MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — For the second night in a row, a Wentworth goalie put on an impressive show, doing everything possible to keep the top-ranked Middlebury Panthers off the board in their NCAA quarterfinal matchup.
Yet for the second night in a row, once the Panthers found their rhythm, the Leopards were unable to hold off an onslaught that helped Middlebury to a 9-1 win and a 2-0 series victory in NCAA quarterfinal action.
Early on, like the previous night’s game, both goalies made impressive saves to keep the game close. In the third minute of the game, Middlebury’s Rob Chisholm found Andrew Helming at the top of the crease, yet Wentworth goalie Jamie Vanek stoned the hard shot. Just seconds later however, Chisholm put the puck past Vanek for a quick 1-0 Middlebury lead just 4:05 into the game.
However, over the rest of the period, Vanek made tough saves on Matt Dunn and then one on a breakaway by Tim Graham in the last thirty seconds of the first stanza, among others. He finished the period with eight saves, and kept his team in the game down only 1-0.
Middlebury goalie Christian Carlsson held the Middlebury lead with a few strong saves on his end. Carlsson only faced three shots, but in all three cases, they came on good Wentworth scoring opportunities, including a shorthanded breakaway by Ben Pierce at 4:20 of the first.
In the second period, Middlebury opened fire and began to really dominate on both ends of the ice. Just 1:20 into the period, Patrick Nugent of Middlebury found a puck left in the crease after a Kevin Cooper shot and put it home for a 2-0 margin. After a breakaway chance by Wentworth’s Jayden Der and Brad Carpenter was stuffed by Carlsson, the Middlebury defense stepped up and the offense began to transition out of the zone even more quickly and control play in the Wentworth zone through a suffocating forecheck.
On a 3-on-1 break, J.F. Duchesne took a rebound after Matt Dunn’s initial shot and found the corner of the net at 8:20 of the second for a 3-0 lead for the Panthers. At 17:46, Middlebury captain Ryan Constantine cut to the net fighting off a Wentworth defender, and lit the lamp, moving the score to 4-0 at the end of the second period.
The third period saw Matt Dunn score just 26 seconds in, off a quick pass from behind the net by Chisholm. After that, the Middlebury offense became the Mike Kennedy Show, as the sophomore forward sandwiched a hat trick around Wentworth’s only goal of the weekend.
Kennedy’s first goal came at 2:01 of the third period from a hard shot right in front of the net. After Ben Pierce scored a 5-on-3 power-play goal for Wentworth by flipping the puck over Carlsson, Kennedy came back to score at 13:29 and then with a nifty backhand shot at 13:56 of the third. Kevin Cooper rounded out the scoring with an amazing move at 15:21, as he brought the puck past a defender and slipped a backhand past Vanek for a final 9-1 margin.
Carlsson finished the night with nine saves on ten shots, while Wentworth’s Vanek fought off 38 shots and replacement Bryce McFadden finished the last four minutes with two saves.
On the outstanding team defense by Middlebury that held Wentworth to 20 shots on the weekend, the Panther’s Ryan Constantine offered, “Yesterday we started out a little sloppy, obviously our defensive shape wasn’t there and that gave them the opportunities that they had. But at the same time, we’ve got Christian back there, and we always count on him to make the big saves. He kept us in it early, which was very important. He did the same today on a few occasions… When Christian makes the big save it gets guys fired up.”
“We don’t want to spend the first five minutes getting into the game… We don’t need to score goals in the first five minutes of the game, obviously if we do that’s great, but we just want to set a tone and have a solid defensive shape, so we know that everyone’s out there playing confidently.”
Throughout the weekend, Middlebury acknowledged the challenge of playing a strong, but still lesser, opponent. According to coach Bill Beaney, even once the outcome was virtually assured, “we wanted to just make sure we kept the good habits we had and we didn’t allow ourselves to get sloppy. I think it helps [the team] get some confidence putting the puck in the net. This group will bounce back and we will play very well next weekend.”
Dunn agreed, saying, “I think that a series like this, we knew that we were a better team from the get-go than Wentworth, and I think it was important for us to play against ourselves and our own standards… Preparing yourself for a final four weekend [against the top teams in the tournament], you have to set your standards high and you have to meet them.”
Said Constantine, “Just the chance to go out as a senior, hosting the tournament, would be an unbelievable experience… there’s nothing more you can ask for in Division III hockey than hosting the tournament.”
Middlebury now stands at 26-1-1, tying the school record for wins in a season set in 1995-1996 NCAA championship squad. The Panthers are riding a 24 game unbeaten streak (23-0-1). The Panthers move into the NCAA semifinals for the sixth time in eight years, but the first time since the 1998-1999 season.
Rearranged seedings and a decision on which school will host the Final Four will be announced Sunday night. Wentworth finishes the season at 23-7, a school record for wins.