MUHS boys’ hockey wins home finale
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team celebrated its senior night on Tuesday by defeating visiting South Burlington, 3-2, before the season’s biggest crowd at the Memorial Sports Center.
The victory moved the Tigers to 11-9 heading into the Division I playoffs, and they have earned the No. 6 seed for the upcoming postseason. The Vermont Principals’ Association is set to make pairings official on Thursday morning.
MUHS will hit the road for a quarterfinal in the first half of next week, with the Tigers’ opponent unknown heading into games being played Wednesday night after the deadline for the print issue of the Independent.
This article will be updated at addisonindependent.com when pairings are set, but it is clear the Tigers will visit either BFA-St. Albans or Rice. Those teams both entered Wednesday night with 15-4 records, and saw action that evening that determined which will be seeded No. 3 and host the Tigers.
On Tuesday Coach Derek Bartlett was happy to see the Tigers send off their nine seniors — three of whom watched with season-ending injuries, Kam Bartlett, Robbie Bicknell and Jeffrey Stearns — with a positive result.
“It’s always good to win on senior night,” Bartlett said. “It’s always nice to have the final game played in your own barn a victory.”
But he also acknowledged that after some strong play in recent games, including a 1-0 loss at first-place Essex three-days before in which the Tigers had a goal inadvertently disallowed, the Tigers did not play their best against the 1-18-1 Wolves.
“There was a lot of emotion with tonight’s game, and I was expecting that. And I just felt like we really couldn’t get going like we had in the last couple games,” Bartlett said. “It wasn’t pretty, but they got it done. And we’re moving on and looking forward to the quarterfinals. It was just a little flat tonight.”
The Tigers’ best period probably was the first, when they outshot South Burlington, 10-6, and took a 1-0 lead on the first of senior forward Ryan Nadeau’s two goals. Senior Hale Hescock set up Nadeau inside the left faceoff dot, and he whipped a wrister just inside the far post at 5:27.
Tiger senior goalie Zeke Hooper (15 saves) stopped one tough shot from the left-wing circle shortly afterward, but other than that was largely untested in the period.
But at the other end SBHS goalie Ted Hopper (22 saves) stopped Tucker Stearns’s screened shot from the left point, denied Bode Rubright from the slot, and held the right post on a Hescock rush during a late power play. Defender Shane Burke also blocked a Timothy Hunsdorfer shot from the slot with Hopper down.
The Tigers started slowly in the second period, and Hooper made his best save of the game five minutes in, when he batted away a Zach Erickson shot from the right that was ticketed for the upper left corner.
Shortly afterward Nadeau made it 2-0 at 6:09 on a power play. Abel Anderson shot hard and wide from the right point, and the puck bounced off the boards out front for Nadeau to tuck it into the left side.
Both teams scored on a Tiger power play later in the period. SB’s Erickson had his stick knocked away by a back-checking Tiger on an initial rush, and the Tigers went the other way. Erickson skated to the bench, turned around, picked up a loose puck at center ice, and skated in and converted a shorthanded breakaway. It was 2-1 at 11:08.
Hescock answered with a power-play goal 18 seconds later. He picked up a loose puck after a faceoff on the left side, skated into the high slot, and picked the lower left corner.
The Wolves pulled to within 3-2 with a power-play goal at 4:30 of the third. Ray Thibeault’s shot from the left point found its way home through traffic.
But the Tigers held on, thanks in part to the two penalties that senior center Devon Kearns forced, one with 2:15 to go that allowed MUHS to control the endgame.
Bartlett said he and the Tigers know they have to play better to advance, but also they have accomplished plenty given injuries to two senior starters and another who shared time with Hooper in goal.
“It’s been a challenge. It’s been fun. It’s a great group of guys. They want to compete,” he said. “So hopefully they show that when we come out and play the first round of the playoffs.”
And, Bartlett said, the Tigers have been consistently competitive with the top teams — their record includes two one-goal losses to Essex, and one- and two-goal losses to second-place St. Albans.
“We’ve shown we can play at that level,” he said. “We get up and down. I think we’re very structured. We’ve just got to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net.”
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