After a slow start, Tiger boys’ hockey dismisses Missisquoi
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team did not get off to the best of starts against visiting Missisquoi on Friday, but quickly recovered from a 2-0 deficit to cruise to a 7-2 victory.
The win was the Tigers’ fifth in six outings as they continued to surge in the second half of the season. MUHS will carry a 7-6-1 record into a Monday night game at St. Johnsbury, and the Tigers are set to visit Rutland, the last team to defeat them, on Wednesday.
Coach Jordan Stearns said his team has bounced back from a challenging early schedule during which injuries and other absences left his coaching staff juggling lineups and the Tigers looking at a 2-5-1 mark in mid-January.
He said a combination of having everybody back and a positive frame of mind has helped propel the Tigers forward.
“The focus has been better. We’ve really just been coming into it as a team. We talked to the guys about holding each other accountable, too, the effort in practice. The guys are just buzzing,” Stearns said. “The beginning of the season we had a tough schedule, and we didn’t have all the pieces together. So we finally got them all together and everybody is starting to mesh, so you’re really starting to see where these guys can be at.”
On Friday, the Tigers surrendered two goals to the T-Birds in the first 6:20, neither of them picture-perfect, before using their superior skating, stick skills and teamwork to take charge. It still took a few minutes to start clicking, but once they did, it was a long night for Missisquoi (4-10-2).
“I think it was a good lesson for the guys. They were a kind of a couple unlucky goals there, a couple of lucky bounces,” Stearns said. “But if you give the other team chances, those bounces start to go in. The way to create those good bounces for yourself is by working hard, dominating the game. And for the last 35 minutes that’s exactly what we did.”
Missisquoi’s first goal came in the first minute on a play that appeared harmless. Defender AJ Dennett picked up a puck at the left point and tossed a soft shot at the Tiger goal, where another T-Bird and two MUHS defenders were engaging in front of MUHS freshman goalie TJ Baron. The puck, headed toward the far side of the net, hit a Tiger and deflected back into the near side.
The T-Birds made it 2-0 at the end of a power play, just after Baron made two strong saves. Justin Farnham tossed a puck from the right point into a crowd in front of the Tiger net, and it bounced through the knot of skaters to Dalton LaPlant in the left corner, and he managed to put it into the right side of the net with 6:20 gone.
The Tigers began to wake up, but only managed one good chance until late in the period: About nine minutes in MVU goalie Ethan Stefaniak kicked away Sutton Rubright’s low bid from between the circles.
At 11:38 the Tigers broke through, thanks to Landon Kean. Defender Iver Anderson ripped a slapper from between the circles, and Stefaniak knocked the rebound to the right circle. Kean was waiting and whacked the puck home into the near side.
With six seconds to go in the period Kellan Bartlett knotted the score with the first of his three goals. Anderson set up a Gus Hodde blast from the left circle. Stefaniak stopped it, but Bartlett knocked in the rebound from the slot.
The Tigers kept their momentum out of the locker room with a goal-of-the-year candidate 32 seconds into the second period from Hodde. Quinn Collins circled clockwise behind the goal from the left side and fed Toby Draper on the right side of the goal, and Draper one-timed a pass to Hodde at the far post for the tap-in.
Stearns said that play was an example of how the Tigers are gelling.
“That first goal of the second period, that tic-tac-toe, that was incredible,” he said. “It was so great to see. That’s just the guys getting to play together and knowing where they’re at.”
The Tigers shortly afterward went on a power play, and at 2:01 Bartlett made it 4-2. Stationed at the inside edge of the right circle, he slapped a Draper feed from the corner high into the far side of the net.
Stefaniak held the fort for a while by denying Kean twice and Draper once before Baron had to make his first save of the period, at about 7:00 on Wyatt Bellrose from between the circles.
The Tigers made it 5-2 with 2:12 left in the period on a power play. Collins beat Stefaniak near-side from the left, with an assist from Kean.
Bartlett completed his hat trick in the final period’s first minute by ripping a slapper into the top left corner from the right circle, with the assist going to Henry Hunsdorfer. Jake Kadar’s unassisted goal at 4:33 wrapped up the offense for the evening.
On the previous Wednesday, the Tigers picked up a 3-2 win at eighth-place Milton as Draper scored twice and set up a Hodde goal. One of Draper’s goals was unassisted, and Hodde set up the other. The Tigers outshot the Yellowjackets, 28-21, and Baron earned the victory with 19 saves.
Stearns agreed the Tigers have beaten the teams they probably should defeat, an important factor as they have moved up the standings — they had risen to seventh in the 16-team Division II standings after weekend play.
“Especially as we get to the end of the season, we talk about a big thing is building momentum, keeping the ball rolling and just getting better every single day,” Stearns said. “We just want to keep getting better until the end of the season, and that’s what we want to keep growing towards. So it’s been great to see them build from the middle of the season.”
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