MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team on Thursday suffered its first loss, 2-0, to Lake Placid in the final of the Duke Nelson/Wendy Forbes Memorial Tournament, which the Tigers hosted at Middlebury College’s Kenyon Arena.
The 5-1 Tigers earned the berth in the final with a 5-3 victory over Brattleboro on Wednesday.
MUHS was playing without forward Tim Shea, a key scorer who will miss a month or more with a wrist injury, and starting defender Jordan Stearns, who is out with a less serious hip problem.
But despite the 4-0 start in his team’s move to Division I this winter and its shorthanded status last week, MUHS Coach Derek Bartlett said the Tigers could have played better.
“I thought Lake Placid played a great game. They seemed to have more energy and more hop in their step than we did. They moved the puck and made better decisions,” Bartlett said. “We just need to go back and make better decisions and focus on doing the little things right and do what got us to this point. We got outworked.”
Certainly, Bartlett appreciates what the defending D-II champion Tigers accomplished in their four D-I victories to open their season.
“The guys have come out and played ... They always rise to the occasion when they play equal or better talent, and they’ve done that early in the season,” Bartlett said. “Where we’re at right now, being 5-1, it’s a great start.”
But after the Lake Placid loss he said the Tigers will need more consistent energy and decision-making if they are to continue to compete successfully against the best teams in Vermont.
“We need to play 45 minutes of hockey,” Bartlett said. “This is a step back from where we were playing at the beginning of the season. And obviously having two guys out of the lineup is huge. But there are other guys who can step up, and that’s what we’re looking for them to do.”
In Thursday’s first period, each team had an early opportunity. In the first minute, Lake Placid forward Troy Jacques picked up a loose puck and fired a 10-foot wrister on Tiger goalie Max Longchamp (19 saves), who knocked it aside.
At the other end, the Tigers worked the puck to Nick Audet in the slot, but LP goalie Jeffrey Smith (16 saves) stopped his wrister.
As the scoreless period wore on, LP began to take control and piled up a 7-3 edge in shots. Longchamp twice stopped Keegan Barney from his doorstep, the second time with 25 seconds to go.
The Tigers’ other good first-period chance came just before then, when the Tiger first line of Graham Barlow, Colin Babcock and Gabrio McCarty forechecked the puck loose and set up McCarty in the slot, but Jeffrey sticked his bid aside.
The scoreless second period ended with LP having a 10-5 edge in shots, but fewer scoring chances as the Tigers got better organized defensively with Ryan Crowningshield, Cody Gendreau and Sawyer McLaughlin all doing solid work and the forwards backchecking carefully.
MUHS did dodge a bullet at 2:40, when Jacques hit the right post from point blank with a backhanded rebound bid.
The Tigers’ best chance of the period came at 9:30, when McCarty tipped a Gendreau shot from the center point just wide right. Later in the period, McLaughlin blocked an LP shot when the Tigers made a rare mistake and allowed a three-on-one rush.
LP broke through in the third for its two goals, taking advantage of a couple bounces and mistakes by the Tigers. The first came at 5:47, when the Tigers sent the puck directly to Dustin Jacques on the right-wing boards. He flipped the puck on Longchamp. Longchamp saved Dillon Savage’s first rebound bid, but Troy Jacques stuffed home the second.
Before then, the Tigers had gone on the power play, and Colin Babcock’s shot from the left-wing circle, which Barlow might have tipped, hit the left post. In all, the Tigers outshot LP in the period, 8-4. McCarty had a chance to tip in a McLaughlin shot while the Tigers trailed by one, and in the late going McCarty, Babcock and McLaughlin created threats, and Smith made a nice stop on McCarty’s backhander.
“I thought we did have some good chances,” Bartlett said. “And then the puck got by a defenseman and it was an odd-man rush the other way.”
That breakout and pad goal came at 9:34 courtesy of Eddie Kane, who capped a solo rush by ripping a wrister into the upper-right corner.
In Wednesday’s first-round victory over winless Brattleboro, the Tigers got goals from Babcock and Barlow in the first minute of the third period to snap a 3-3 tie. Barlow and Nick Leach set up Babcock’s score, and Crowningshield assisted Barlow’s goal.
In the first period, Barlow (from Allen Vincent and McLaughlin) and Leach (from Barlow) scored, as the Tigers took a 2-1 lead. Early in the second period, Sawyer Hescock, from Crowningshield and Leach, made it 3-1. But the Colonels scored twice later in the period to make it 3-3 heading into the third.
Nick Bruch made three saves in two periods for MUHS, and Longchamp earned the win with a four-save third period. Two Colonel goalies combined for 20 stops as the Tigers outshot the Colonels, 25-10.
Next up, the Tigers will host D-I rivals South Burlington on Wednesday and Rutland on Saturday.
Bartlett will be looking for the Tigers to remember what worked so well in their first four games.
“Guys were competing, working hard. Team speed was good, guys were making good decisions. We were doing a lot of things well,” Bartlett said. “We’ve got to find that energy and enthusiasm and get that back. That’s the biggest thing. I think guys are having fun. I think the guys enjoy playing at the D-I level, which is great to see, but the test is going to be ‘Can we do this night-in and night-out?’”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.