MIDDLEBURY – The Middlebury College men’s hockey team followed up a disappointing 3-3 tie in Friday’s home opener vs. Connecticut with a display of their potential against visiting Tufts on Saturday afternoon in a 9-2 romp.
The 3-1-2 Panthers excelled in all phases against the 3-3-1 Jumbos, passing crisply, moving well off the puck, finishing chances, breaking out of their zone and attacking the Tufts end with possession, winning battles for the puck, playing hustling defense, and getting solid goaltending.
Middlebury also got major production from junior forward Louis Belisle, who had the best scoring night since the 1960s heyday of Panther legend Phil Latreille. Belisle scored four goals and helped set two, tying the so-called “modern era” single-game Middlebury records of four goals and six points.
But Belisle — who came within a pinged crossbar of a fifth goal — accurately said afterward that Saturday’s effort was a team win.
“We made some great passes and great plays. It started from our zone with the breakouts, and we just connected all over the ice,” Belisle said. “We’ve looked good from the start of the season, but this is definitely the game where everything just fell into place for us.”
Coach Bill Beaney said he was pleased with the Panthers’ response after surrendering a late tying goal vs. 1-3-1 Connecticut the night before. Beaney thought his team was tight in that game and did not play as well as it had in beating Plattsburgh and losing a heartbreaker to host Norwich at the Northern ShootOut the previous weekend.
“I was pleased that we stepped up and played and played hard. We played with an awareness, an alertness, that quite honestly we didn’t have last night. We weren’t consistent last night,” Beaney said. “I think it was first-game jitters.”
Belisle said Saturday’s game offered a better look of what the Panthers will be going forward.
“We just have a very good group that can work together, and I think that’s what I think can get us far later in the season,” he said. “I have a sense we can definitely go pretty far this season, and that’s because of all the guys working together.”
Although the Panthers dominated from the start vs. Tufts, it took them 9:44 and a power play to get on the board, with Belisle doing the honor with help from two of the team’s talented freshmen. Defenseman Max Greenwald sent forward Connor Frick down the right side, and Frick threw a perfect cross-ice pass to Belisle cutting into the zone. Belisle finished with a wrister from the left-wing circle.
Panther junior goalie Nick BonDurant (11 saves in two periods) soon after made a key stop on Tufts forward Kyle Gallegos from the left side. Belisle made it 2-0 in transition at 13:17 with a backhander on a two-on-one rush with freshman forward Brendan McGovern. Sophomore forward Robbie Dobrowski also assisted.
Two juniors combined to make it 3-0 after one period: Mike Longo stuffed home Robbie Donahoe’s cross-crease pass at 18:37 after Donahoe skated out from the left-wing corner. The Panthers ended up outshooting the Jumbos, 14-3, in the period and 40-20 for the game.
The Panthers kept rolling in the second period. At 4:41, senior Trevor Pollock’s shot from the right point deflected in off a Jumbo, with freshman defender Terrance Goguen and sophomore forward Derek Pimental assisting.
At 10:32 it became 5-0. Pimental fed Belisle to the left of the goal, and he relayed to Dobrowski on the doorstep for a one-timer that was the first of Dobrowski’s career. At 12:50 senior Chris Steele and junior Ben Wiggins sent Belisle into the Tufts zone, and he spun around two defenders in the right-wing circle and slid the puck inside the far post. Belisle made it 7-0 with a power-play goal 1:04 later, when his shot from the right point deflected in off a Jumbo, with Frick and McGovern assisting.
Tufts got on the board at 16:39 on a power play. Dylan Plimmer won a faceoff to Gallegos, and his shot from the high slot beat BonDurant.
Tufts added another power-play goal at 5:10 of the third, when Jared Barker’s screened shot from the point got past Panther goalie Mike Peters, who made seven saves in the third period.
Middlebury made it 8-2 on a Dobrowski rebound of a shot by senior Chris Brown that was set up by Pollock, and Steele added a power-play goal from the point in the final minute assisted by McGovern and senior defender Mathieu Castonguay.
Connecticut scored with 1:35 left to earn its 3-3 tie. ?After early pressure from the Panthers, the Camels struck first, at 10:06 of the first period, by taking advantage of a Panther turnover. J.C. Cangelosi fed Tim DiPretoro for the score. The Camels took a 2-0 lead 3:37 into the second period, when Dawson Luke converted a rebound.
The Panthers tied the game with two power-play strikes. Goguen scored the first on a shot from the point at 12:05. Thomas Freyre tied the game at 15:10 with a wrister from the left wing. By the end of the second period, the Panthers held a 17-11 edge in shots.
The Panthers took the lead at 12:28 of the third period on another power play. Pollock made a pass from behind the net to Freyre for the go-ahead score.
The Camels’ game-tying goal came when Cangelosi found Dawson Luke at the top of the left circle. His wrist shot hit BonDurant (11 saves) and trickled in.
But the game the Panthers will remember from this weekend came on Saturday, after which Beaney said they have the makeup for a successful season.
“We’re having a ball with the enthusiasm, the work ethic, just the overall team attitude,” Beaney said. “I don’t know how good we can be, but if they’ll tend to business and really develop those good habits … I think it’s going to be a very good group.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.