Men’s Hockey Falls to Ephs; Bounces Back To Beat Midd., Set Up Quarterfinal Rematch
Issue   |   Tue, 02/19/2013 - 23:04

After a gut-wrenching 4-2 loss to Williams on Friday, the men’s hockey team rebounded to a thrilling 5-3 comeback win over Middlebury in the regular season finale last Saturday. With the victory, the Jeffs (15-6-3, 11-5-2 NESCAC) clinched home-ice advantage in the NESCAC Tournament quarterfinals. As the No. 4 seed, the Jeffs have earned a rematch with No. 5 Middlebury (12-10-2, 11-5-2 NESCAC) at Orr Rink this Saturday at 1 p.m.

Entering the final weekend of the regular season, the Jeffs sat in a three-way tie with Williams and Middlebury for third place in the NESCAC standings. Battling against bitter rivals for playoff seeds, the Jeffs struggled in a tentative outing against Williams but recovered with a stirring 5-3 victory over Middlebury. Once the dust cleared, Amherst had done just enough to secure home-ice advantage for a sixth consecutive season.

“Coming back like that is huge. It’s certainly important to be able to get the experience of playing in big games like that and being able to get the job done,” co-Captain Brandon Hew ’13 said.

Amherst skated to a slow start against Williams on Friday night, falling behind 3-0 three minutes into the second period. The Jeffs closed the gap to 3-2 with late-second period goals from Brian Safstrom ’14 and Aaron Deutsch ’15, but the Ephs bagged an insurance goal in the third period en route to a 4-2 final.

With Friday’s result, the Ephs clinched a season sweep over Amherst, having won the first contest 2-1 in Williamstown in December. Prior to this season, the Jeffs had won seven straight meetings in the rivalry.

“Williams beat us at our own game,” head coach Jack Arena said. “They were disciplined, made few mistakes, got excellent goaltending and were opportunistic. I felt they played a sounder game and deserved to win.”

The Ephs stunned Amherst with a short-handed goal 11:09 into the contest, sapping the momentum and confidence of the home side. They then struck twice in rapid succession in the first three minutes of the second period, putting Amherst in a formidable 3-0 hole. The Jeffs were victimized by an unlucky bounce on the first goal: an Ephs’ player tried to dump the puck along the right-hand boards, but the puck ricocheted unexpectedly into the slot, allowing Cody Skinner to slip a backhand past Nathan Corey ’13 at 2:12. Just 47 seconds later, Nick Anderson scored his second of the game from point-blank range, prompting Arena to call a timeout to quell the bleeding.

“I thought we were a bit nervous for the first half of the game,” Hew said. “I think too many of us were gripping our sticks a little too tight, and it showed in our inability to make plays with the puck.”

Desperate to close the three-goal deficit, the Jeffs dominated play for the rest of the second period, outshooting Williams by a 17-3 margin. Pinning the Ephs in the offensive end for long stretches, the Jeffs finally got on the scoreboard with 2:58 remaining in the period on Safstrom’s rebound goal.

Energized by the first goal, the Jeffs scored a power-play tally with 36 seconds left in the second period to cut the Ephs’ lead to 3-2. Catching Williams on a poorly-timed line change, Deutsch (a defenseman) carried the puck into the zone and rifled a shot before chipping in his own rebound.

The scoring burst, however, was too little, too late for Amherst as Williams tightened up on defense in the third period. Ephs goaltender Sean Dougherty frustrated the Jeffs in stopping 35 of 37 shots.

Although Amherst outshot Williams by a 37-16 margin, team members bemoaned the lack of high-quality scoring opportunities, attributing the scorebook discrepancy to an excess of perimeter shots.

“I don’t really think we deserved a better outcome based on the lopsided shots on goal,” Hew said. “Obviously generating shots is a good thing, and their goalie played pretty well, but at the end of the day, we can’t make the mistakes that we did against a good team like Williams and expect to win.”

After the demoralizing result to Williams, the Jeffs responded with a 5-3 comeback win over Middlebury the next day. Behind 2-1 after 40 minutes, the Jeffs mounted a four-goal rally in the third period to cap a resilient performance on Senior Day.

“I felt it was a good game between two evenly matched teams,” Arena said. “I felt our energy and work ethic was good throughout and when that’s the case eventually good things happen.”

Determined to skate to a fast start, the Jeffs stunned Middlebury by scoring just 50 seconds into the contest. Safstrom skated with the puck behind the net (from right to left) before sniping a wrist shot from the left side of the cage.

Holding a 1-0 lead early in the second period, the Jeffs’ top-ranked penalty kill unit (89.4 percent) fatigued after scrambling in their zone for long stretches. Middlebury’s Evan Neugold fired a rising shot from the left circle to tie the game at 1-1 9:26 into the period. The Panthers grabbed the lead five minutes later when Chris Brown’s slap shot caromed in off the crossbar, giving Middlebury a 2-1 lead before intermission.

Undaunted by the third-period deficit, the Jeffs erupted for four goals in the final 20 minutes. First, Moher ignited the rally with a fantastic short-handed goal at the 5:45 mark. In a furious stretch of action, the Panthers scored a power-play goal 40 seconds after Moher’s equalizer to retake the lead. The resilient Jeffs, however, struck back just 1:15 later, as Kevin Ryder ’16 unleashed a well-placed slap shot from the left circle at 7:40.

Needing a win to clinch home-ice advantage, the desperate Jeffs scored the go-ahead goal with 3:12 remaining on the clock. After Safstrom dished a pass across to Van Siclen at the right post, the senior forward stabbed the puck into the net to give Amherst a 4-3 lead. Van Siclen added an empty-netter in the final minute to ice the 5-3 victory.

“That third period was a major confidence boost heading into this weekend,” Moher said. “We showed ourselves that if we are fully committed to our game plan no team can keep pace with us. The biggest difference in the third period is we stayed true to our system and our pressure,” We didn’t get discouraged when they went up, we just kept applying pressure and managed to finish opportunities.”

No. 4 Amherst and No. 5 Middlebury will face off again in the NESCAC Quarterfinals at Orr Rink on Saturday afternoon. Sporting identical 11-5-2 conference records, the Jeffs won the head-to-head tiebreaker over Middlebury to earn home-ice advantage. Saturday’s clash also features a rematch of last season’s NESCAC Championship final, a 4-3 Amherst victory.