Tiger boys’ hockey falls to Rice in key contest

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team took a painful home loss on Monday, 2-1 to Rice, that could have cost the Tigers home ice in the upcoming playoffs.
The fourth-place Tigers dropped to 8-8-3 with the loss to the 7-10-2 Raiders and were set to host first-place Essex on Wednesday night.
Unless they defeated or tied first-place Essex on Wednesday night (played after deadline for the sports section), fifth-place South Burlington (8-10-1) was in position to pass MUHS in the standings by defeating eighth-place Champlain Valley at home on Wednesday. That would mean the Wolves would host the Tigers in a quarterfinal.
(Author’s note: The Tigers bounced back to defeat Essex, 2-1, on Wednesday, and clinch the No. 4 seed. See Scoreboard for playoff schedule.)
The Tigers could have clinched fourth place with a win over Rice on Monday. But Rice took a one-goal lead while outshooting the Tigers by 13-6 in the first period, and then snapped a 1-1 tie late in the second period with a power-play goal after one of seven Tiger penalties.
Yes, said Tiger Coach Derek Bartlett, the referees were erratic — they struggled to get icing and offsides calls correct. But Bartlett said the Tigers did not start strong or adjust to the way the game was being officiated.
“We were slow out of the gate right from the get-go,” Bartlett said. “I thought the second period was better for us. We got a little more energy. We had some chances. But then we gave up one late. You’ve got to be present. We’ve been dealing with that all season long, not playing the full 45 minutes.”
Bartlett said penalties often indicate how well his team is playing, and that penalties in the second period not only led to a Rice goal, but also slowed the Tigers when it appeared they had taken over the game.
“In games we’ve struggled in we’ve had more than three penalties,” Bartlett said. “You’ve got to figure out a way to navigate when a game is being called as tightly as it is.”
Rice pelted Tiger goalie Zeke Hooper in the first period. Hooper kicked away Alex Gamarra bid from the slot early on and seven minutes in made a couple stops in a scramble before lunging to cover the puck up.
But Rice’s Ryan Byrnes scored shortly afterward, at 7:27. Garrett Micciche fed the puck from behind the net toward the open Byrnes cutting left to right. Hooper tipped the pass, but not enough to prevent Byrnes from picking up the puck without losing stride and tucking it inside the right post.
Tigers Devon Kearns and Bode Rubright combined for the Tigers’ best chance in the period. But Rice poured it on late, with Hooper (26 saves) denying Cameron Kinsell before stopping Connor Peet from the left circle and Dae Han McHugh on the rebound.
The Tigers opened the second with a strong penalty kill, and then began buzzing Rice goalie Cale Layman (25 saves). Cooper O’Brien, Andy Giorgio, Kolby Farnsworth and Kearns all challenged Layman in the first seven minutes.
The Tigers killed off another mid-period penalty, with defenders Tucker Stearns and Abel Anderson doing good work, before Farnsworth tied the game at 10:07.
Tucker Stearns started the play by springing Giorgio down the right side. Giorgio started to circle the net, stopped, and fed Farnsworth for a doorstep one-timer.
A minute later the Tigers got careless, but caught a break when Micciche hit the crossbar on a breakaway. Then came another penalty and 1:58 of fine defense, notably by Ben Turner. But then two Tigers couldn’t handle a bouncing puck in the right circle, and Kiaran Connolly picked it up, skated into the slot and wristed the puck high into the near side.
The Tigers never really threatened in the third, in part because they skated a man down three more times. But they also failed to convert two power plays, including when they were two men up and pulled the goalie to skate six on three for the final minute.
To be fair, two top junior forwards were missing. Kamrin Bartlett is hurt and unlikely to return this season, and Hale Hescock was ill. But Coach Bartlett said he still wants to see improved effort.
“We’ve got to be better,” he said. “We’ve got guys who are injured. We’ve got guys who are sick. Guys are going to have to step up.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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