MIDDLEBURY — The No. 3 Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team struck early and played well for three periods in Friday’s Division II quarterfinal to take a solid, 6-2 win over visiting No. 6 Burr & Burton.
The Tigers improved to 13-4-3 and will host a Wednesday night semifinal vs. No. 7 Northfield (8-8-6), which upset No. 2 Peoples, 2-1, in overtime on Saturday. Northfield also upset the Tigers in OT in the final game of the regular season. Burr & Burton finished at 9-11-1, including three losses to MUHS.
Coach Derek Bartlett said he was happy the Tigers — who have at times struggled in third periods — played well from wire-to-wire on Friday, and that they didn’t take the Bulldogs lightly.
“That’s the way they’re capable of playing when they want to play for 45 minutes, and we saw that tonight. I thought the puck movement was very good,” Bartlett said. “These guys competed. They had a great attitude, a great energy level, great intensity.”
MUHS scored 41 seconds after the opening faceoff. Bulldog goalie Connor Stewart (27 saves) knocked Tiger defenseman Jordan Stearns’ shot from the point into the right-wing corner. Colin Babcock pounced on it and centered to Graham Barlow in the slot, and Barlow found the far corner.
Andrew Myhre and Tim Shea also had good chances, but a mid-period Tiger penalty slowed the MUHS momentum. During that penalty kill, Tiger goalie Nick Bruch (six saves) gloved Brock Pollard’s 15-footer from the slot.
Before the penalty expired, forechecking Tiger Sawyer Hescock made it 2-0 with a shorthanded goal. He deflected a pass from the right-wing corner, jumped on the loose puck, and beat Stewart with a 15-footer at 9:23.
The first period, the game’s most evenly fought, ended at 2-0. The Tigers dominated the second period, outshooting the Bulldogs, 13-1, and taking a 4-0 lead.
They again scored quickly. Babcock picked up the puck in the Tiger end and spotted Shea breaking down the center of the ice. Babcock sent Shea in alone on Stewart, and Shea tucked a 10-footer inside the right post at 0:36.
Bartlett said that was a key strike.
“That’s the last thing the guys said coming out of the locker room, we’ve got to get the first goal this period, and they did. It was a great play. We headmanned the puck, we moved the puck up the ice quickly. And when we do that we seem to be very effective. We keep the other team on their heels,” he said.
The Tigers began to pelt Stewart, who made good stops on Myhre, Shea, Cody Gendreau and Barlow before the Tigers made it 4-0 at 5:50. Myhre carried down the right side and made a clever pass by a lone defender to set up Sawyer McLaughlin steaming into the left-wing circle. McLaughlin ripped a shot back inside the right post.
Bruch’s only second-period save was a good one, on Elijah Brown’s one-timer from the slot.
The Tigers struck early in the third period, too, at 1:42, on another Myhre set-up. Ryan Crowningshield sent Myhre down the left side. Myhre drew the lone defender and set up Keenan Bartlett just off the far post.
The Bulldogs got on the board at 2:04, when Eddie Lewicki stole the puck at center ice and converted a breakaway. The Tigers regained their five-goal margin at 6:28, when Barlow tipped in a Crowningshield shot from the point. Lewicki tacked on a shorthanded goal in the final minute.
Although Bartlett said practices will focus on crisper breakouts, the Tiger defenders held the Bulldogs to eight shots on goal. Steel White, McClaughlin, Crowningshield, Gendreau and Stearns all took care of business in front of Bruch.
In all, Bartlett said more of the same could go a long way on Wednesday, and maybe even in the D-II final at the University of Vermont on March 15.
“There were a lot of good things tonight,” Bartlett said. “If we continue to do those things and build on the things we need to improve on a little bit between now and Wednesday, we’re hoping to go the distance.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.