MUHS boys’ hockey come on strong to topple Rutland

MIDDLEBURY — A second-period surge proved to be the difference for the Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team on Friday night as the Tigers cruised to a 5-1 win over visiting Rutland.
The Tigers improved to 8-5-1 heading into two games this week, a rematch with the Raiders in Rutland on Wednesday and a home game vs. Burr & Burton on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Sports Center.
The Tigers are currently in sixth place in Division I, while Burr & Burton (9-3) is in fifth; at least a No. 5 or 6 seed would ensure the Tigers a home first-round playoff game.
On this past Friday MUHS came out of the gates strong, and when a puck popped out of the corner into the high slot 42 seconds into the game, sophomore Devon Kearns buried it inside the right post to give Middlebury an early lead.
But that score seemed to light a spark for the 3-10-1 Raiders, who began creating chances off of Tiger missed passes that became more frequent after the early goal. 
MUHS Coach Derek Bartlett noticed his team’s change in pace.
“I thought we were a little complacent the rest of the period,” Bartlett said. “It didn’t seem like we were working off the puck. It seemed like we were waiting for the next guy to do something and then react to it.”
And at 14:08 Rutland capitalized. The Raiders won a faceoff to the inside of the right circle, where freshmen Ryan Melen netted the Raiders’ only goal to tie the game at the end of the first period.   TIGER SOPHOMORE DANIEL Hodsden carries the puck across the blue line and into Rutland territory during Friday night’s game in Middlebury. The Tigers won the game, 5-1.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
After the late Raider goal the Tigers emerged with a new intensity in the second period. When asked what he said to his team to flip the switch, Bartlett credited his players and their leadership.
“I did not set foot in the locker room. There was no message,” Bartlett said “And, honestly, they know what the message would have been. Because we’re at the stage of the season where it gets a little tiresome where we’re saying the same things over and over again. And the thing is they know what they’re capable of when they want to play and do the things we’re asking them to do.”
And it seemed the Tigers did know what to do. From the puck drop at the start of the second period, Middlebury dominated play, and at 2:56 junior Kolby Farnsworth made it 2-1. A shot from the point glanced off the left post and bounced into the corner, where Kearns and junior Ben Turner won the puck. They moved it to the front of the net, where Farnsworth was waiting for a one-timer that went in off Raider goalie’s Glen Mandel’s glove and bounded just over the goal line. 
From there, the Tigers controlled the game. Senior defenders Krystian Gombosi and Ziven McCarty effectively shut down the Raider attack, and sophomore goalie Daniel Wiles (12 saves) made a few crucial saves to keep the Tigers in the lead.
With just over a minute remaining in the period, the Tigers lit the lamp again. Sophomore forward Hale Hescock received a pass from senior captain Tyler Giorgio (one goal, 1 assist), skated the puck behind the net and slid a backhanded wraparound past Mandel (23 saves) to make it 3-1.
The Tigers sustained pressure for the final minute and finally forced a puck in the corner to pop into the high slot. Junior Cooper O’Brien was there to hammer home a one-timer right at the buzzer.
The Tigers held their momentum in the third. At 3:53, Giorgio, with assists from McCarty and Kamrin Bartlett, ripped a close shot inside the right post. Middlebury controlled the rest of the period to secure the 5-1 victory, their second of the week.
On Wednesday the Tigers bolted to a 4-0 lead against visiting South Burlington (4-8-1) and hung on for a 4-3 victory. The Wolves took advantage of Tiger penalties, including a five-minute major, to score all three of their goals in the final six minutes. Ryan Nadeau, Gombosi, Hescock and O’Brien scored for the Tigers, and Goalie Jeffrey Stearns made 16 saves.
Gabe Frigo, Mason Fay and Dylan LeClair found the net for the Wolves in the late going, and goalie Ted Hopper stopped 13 shots.
Bartlett said one reason the Tigers played well last week was a tweak to their forecheck the team has been working on, a switch to a system that has their defensemen pinching more aggressively on the wings with the center covering the middle.
“Now we feel we have the right forecheck, the look that we want,” he said. “Now it’s just figuring out the personnel and having these guys showing up consistently and playing at a high level. Like tonight when we wanted to work Rutland didn’t touch the puck.”
As the regular season nears its home stretch Bartlett said the Tigers are confident. 
“We just have to keep climbing and keep focus here,” Bartlett said. “When we play I really believe we’re a contender, a legitimate team in this league.” 
   TIGER KOLBY FARNSWORTH scored a goal in Middlebury’s 5-1 win over Rutland Friday night.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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