to erase the power play and allowed a four-on-four breakaway, which Matt MacDougal converted at 1:42 to make it 3-2.
But the Tigers regrouped to kill off the brief Brookline power play, and carried of play for most of the rest of the period. Madsden-Hardy (19 saves) did well to stop Bartlett from the slot on a power play, and also denied Giorgio after he stole the puck seven minutes in and shot from the slot, although Giorgio thought it was in.
The Warriors tested Stearns one more time after they pulled their goalie, but Stearns used his left pad to knock aside a Hernandez bid from the high slot, and soon afterward the Tigers were celebrating.
Giorgio said the win  — against a team that outshot South Burlington in a 4-4 tie on Saturday — should give what is a young team a confidence boost.
“It’s pretty important for us, especially against an out-of-state team that we didn’t know anything about,” he said.
Bartlett saw some defensive positioning miscues he described as correctable, but was happy to see his shorthanded team come through and to see all three offensive lines contribute to the attack.
“It is balanced. It’s nice. It’s great, the fact that guys are getting in and contributing with all three lines,” he said. “We can roll three, which is awesome. That’s big for us.”
Giorgio said the win felt good, and said the Tigers know what they have to do to enjoy that feeling again.
“I think we’ve got to keep working hard in practice and show it out here on the ice,” he said. “It pays off when we work hard in practice.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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