MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s hockey team’s remarkable late-season run ended on Saturday, when visiting Plattsburgh scored early in overtime to earn a 3-2 win in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal.
The Panthers entered the game with a 19-4-4 record after winning 12 of their 13 previous outings, including a 5-3 decision over the 19-5-3 Cardinals.
But on Saturday Plattsburgh got to loose pucks first, won most of the battles along the boards, and outshot the Panthers, 31-23.
The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead on goals in each of the first two periods, but the Panthers rallied for the tie with scores in the second and third period.
At 3:19 of overtime, the Cardinals won a faceoff in the Panther left-wing circle. Kyle Taylor shot low and hard on Panther goalie John Yanchek, who blocked the shot but saw the puck drop in the crease. Cardinal Jared Docking was the first skater there. He pulled the puck away from Yanchek and tucked it inside the right post to send the Cardinals to the Friday’s semis, where they will face No. 1 Norwich.
Panther coach Bill Beaney said his young team — only three seniors skated, forwards John Sullivan and Charlie Townsend and back A.J. Meyer — did not play its best early on, possibly because of nerves. But Beaney admired the way the Panthers rebounded from the 2-0 deficit.
“I’m so proud of them the way they came back, because in the last half of the third period and into the overtime I thought we were on our way to getting it done,” he said.
Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery thought the result came from the pressure his team applied for the better part of the game.
“We do a good job when we get pucks in deep, and we got pucks in deep all night long. And I think in the end we were able to wear Middlebury’s defense down,” he said.
But it wasn’t easy, said Emery, whose team ended up taking two of three from Middlebury this winter.
“Middlebury’s a heck of team, a tough team to beat,” he said.
The Panthers moved the puck well early in the first period, and Bryan Curran just missed wide on a rebound. But the Cardinals had more chances, even if their go-ahead goal at 10:52 was fluky. Kyle Kudroch flicked a puck out front from the left-wing corner, and it banked in off Yanchek’s right pad. Later, the Cardinals pressed on a power play, and Dan Sliasis hit the right post.
At 10:09 of the second period, Cardinal Dylan Clarke stole the puck at mid-ice and went in alone on Yanchek (28 saves), who did well to stop the first bid. But the rebound bounced to Clarke, who poked it home behind the sprawling goalie.
Middlebury got on the board at 16:06 with the teams skating four-on-four. Charlie Strauss shot on Cardinal goalie Josh Leis (21 saves) from the right-wing faceoff dot. Leis stopped that with his right pad, but the rebound went to Ken Suchoski in the high slot. Suchoski whipped a wrist shot into the upper right corner.
The Panthers killed off a five-one-three Cardinal power play as the second period wound down, but did not sustain momentum into the third period: The Cardinals bottled them up in the early going, and Yanchek made a series of fine saves on odd-man rushes. Yanchek slid to deny a wide-open Vick Schlueter on a cross-crease pass early on, and at 10:00 he gloved Andrew Willock’s 25-foot slapper.
“Our goalie played well,” Beaney said. “He was solid, in good position, didn’t leave too many rebounds out there.”
At 12:59, the Panthers equalized on a power play. Townsend shot from the left-wing circle. Leis made the save, but Jak Knelman tucked the rebound inside the left post.
A few minutes later, Sullivan targeted the upper left corner after a Panther faceoff win in the left-wing circle, but Leis preserved the tie with an outstanding blocker save that left Sullivan banging his stick on the ice.
The Panthers killed a late penalty with critical clears from Curran and Michael Hilgendorf, and in the first minute of OT buzzed the Cardinal net. At one point the puck sat loose in the slot, but the Panthers couldn’t line up a shot.
Then the Cardinals buried their first OT chance, and most of the 2,600 fans filed out unhappily.
Beaney credited Plattsburgh for carrying the game for most of two periods, and his own team for taking “some great steps forward” this winter, including its first NESCAC title in three years.
Much of that was due to his seniors, he said, whose hard work, production and leadership showed the way.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our captain John Sullivan and Charlie Townsend,” he said. “(It’s) a senior group that really took this team and put them on their back and played so well down the stretch.”