MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Despite a 49-save effort by Wentworth’s Raj Bhangoo that held the potent Middlebury attack at bay until midway through the second period, the Panthers steamrolled the Leopards with a 6-0 win in NCAA quarterfinal action.
Early on, Bhangoo and Middlebury’s Christian Carlsson showcased their goaltending talent, as back-and-forth action offered both goalies opportunities to wow the capacity crowd with impressive saves.
In the first minute Bhangoo stopped Middlebury’s Jack Kennedy, while just two minutes later Carlsson stoned Wentworth’s Jamie Weiss and then held Wentworth off the board after a breakaway by Tim Yakimowsky and Alex Marinkovich one minute later. The period ended a scoreless tie, with Middlebury owning the edge in shots, 13-8.
In the second period, Middlebury finally got rolling, as Kevin Cooper started the scoring at 10:33. Cooper took a Matt Dunn feed and put it in the back of the net for a 1-0 margin.
Said Cooper, “I knew we were faster, we just had to use our speed. [Dunn] can thread those passes, and I just tipped it in.”
Despite the first goal, Bhangoo held strong over the next five minutes, stopping shots by Rob Chisholm on a break, and then a flurry of attempts by Cooper and Andrew Helming.
At 15:09, Middlebury’s Jack Kennedy solved Bhangoo for the Panther’s second goal of the game. Kennedy took a pass from John Dawson and skated in from the faceoff circle, deking several defenders before finally backhanding the puck into the net.
At 18:30, Middlebury moved the margin to 3-0, behind a goal by John Dawson.
Despite the scoring, the story of the period for Middlebury was defense. While piling up 22 shots, Middlebury held Wentworth without a shot in the second period through a stifling effort in the neutral zone and in its own end.
Said Middlebury coach Bill Beaney, “We take pride in our defense… [the period] is a credit to people making a commitment to play the puck and support each other.”
The third period saw Middlebury again fight for every opportunity against Bhangoo, who made a beautiful save on Matt Snyder and then robbed Chisholm during a delayed-penalty six-on-five. Dawson scored his second of the game at 10:07 of the third, as he deflected a puck so quickly that it hit metal inside the net and came firing back out onto the ice.
Middlebury rounded out the scoring with two late goals, one by Adam Foote from Tim Graham at 17:28 of the third, and one by Andy Campbell at 18:06 off a rebound.
Even while being hit with 55 shots, Bhangoo lived up to the hype as one of the ECAC Northeast’s top netminders, with save after save that the crowd in awe.
Said Wentworth coach Bill Bowes, Bhangoo “just played fabulous tonight, like he’s done all year… He’s one heck of a goaltender.”
Bowes felt that his team started particularly strong, but was unable to play a complete game. “I was a little disappointed in our team’s spirit, character and grit. If you let up just a minute, these guys [Middlebury] will make you pay. We let up too much.”
Beaney acknowledged that early on the Panthers were not playing their best hockey, and that Wentworth had their chances.
“They didn’t win 23 games by being lucky,” said Beaney. “They are very opportunistic … [The Leopards] transition very well, and I thought we were very flat.”
On the change in effort after the first period, Beaney said, “Tonight the second was the best of the three periods. The guys came into the locker room and didn’t feel good.”
The win improves Middlebury’s record to 25-1-1 on the season, while Wentworth falls to 23-6. The Panthers and the Leopards will meet again on Saturday night; a Middlebury win or tie moves it into the NCAA semifinals, while a Wentworth win brings a 20-minute mini-game.