MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team on Monday capped off its 2009 schedule by defeating Lake Placid, 4-1, in the consolation game of the Tigers’ annual tourney at Middlebury College.
Even though MUHS lost, 2-1, the day before in the tournament’s first round to Stowe (at 7-1 the top team in Division II), Monday’s result left the Tigers feeling encouraged.
It was the fourth win in five games for the young Tigers, evening their record at 4-4 and putting them firmly back in the D-II playoff race. And it came against a Lake Placid squad that had defeated the Tigers, 4-1, in their opener back on Dec. 2.
Senior Stephen Babcock, who sparked Monday’s win with three goals — two of them on beautiful feeds from linemate Graham Barlow — said the results vs. Lake Placid show the Tigers’ progress physically and mentally.
“It’s a sign of how much we’ve improved, definitely. We’re in way better condition than the first time we played them,” Babcock said. “And we made smarter plays, with our heads up.”
Part of the improvement is also a technical adjustment. Coach Derek Bartlett started the Tigers out in the Middlebury College system, with two forwards and three defenders. But Bartlett agreed with his team that approach was not working, and switched to the traditional three forwards and two defenders after three games.
“The players are so much more comfortable,” Bartlett said. “We’ll stick with it.”
The Tigers took charge early against the Blue Bombers. With 15 seconds gone, sophomore wing Colin Babcock, Stephen’s brother and linemate, rapped home a feed from sophomore defender Andrew Myhre, and it was 1-0.
Just 2:45 later, it was 2-0. Colin Babcock won the puck in the slot and fed Barlow to the left of the goal, Barlow slid the puck out front to the wide-open Stephen Babcock, who tapped it into the empty right side of the goal.
At the other end, Tiger senior goalie Craig Camara (13 saves) stopped a bid by Dylan Smith from the slot, the only real chance LP managed early on. The Blue Bombers then earned a power play, but defense by Myhre, Bradford Willis, Colin Babcock, Ryan Crowningshield and Barlow snuffed it, and the only bid was a shorthanded breakaway by the Tigers’ Sawyer Hescock that whistled just wide.
At 10:18, the Tigers made it 3-0. Myhre lofted a shot on goal from the center point. LP goalie Brady Hayes (17 saves) stopped that and Stephen Babcock’s first rebound bid, but Babcock stuffed home the second rebound.
Both Tiger lines moved the puck and forechecked well, and Myhre and fellow defenders Steel White, Cody Gendreau, Nicholas Leach and Crowningshield rarely had trouble shutting down the Bombers. LP did get on the board on a power play at 11:14 of the second, when Eddie Kane outmaneuvered the defense and snapped home a close-range wrist shot.
But Babcock answered 1:24 later. Leach won the puck near the left point and fed Barlow in the right-wing circle. Barlow relayed to Babcock at the left post, and he tucked it home to complete the hat trick.
The Tigers protected Camara well in the third, but they could not dent the scoreboard further despite carrying the play.
In the first round of the tournament, Stowe’s Ross Mandigo’s tie-breaking goal with 5:22 to go gave the Raiders the win. Hunter Grosvenor gave Stowe a 1-0 first-period lead before Myhre, assisted by Colin Babcock, knotted the score at 1-1 entering the second period. Nick Bruch stopped 31 shots for the Tigers, while Matt Rauch made 10 saves for Stowe.
On Dec. 23, the Tigers won at Milton, 4-2, by scoring three times in the third period to overcome a 2-1 deficit. Hescock, from Gendreau, scored the tying goal, and Stephen Babcock converted a White power-play feed for the game-winner. Colin Babcock added an empty-netter. Parker Thompson, from Crowningshield, scored the first Tiger goal. Bruch and Milton goalie Nikki Lauziere each stopped 22 shots.
Overall, Stephen Babcock said the Tigers are encouraged by their recent play.
“We can be as good as we try,” he said. “It’s all up to us to match the level of our opponent and play above it.”
Bartlett said he hoped to be at .500 at this point, and praised the team’s puck movement, defense, goaltending and chemistry. He said the Tigers would continue to focus on the quality of their play, and then take their chances from there.
“We just need to keep improving and compete and play good hockey. If we do that, then winning will be a by-product,” Bartlett said. “As long as we compete and stay in the game, we’ll be in the mix.”