Tiger boys' hockey shuts out Redhawks
MIDDLEBURY — It’s possible the Tigers’ two tougher games this week could tell a different tale for the Middlebury Union High School boys’ hockey team, but on Monday they looked like they were ready to take on all comers in Division I.
Granted, visiting Champlain Valley (2-12-1) is not the cream of the D-I crop, but the Tigers excelled in all phases of the game in Monday’s 3-0 victory.
They moved the puck, forechecked and back-checked carefully, won puck battles, allowed only six shots on goalie Zeke Hooper, and, most importantly according to Coach Derek Bartlett, skated hard and constantly.
“The feet were moving, which was really great,” Bartlett said. “And along with the feet came the puck as well. We were moving the puck to places in transition, and it made a huge difference in the tempo of the game. For 45 minutes we dictated tempo.”
Their fourth win in five games also allowed the Tigers to carry a 9-6 record into a Wednesday game played at second-place St. Albans. Next comes a crucial match-up vs. Stowe at home on Friday at 7 p.m. As of Tuesday the Tigers and Raiders were tied for fourth, with a home quarterfinal game at stake for the team that ultimately claims a top-four seed.
Senior tri-captain Devon Kearns said all the games matter now with just a handful left in the regular season, and that the Tigers are confident considering their improved performance of late.
“(We’re) just working hard in practice and developing chemistry in the locker room. All the boys, they’re coming together, and it’s fun to see. We’re having a great time,” Kearns said. “All the guys are playing, and it’s great to see. All three lines are getting playing time, and that’s keeping our legs fresh throughout the whole game.”
Kearns’ recent return after being injured during the Tigers’ Jan. 11 win at Stowe has also given Middlebury a lift — and Kearns a little extra motivation for Friday’s opponent.
“That’s the game I got hurt in, so I’m raring to come back … and score a few goals,” Kearns said.
Although a Tiger power play earned 2:16 into the game ended early when the Tigers took their own penalty, the urgency of their own penalty kill seemed to spark them. After Hooper went to the ice to stop Jacob Staton during four-on-four play, the Tigers simply took over the game and outshot the Redhawks, 14-3, in the period.
Andy Giorgio gave the Tigers the lead at 4:59 on a play set up by linemates Hale Hescock and Robbie Bicknell. Hescock won the puck in the left corner and threw it toward the net, and Bicknell tapped it across the crease, where the onrushing Giorgio rapped it into the open right side.
Other than that, Redhawk goalie Jason Douglas (27 saves) stood firm, doing his best work on Hescock, once on a rebound after a long Bicknell rush and once by blocking away his bid from the slot. Hooper had to be alert once, holding the right post against an Angelos Carroll stuff attempt.
The second period saw more of the same — the Tigers outshot the Redhawks, 12-1. Kearns scored early on a power play, He skated out from the right corner to between the circles, and his hard and low shot deflected off a defender into the lower right corner. Defenders Tucker Stearns and Joey Niemo got the assists.
Douglas made several fine stops, gloving a Niemo bid from the left circle, flashing his right skate on defender Abel Anderson’s shot from the high slot, and twice stuffing Nadeau from point-blank range after a Stearns rush broke down the CVU defense. The Tiger third line of Trevor Schnoor, Jordan Lawton and Owen Lawton also created chances, the best of which was a Lawton bid from the slot in the late going.
But CVU could not stop Nadeau with 1:49 to go in the period. Rubright stole the puck behind the net to the left, and fed Kearns out front. Douglas denied Kearns, but the puck popped over to Nadeau, and the sliding Douglas could not prevent Nadeau’s shot from hitting him and going in.
In the third period more good defense from Stearns, Anderson, Niemo, Hodsden and Matthew Kiernan in the back, plus steady pressure on the puck from the Tiger forwards, limited the Redhawks to two shots on Hooper as the Tigers wrapped up their win.
Bartlett said the Tigers have gelled defensively in the season’s back stretch — they have held opponents to one goal or none in seven of their past eight games.
“Our guys really understand conceptually where they need to be in transition and when the other team is rushing the puck. Our goal is not to give up an odd-player rush, and our guys really stay in the structure, and it doesn’t allow those opportunities. And we get great back-pressure from our forwards, too, coming back through the neutral zone,” Bartlett said.
The team is also finally healthier. Although senior Kam Bartlett will not return, Kearns is back and fewer players are battling viruses.
“Right now we’ll keep our fingers crossed that guys stay injury-free and the sicknesses are gone,” Coach Bartlett said. “We like what we see. We’re structurally sound, and we’re a contender.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.