Men’s Hockey Fails to Defend NESCAC Title; Falls to Middlebury 4-3 at Home In NESCAC Quarters
Issue   |   Tue, 02/26/2013 - 21:14
Nialah Hope ’15, Public Affairs Office
Despite outshooting Middlebury 29-23, the Jeffs couldn’t get it done in the NESCAC quarters. The Jeffs’ class of 2013 end their careers with a record of 67-21-12 (.695).

Frustrated by a tough opposing goaltender, the men’s hockey team ended its season in gut-wrenching fashion, suffering a 4-3 loss to Middlebury in the NESCAC Quarterfinals at Orr Rink last Saturday.

The Jeffs (15-7-3, 11-5-2 NESCAC) mounted a furious comeback in the dying minutes —scoring twice in the final 2:47 to close the deficit from 4-1 to 4-3 — but the spirited rally provided little consolation in the dejected postgame locker room.
“When a season ends there are no moral victories,” head coach Jack Arena said. “The guys were devastated.”

In 2012, Amherst captured the NESCAC Championship and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four, surging to the greatest season in program history. One year later, the Jeffs are packing their skates without a single postseason win.

The Jeffs swept Middlebury in the regular season series — including a 5-3 Senior Day victory to clinch the No. 4 seed (and home-ice advantage) in the NESCAC Tournament.

But those earlier results meant nothing in the playoffs, as the Panthers raised their intensity and execution for Saturday’s elimination game.

“I thought Middlebury did a better job of managing the puck than they did last week and, because of that, limited our transition opportunities,” Arena said.

In a tight battle between the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the conference, the Jeffs outshot Middlebury by a 29-23 margin, but struggled to capitalize on scoring chances until the final three minutes of action.

“I thought we played a pretty good all-around game. I felt all three periods were evenly played, but they were able to convert one more of their chances than we were,” Arena said.

“They’re a very good team and we’re evenly matched. As I said last week, it comes down to one or two plays. This time they made them.”

The Jeffs started the contest brightly, skating to a 1-0 lead in the first period. With 3:50 remaining in the period, Brian Safstrom ’14 created the chance by trying to jam a backhand wraparound at the right post.

While Middlebury goaltender Mike Peters made the initial stop, Andrew Kurlandski ’14 cleaned up the rebound from close range.

After the opening tally, however, Middlebury scored four unanswered goals to seize control of the contest, holding Amherst scoreless for the next 41 minutes of action.

Middlebury — the league’s No. 2 ranked offense (3.89 goals per game) — picked up the attacking pressure in the second period. After both teams committed matching penalties at the 5:18 mark — resulting in 4-on-4 play — Panthers’ forward Matt Silcoff had his breakaway attempt denied by Amherst goaltender Nathan Corey ’13.

When the Jeffs incurred a hooking penalty moments later, Middlebury capitalized on the 4-on-3 power play to knot the score at 1-1.

The Jeffs responded with a flurry of scoring chances near the midpoint of the second period, but Peters stonewalled point-blank attempts from Safstrom and Mike Moher ’13 to keep the game tied at 1-1.

“I felt we had our best opportunities in the second period, but their goalie made some big saves that really kept us from gaining momentum,” Arena said.

After failing to convert a slew of excellent opportunities, the Jeffs endured a crushing blow when Middlebury scored against the run of play at the 13:24 mark. Just 28 seconds earlier, Middlebury had called a timeout to interrupt Amherst’s momentum.

When play resumed, Panthers’ forward Robbie Dobrowski intercepted an errant Jeff pass on the right side before unleashing a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net.

The Jeffs had two power-play opportunities later in the second period, but Peters delivered a handful of big stops to keep his team ahead 2-1 heading into the intermission.

Middlebury extended the lead to 3-1 early in the third period, as Louis Belisle skated into the Amherst zone uncontested before slinging a wrist shot into the left corner at the 3:24 mark.

Thwarting Amherst’s attacking thrusts for much of the period, Middlebury scored the eventual game-winner with 4:38 remaining. After the Jeffs coughed up the puck at the goal line, Belisle fired a quick shot from the left circle that surprised Corey, barely slipping through the five-hole.

Now ahead 4-1, the Panthers appeared to be cruising to victory.

But with the season teetering on life support, the desperate Jeffs struck twice in rapid succession to close the deficit to 4-3, refusing to capitulate in the face of extreme odds.

The hosts initiated the rally when Kevin Ryder ’16 took a pass from Johnny Van Siclen ’13 to the right circle before firing a shot off the left post with 2:47 remaining.

After pulling Corey at the 1:32 mark, the Jeffs stunned Middlebury with a scrappy goal 14 seconds later. Amid a chaotic scrum outside the crease, Kurlandski buried the loose puck with 1:18 left in regulation.

However, the Jeffs did not muster another shot in the final 78 seconds, as the relieved Panthers exacted revenge for last season’s NESCAC Championship final (a 4-3 Amherst win).

While that 2012 NESCAC title remains a bright spot, Amherst has now suffered first-round exits in three of the past four years. In all three NESCAC Tournament losses, the Jeffs grabbed the No. 4 seed but fell to the No. 5 team on home ice.
Having endured one-goal defeats to Bowdoin in 2010 and Trinity in 2009, the painful setback to Middlebury feels agonizingly familiar to the team’s seniors.

The Jeffs will lose a substantial part of their core to graduation, including the goaltender Corey, goal-scoring threats Van Siclen and Moher, and stalwart defensemen Brandon Hew and Jamie Hawkrigg. The Class of 2013 compiled a four-year record of 67-26-12 (.695).