Tiger boys’ hockey cruises in postseason opener (updated)
MIDDLEBURY — If there was any suspense in Saturday’s first-round Division II playoff game between host No. 5 Middlebury and No. 12 Northfield it evaporated early in the second period.
MUHS held a 2-0 lead after one period, during which the Tigers outshot Northfield, 19-2, and senior center Bode Rubright whipped a pair of 15-foot wrist shots into the upper left corner, one from each circle and one on a power play.
Theoretically, the Marauders were still in the game.
The Tigers made sure they weren’t. MUHS improved its play, particularly passing in the offensive zone, and put four pucks behind embattled Northfield goalie Ethan Moorby in the first 4:44 of the middle period on the way to a 9-0 victory.
The Tigers (6-2) followed the win with a quarterfinal victory on Wednesday, 3-1, at No. 5 Lyndon (3-2). Iain Olsen scored twice for the Tigers and assisted senior defender Tucker Stearns’ goal. Goalie Giles Heilman made 19 saves. The Tigers will next take on top seed Harwood (7-0) in a Saturday semifinal at 3 p.m.
Coach Derek Bartlett said the Tigers were playing hard in the Saturday’s first period, winning puck battles and outskating the visitors, but not necessarily playing smart.
“That’s exactly what I said to them between the first and second periods. I said, guys, your energy is good, the feet are there, but your heads and your hands are not. We always say the head’s got to come with the feet, and we sort of did that at the start of the second period. We started getting some quality chances,” Bartlett said. “The puck was moving better.”
The second-period surge started with two goals in 20 seconds. Stearns netted the first at 2:23, seven seconds into a power play. Rubright won the faceoff at the left dot, senior wing Andy Giorgio relayed the puck to Stearns at the point, Stearns skated into the circle and fired the puck low into the left side.
At 2:43 it was 4-0. The Tigers won the ensuing faceoff, and Stearns sent Olsen, who assisted Rubright’s first-period goals, down the right side. Olsen’s shot from the circle found the far corner.
A minute later, senior defender Abel Anderson went end-to-end on a rush. Three defenders stopped him in the high slot, but the puck popped to the left to junior forward Matthew Kiernan, who one-timed it home short-side.
Rubright completed the surge and the hat trick at 4:44. Stationed home in the high slot, he banged home a Giorgio feed.
Later in the period, Kiernan struck again. A shot by junior defender Joey Niemo from the right post pinged off the outside of the right post. Sophomore forward Owen Lawton picked up the puck, circled the net and set up Kiernan for a 10-foot one-timer.
Freshman forward Kellen Bartlett added a shorthanded breakaway strike with 21 seconds left in the period. Bartlett stole the puck at the Northfield blue line, skated in past the edge of the left circle, and cut into the slot before placing a short forehand inside the right post.
After two periods, the shots stood at 40-5, and the scoreboard read 8-0.
The third period was played under a running-time mercy rule. With about three minutes to go Niemo circled the net clockwise and roofed a shot past backup goalie Landon Amell to create the final score. Junior Jordan Martin picked up the assist.
For the Tigers, freshman goalie Heilman played two periods and made five saves, and sophomore Devyn Pratt stopped two shots in the third. Northfield’s Moorby (32) and Amell (nine) combined for 41 saves.
On Saturday the MUHS skaters were playing their second game in four days after a layoff following a Feb. 27 road win at Mount Mansfield. The Tigers then had to stop playing and practicing for a while due a COVID-19 case on the MMU squad.
Coach Bartlett said the effects of the week-long break could be seen in their loss at No. 1 Harwood last week and in their somewhat disorganized play in Saturday’s first period.
The effort has been there, he said, but understandably the crispness they displayed through most of the season hasn’t fully returned.
“We were off for quite a bit of time. And then we had two practices and a game and a couple more practices. But we’re not where we were,” Bartlett said. “We’re still getting back into it.”
He said Saturday’s first-round game, as one-sided as it was, should help the Tigers regain their form as Lyndon and possibly a semifinal rematch with Harwood lie ahead.
“I didn’t want a bye. We needed to be playing, regardless of who,” Bartlett said.
There is still no reason the Tigers can’t make a deep playoff run, he said.
“There’s definitely a lot of believability with this group. When we are conditioned, and we bring the head with the feet, we are a team to be reckoned with,” he said. “We are a top team in D-II.”