MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — NESCAC player of the year Kevin Cooper scored two goals, and senior Marc Scheuer made 21 saves to help Middlebury skate to a 3-1 win over Hamilton, earning its fourth trip in four years to the NESCAC championship game.
The Panthers outshot the Continentals 47-21. The Panthers amassed the same number of shots in the first period as the Continentals did in the entire game.
“We were relentless with our pressure right from the start,” said Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney. “We made great decisions with the puck. I was very pleased with our overall effort.”
Despite the discrepancy in shots early, the Panthers only scored one goal in the first period.
That play started in neutral ice, where Panthers defenseman Brian Phinney and senior Andrew Helming entered the offensive zone with the puck on the left-wing side. Helming feathered a pass through two defensemen to a streaking Cooper, who one-timed it into the open net for a 1-0 lead just 4:43 in.
“Helming made a great move to beat the defenseman and fed me a perfect pass,” said Cooper. “I was just hoping I wouldn’t miss the open net.”
Helming’s goal at 8:44 of the second proved to be the game-winner. Phinney ripped a shot from the point that was deflected by Helming into the top of the net to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
Cooper scored his second goal of the game 7:41 into the third period to make it 3-0. Panthers center Adam Foote won a faceoff deep in the defensive zone and fed Cooper for a perfect pass, springing him to a breakaway. Cooper deked to his forehand, then slid the puck through Rob MacNeil’s legs.
MacNeil gave the Continentals a chance to win, stopping 44 of 47 shots while getting barraged with quality chances. His best saves came at the end of the first period when Cooper, John Dawson, and Foote had multiple opportunities in front.
“It could have been double figures if it weren’t for Robbie MacNeil,” said Hamilton head coach Phil Grady. “He gave us a chance, but we didn’t take advantage of it.
Asked whether the team needed to make offensive adjustments in the finals, Beaney joked, “The only adjustment we need to make is to teach Cooper how to lift a puck over a goaltender when he’s down.”
Panthers goalie Scheuer played solidly in his second-ever playoff start.
“As usual the team helped me out a lot,” said Scheuer. “The make it pretty easy for me. The crowd also helped me get into it.
Scheuer’s bid for his first playoff shutout was stopped when Casey Deak banged home a rebound with 6:14 remaining in the third period.
“A little rebound got away from him, but you can tell he’s making good decisions and he’s on top of his game,” said Beaney.
The Panthers will face the winner of the Colby/Trinity game Sunday at 1 p.m. Both teams have defeated the Panthers once this year.