BURLINGTON — When Middlebury Union High School freshman Tim Shea picked up the puck at the blue line with less than two minutes remaining in sudden death overtime of the Division II boys’ hockey state championship against the top-seeded Stowe Raiders Tuesday evening, destiny seemingly took over.
Shea walked in alone on Stowe goaltender Matt Rauch, faked him to the ice and lifted the puck into the net at University of Vermont’s Gutterson Field House to win the Tigers their first state hockey title in 15 years. The final score was 2-1.
Shots were lopsided in Stowe’s favor 26-15, but junior Middlebury goaltender Nick Bruch held off the Raiders with 25 saves, boasting an impressive 0.96 save percentage. Coming into the game, Bruch was coping with a nagging hamstring injury that kept him out of several games earlier this season. But when it came time to hit the ice, Bruch said he was ready.
“It didn’t bother me at all,” he said of the injury after the game.
Stowe, led by junior forward Ross Mandigo (80 point on the seasons) and junior defenseman Zach Haggerty (60 points), came out blazing in the first period. But their flames were soon doused by a Middlebury goal from junior captain Steel White. On the play, Shea faked a wrap around, pulled back to the left corner, made a crisp pass to White at the left point, and White fired a laser to give Middlebury the go-ahead at 5:45.
In the second period, Stowe took control — leading in shots 10-2 — and tied things up, 1-1, at 2:27 with a goal by senior defenseman Peter Ballyk. The Raiders crashed the Middlebury net causing the puck to trickle back to the blue line where Ballyk waited patiently before hitting a slap shot in from the right point.
“It didn’t matter what the shots were. We knew that if we could keep it close going into the third period, it was anybody’s fight,” said Middlebury coach Derek Bartlett.
As the second period came to a close some of the Tigers looked haggard, but they rebounded in the third period. The intensity strengthened and both teams were charged with two penalties in the final period of regulation. A second wind boosted the Tigers, and they evened out the shots for the period 6-5.
With two minutes remaining in the third period, Stowe gave it one last push, but Bruch drove back stopping multiple shots. The puck changed sides and Middlebury took two shots that fell short of the net in the final minute. With six seconds remaining, Stowe had a quality chance on net, but Bruch saved the game.
“I was just really hoping that the puck didn’t get behind me. That’s all that matters,” he said. “Mandigo, Haggerty, all of those Stowe guys are incredible athletes.”
The game tied at 1-1 moved into overtime. Players on both teams coursing with energy battled relentlessly up and down the ice trying to edge out one another. But, it was Shea scoring with 1:14 remaining in overtime who had the final play. He picked up the puck, finessed a classic shot, and the rest is history.
Coach Bartlett savored the state title, a feat MUHS boys’ hockey also achieved in 1996 and 1976.
“I’m so proud of these guys, it’s always been about their dreams and goals, and tonight they believed and hung in there tough,” he said. “You can’t do any better than this!”
Reporter Andrew Stein can be reached at [email protected]