MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — The Middlebury Panthers scored five goals in the second period in a span of 9:24 to earn their fourth NESCAC Championship in only its five years of existence with a 6-2 win over the Trinity Bantams. The Panthers exploded for four power-play goals — the first time they achieved such a feat this season — and one shorthanded goal to gain an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
“I feel very good about how our team is playing,” said Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney. “I like where we’re at. I like how our team has come together to make stuff happen.”
Middlebury captain John Dawson contributed two power play goals just 34 seconds apart to move atop the NESCAC power play leaderboard with seven.
“Our power play hasn’t been good all year. Today we just made it simple. We worked it around and got it to the net and were hungry for pucks,” said Dawson.
Dawson scored his first goal off a shot from the point by senior defenseman Mike Velez. The puck squirted behind the net to Kevin Cooper who dished it out in front to Dawson to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead with 3:21 remaining in the second period.
“John has been as hard a worker as anyone all year, and he hasn’t been getting the bounces, but tonight he got a couple of bounces, and that was great stuff to see that happen. It was very well deserved,” said Beaney.
Just 17 seconds later the Panthers went back on the power play because of a Rico Murtha roughing penalty. Dawson once again took advantage of the power play scoring off the foot of Trinity defenseman Colin Wilson-Murphy from the side of the net for his 14th goal of the season, giving Middlebury an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
“We just kept pouring it on, and said ‘hey, let’s just keep it up,’” said Dawson. “The pucks just started going in.”
The Panthers onslaught began after the Bantams scored at 4:47 of the second period when freshman forward Simon Dionne, from behind the net, fed Ryan Stevens for an easy tap in goal to take a 1-0 lead.
“When we were down a goal we just turned it up, and guys said we could get pucks by this goalie,” said Dawson
Three minutes later the Panthers went on the first power play of the evening. After a few shots in the slot were blocked by Bantams defenseman, junior defenseman Brian Phinney sent a hope shot on net. All-Conference goaltender Doug Kiselius was screened on the play, and had no idea where the puck was as it came sliding slowly through his legs.
Just seven seconds later, off the faceoff, the Panthers struck again. Darwin Hunt pushed the puck forward off the draw, and sprang Shady Young for a semi-breakaway. While being held from behind, Young was able to battle free from his opponent just in time to slide the puck to the left of Kiselius to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead 7:56 into the second period.
“Shady Young’s goal was huge, right off the draw,” said Dawson. “It was a huge shot of adrenaline going from down 1-0 to up 2-1, in a matter of seconds.”
The tempo of the game started off physical and intense, with either team wanting to give an inch. The teams skated into the locker room deadlocked at zero, with the Panthers outshooting Trinity 11-5.
“It was a pretty defensive game to start-off. Both teams were kind of feeling each other out, “said Velez.
The defensive battle continued into the second period where arguably the save of tournament occurred before any scoring occurred. While Scheuer was caught out of the net, Cameron Finch picked up a loose puck at the dot and looked to bury the puck in the wide open net. Freshman forward Eric LaFrieniere came sliding headfirst and was able to block the shot with the shaft of his stick to keep the game scoreless.
“The first period both teams played well,” said Trinity coach John Dunham. “We knew we had to contain the surge. We knew we had to take away the long pass away.”
The Bantams contained the long pass until Kevin Cooper continued his scoring ways as he deposited his fourth shorthanded goal in league play. Adam Foote intercepted a pass deep in his defensive end and fed Cooper for a breakaway who scored at 11:35 of the secnd period to put the Panthers up 3-1.
“I love playing with Adam [Foote], “said Cooper. “He’s one of the best players I have ever played with — he’s big, strong, and can shoot and pass. He makes things easier for me because he brings guys to him, and I can get loose and skate.”
Cooper’s breakaway goal was nearly identical to the goal he scored one day earlier against Hamilton, as he faked to his forehand and then slid the puck on his backhand through the goaltenders legs.
“In practice my goalies were stoning me all week. I kept trying to go to the far side, but they told me to go five-hole, and it worked twice this weekend, so I’ve got to look to them I guess,” said Cooper.
Cooper returned the favor with 4:41 remaining in the 3rd period on the power play by feeding Foote for a one-timer to give Middlebury a 6-2 lead.
Scheuer made 18 saves for the victory, while Kiselius made 26 in the losing effort. The Panthers will find out tonight whom they will be hosting in the NCAA quarterfinal, while Trinity will hope for an at-large bid to make the tournament.