Men’s hockey comes up short in openers
MIDDLEBURY — After seeing its first four games canceled or called off due to COVID protocols, the Middlebury College men’s hockey team finally played this past weekend.
And facing two teams, Tufts and Williams, that came into Kenyon Arena with six and five games under their belts, respectively, the Panthers showed plenty of promise and effort, but maybe understandably came up short in a pair of 3-2 losses.
Coach Neil Sinclair said he expects good things to come because of the way the Panther men have handled the adversity they have faced and the quality of their play, including outshooting both of their opponents.
“It’s been a challenge. And I’m just proud of them how they’ve responded and how hard they’ve played. They’ve come to work every day. They’ve got great attitudes,” Sinclair said. “They’re a fun group to be around. And the thing that I take away from this weekend is that every period we got better. I’m really proud of the effort.”
The program had been on a steady upswing in the three years prior to last winter, when the NESCAC called off all competition due to the pandemic. Win total rose from four in 2017-18 to 10 in 2019-20, and the Panthers earned a home playoff game that latter season for the first time since 2014.
Sinclair expects more of the same despite this past weekend’s setbacks, possibly starting with games at Amherst and Hamilton this Friday and Saturday.
“I think we’ve got a really nice team. It’s about learning some lessons puck-management-wise, and we’re making some mistakes, and that’s going to happen. But the thing I love about this team is they learn from them. They respond to them. They support each other,” Sinclair said. “So I’m excited about what the future holds for this group.”
This past Sunday, Williams (4-2, 4-0 NESCAC) controlled much of the first period, outshooting the Panthers, 11-6, but the score ended at 1-1.
The Panthers had the first great chance. Five minutes in, Eph goalie Cal Sandquist left his net to play a Panther dump-in. Middlebury got to the puck in the right corner and worked it quickly to Zach Shapiro in the slot, but defender Henry Wil Muller slid over to block the shot.
The Panthers took the lead at 10:44 on an Andrej Hromic power play goal. EMack Bentley sent a pass from behind the goal to Cole Joslin in the slot. Sandquist stopped Joslin, but in a crowd Hromic got enough wood on the rebound to make it trickle in off the goalie.
Panther goalie Adam Wisco protected the lead with strong saves on Owen Stadheim from the high slot and Ethan Prout on a tip, and things looked promising when the Panthers went on another power play.
Unfortunately, a Panther at the point lost his balance on a back pass, and Eph Sean Clarke picked up the puck and headed down the right side. Wisco stopped his close range bid, but Niko Karamanis tucked the rebound inside the left post for the shorthanded score at 15:17.
Wisco made a point-blank glove late in the period that had Eph forward Mitchell Pelletier shaking his head.
The Panthers were assessed a five-minute major penalty 16 seconds into the second period, but Wisco kicked away Jamie Cates’ bid from the high slot that was the best chance the Ephs mustered.
The best chance either team had during the power play came from Panther Jin Lee, but Sandquist stoned his breakaway bid in.
Sandquist made 13 saves in the scoreless period as the Panthers pressed, including on an Antoine Belisle one-timer in the slot with 13 minutes gone.
Five minutes into the third period Joslin and Hromic broke in two-on-none on Sandquist. Joslin passed across the slot to Hromic, and Sandquist slid to his left to deny the one-timer.
Then the Ephs scored twice against the flow of the game in a seven-second span in the period’s ninth minute. The Panthers lost a puck battle behind the goal, and it bounced to Cates to the right of the goal. Cates relayed to Jack Sabre steaming into the slot, and he blasted an eight-footer into the upper left corner at 8:41.
Williams won the faceoff and dumped the puck in, and Jack Forest intercepted a Panther pass in the right circle and fired the puck inside the far post to make it 3-1.
Middlebury made it 3-2 at 13:19. Tyler Capello chipped a Belisle rebound over Sandquist in a scramble. The Panthers kept battling, but had only one more good chance: With 40 seconds remaining Lee tried a wraparound, but Sandquist slid to cover the right post.
Wisco made 22 saves, while Sandquist stopped 29 shots.
On Friday, Tufts edged the Panthers, 3-2. Brian Dobensky gave Middlebury a lead 9:51 into the game on a power play. Belisle won a faceoff in the Tufts zone back to Dobensky, who fired a shot home from the top of the right circle.
That lead lasted 14 seconds, as Jumbo defender Cam Newton tipped in a shot by Justin Brandt.
Tufts took the lead at 11:49, when Angus Scott scored from the point on a power play. Middlebury countered later in the period, when Shapiro cashed in on another faceoff win by Belisle.
The Jumbos reclaimed the lead with another power-play goal that came 1:11 before the first break: Tom Tresca scored on a one-timer from the left wing, and that proved to be the game-winner.
In the second period Bentley had a chance from the doorstep for the Panthers early, but Jumbo goalie Josh Sarlo turned his bid aside. Jumbo Fisher Shea rang the left post on a shorthanded bid, and the Panthers also were pressing with about five minutes to go, but a penalty stalled their momentum.
In the final 20 minutes, Sarlo denied a Shapiro redirection of a Dobensky pass into the slot. With just under two minutes left in the contest, Hromic fired a shot from the right side that Sarlo steered away with his blocker. Wisco finished with 25 saves, while Sarlo made 29 for the Jumbos.
Sinclair said he believes the Panthers will tie up the loose ends moving forward.
“I’m excited about where this group is,” he said. “They’re going to get to the place where they win those games and they make the plays at the end they need to make.”
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