MIDDLEBURY – The Middlebury College men’s hockey season came to its earliest end since 1994 on Saturday, when sixth-seeded Colby upset the No. 3 Panthers, 2-1, in a NESCAC quarterfinal.
The loss meant for the first time in the 11-year history of the NESCAC tournament the 11-8-6 Panthers will not reach the final. And for only the second time since 1995, when NESCAC teams first became eligible for the NCAA Division III tournament, the Panthers will not be going.
Coach Bill Beaney said the 12-10-2 White Mules deserved to advance because the Panthers were outworked, as he believes has often been the case this winter.
“They played harder than we did, and that’s pretty much the way we played all year long,” Beaney said. “It’s as simple as that ... You learn a lesson. You either put enough into it, or you don’t.”
The Panthers outshot the Mules in each period on the way to a 38-23 margin. But for the most part Colby also kept them on the perimeter offensively and won most of the critical battles for the puck.
The Mules also took advantage of their chances. At 3:52 of the opening period, Billy Crinnion shot softly from the right-wing circle. Panther goalie John Yanchek (10 saves, two goals-against in 26:33) stopped it, but the rebound popped right to charging Dan Nelson in the slot, and he one-timed it home.
The Panthers had a few chances in the period. Martin Drolet set up Michael Longo, but Colby’s Patrick Bursee checked Longo. On a power play, Colby goalie Cody McKinney (37 saves) denied Bryan Curran’s drive from the left-wing circle, and McKinney stopped Louis Belisle’s 20-foot one-timer from the slot and his backhanded follow.
At 13:27 of the second, Colby made it 2-0 after two Panthers mishandled a clear along the right-wing boards. Karl Burns pounced on the loose puck and fed Chris Buonomo out front; Buonomo one-timed it home, ending Yanchek’s afternoon.
The pairing of Belisle and J.D. Vermette continued to be effective for Middlebury, and in the second period Brett Brazier also tested McKinney twice.
But the period’s best saves came from Panther Nick BonDurant, who made 11 stops in relief. BonDurant made a point-blank stop on Jack Bartlett and denied Michael Smigelski’s 10-footer after a Panther turnover.
The Panthers pressed harder in the third. Chris Johnson failed to get a shot off on a breakaway, but the play forced a Mule penalty at 5:10.
At 6:24, Middlebury capitalized on a power play. McKinney stopped both a Castonguay’s slapper and Chaz Svoboda’s first rebound bid, but Svoboda stuffed home the second rebound.
The Panthers had chances to tie. Svoboda and Drolet borth missed tip chances, and with BonDurant out as time wound down, McKinney stopped Curran’s screened drive from the right point.
But that was the best chance the Panthers could muster, and time ran out on their season with Nelson pinning the puck in the left-wing corner.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.