Tiger hockey boys show flashes, but fall, 3-0

MIDDLEBURY — A solid effort wasn’t quite enough for the Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team on Friday night, when visiting BFA-St. Albans remained unbeaten vs. Vermont competition by topping the Tigers, 3-0.
The final score included an empty-net goal, and the 7-1-1 Bobwhites outshot the Tigers by 26-19. BFA’s loss and tie came against New York teams, and the Bobwhites trail only undefeated Essex in the Division I standings. The Tigers dropped to 7-3, good for fourth place in the league. 
Coach Derek Bartlett said he was pleased with how hard the Tigers played, but said a little more thoughtfulness with the puck could have led to a better result. He expects his players to realize what they could have accomplished with a dash more poise, and to add that ingredient to the recipe moving forward.
“We skated, but we didn’t play a smart game as far as possessing the puck. We were dumping the puck when we should have been gaining the zone with possession, and should have had a little more confidence when playing with the puck on our stick,” Bartlett said. “Hopefully they’ll learn from this experience that if we want to compete with the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the state, we’ve got to be able to play in situations like this.”
MIDDLEBURY DEFENSEMAN TUCKER Stearns checks Bellows Free Academy forward Noah Vincelette along the boards in Friday’s 3-0 home loss to the St. Albans school.
Independent photo/Steve James
The Bobwhites controlled possession in the first period but managed only five shots on Tiger goalie Jeffrey Stearns (23 saves on 25 shots faced) as the Tiger defense limited their chances. Stearns did well to glove screened shots from the point by Nathan Benoit and Dominic Liscinsky in the period.
But the Tigers were not linking well offensively as the Bobwhites pressured them hard, and they did not put a shot on goal during a power play that began at 9:49. That was the only penalty the officials whistled in a physical, but cleanly played, game.
The Tigers showed more jump in their legs in the second period, especially after they began to take the body more effectively, particularly on defense. Defenders Robbie Bicknell, Tucker Stearns, Daniel Hodsden and Abel Anderson all did good work, as did center Kamrin Bartlett.
Bartlett noted the uptick in his team’s physicality, which he credited for their better work at both ends.
“We’ve been working just this last couple weeks on body contact, negating their feet by pinching on the wall. And early on we were fishing for pucks. And we still fished a little bit tonight. But we tried to make the point tonight when you wanted to engage physically just by making body contact, they had no options,” Bartlett said. “We were creating turnovers and transition from defense to offense because of that.”
BFA goalie Daniel Ellis, who played the first two periods for BFA and stopped 11 shots, denied Tiger forward Devon Kearns’ diving shot in the second period’s first minute. Then the Bobwhites carried play for a few minutes. Stearns stopped Noah Vincellette’s close-range forehand bid in the second minute, but Liscinsky’s screened blast from the right point at 1:47 found the left side of the net.
Stearns preserved the one-goal deficit by stopping Mason Yandow’s forehand from the slot and flashing his left skate to kick aside a point-blank Noah Vincelette backhander at 4:30.
TIGER GOALTENDER JEFFERY Stearns makes a spectacular save to stop Bellows Free Academy forward Ben Pudvah on a breakaway in the second period of Friday’s Middlebury Union High School loss to the visitors from St. Albans.
Independent photo/Steve James
Then the Tigers took charge. Kearns forced Ellis to come up big on a shot from the slot set up by Kolby Farnsworth, and Cooper O’Brien picked up the loose puck, circled and tested Ellis again from the bottom of the left circle. A minute later Ellis denied a Farnsworth backhander from the slot on a feed from Andy Giorgio.
BFA regrouped, and Stearns came up big again at 11:30, when he kicked right to pay away Ben Pudvah’s breakaway bid.
In the period’s final seconds O’Brien launched two point-blank bids. The first bounced off Ellis’ torso right back to O’Brien, who lofted a shot toward the upper left corner. But Ellis got his blocker on the puck to send it high as the horn sounded. The Tigers outshot the Bobwhites, 11-10, in the period.
The Bobwhites did a better job of limiting chances for most of the third period, but the Tigers had two opportunities early against third-period goalie Tyler Laroche (seven saves). O’Brien tried a wraparound a minute in, but Laroche held his ground, and at 4:30 Laroche denied Ryan Nadeau’s forehand move on a breakaway.
Bartlett said things could have been different if the Tigers had cashed in on at least one of those chances, while also crediting the Bobwhite goalie and defense.
“We had some great looks, some good chances. We just didn’t finish. Their goalie came up with a point-blank save in the second period, and then we had the breakaway. In either situation it’s a 1-1 game, and I think that changes momentum. But we just couldn’t get it through. They play a pretty solid fundamental defensive game, and they weren’t really allowing us to get to the crease very often,” Bartlett said.
DEFENSEMAN ROBBIE BICKNELL and goalie Jeffrey Stearns watch play in the corner in the third period of Friday’s Tiger loss to Bellows Free Academy.
Independent photo/Steve James
At 8:41 of the third Colby Brouillette gave BFA an insurance goal, ripping a shot into the upper near corner from the bottom of the right-wing circle.
The Tigers’ last good chance came at 2:03, when Ellis gloved Tucker Stearns’ deflected drive from the left point. The Tigers pulled the goalie after that save, and Brouillette iced the win with an empty-net wraparound at 0:36.
Bartlett said he believes the Tigers have already improved over the past few games, and he expects more of the same.
“There are a lot of great things tonight, besides the score, in helping us get ready for the rest of the schedule. That was game 10. We’re halfway through the season,” he said. “It’s Round 2. Let’s go.”

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