MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — The defending national champion Panthers finally dropped the puck after many teams had already been playing for over a month. The fans at Kenyon Arena were excited to see their team pick up where they left off last season. It would not be too difficult as Castleton State entered town. No one could have expected this game to be close, as the Panthers hosted their new in-state “rival” the Spartans, who have been in existence for just over a year. The predictions came true as Middlebury flattened Castleton State 9-1 with strong contributions from their new insurgence of youth.
Middlebury freshmen forwards James Guay and Scott Bartlett scored two goals apiece while freshmen defenseman Tom Maldonado chipped in with three assists as the Panthers outshot the Spartans by a blistering 61-11 margin.
Middlebury was especially strong on the power play tapping in four goals in eight chances on the man advantage. Castleton also received its fair share of power plays, scoring its lone goal on their seventh and final opportunity. The league is making an attempt this year to crackdown on obstruction penalties to increase the flow of the game. Four of the game’s penalties were obstruction calls.
“There were a lot of power play situations, and we know that’s what life is going to be,” indicated Castleton head coach Greg Stone.
Middlebury came into tonight’s game with ten freshmen on the roster, new players needed to fill the holes left by the departure of such seniors as modern-day goal scoring record holder Kevin Cooper, unofficial MVP of the 2004 NCAA Tournament Marc Scheuer, All-NESCAC Mike Velez, and fearless leader John Dawson.
The “new kids on the block” did just that, contributing four goals and seven assists. Guay, Bartlett, Maldonado, Justin Gaines, and sophomore Jocko DeCarolis all chipped in offensively in their first games.
“We felt good. Guys were moving the puck. There was high energy; high pace, and it was a lot of fun,” said Guay.
The freshmen got into the mix 9:01 into the second period as Bartlett deflected a slapshot by DeCarolis that slid through Gallagher’s legs to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
“Jocko made a good low shot, and I barely got my stick on it,” admits Bartlett, who also added an assist.
The last four goals of the game for the Panthers were scored by freshmen. Had the freshmen not been as nervous as they indicated, they might have had an even bigger night.
When I got out there I was really nervous,” said Guay. “It took a period to settle my nerves down.”
Beaney was particularly happy with the way his new players integrated into the team so quickly and efficiently stating, “Guys started getting used to the system in a game situation. They really did everything I wanted them to do.”
The Panthers put the Spartans on their heels early in the game scoring just 55 seconds into the game as alternate captain Patrick Nugent streaked down the right wing and fired a low shot past Spartans goaltender Branden Gallagher to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
“We got out of the gate quickly and never looked back,” said Bartlett.
The veteran players of the Panthers paved the way for the freshmen early in the game, by chipping in the first five goals. Senior Tim Graham scored the Panthers second goal of the game on the power play 7:24 into the first period after rifling a slap shot over the glove hand of Gallagher who ended up with 46 saves on the evening.
Even Scott Ward, known for his defense prowess and big hits chipped in at 6:33 of the second period after putting a shot from the slot past Gallagher to give the Panthers a 5-0 lead.
It may be one of the easier opponents that the Panthers face all year, but Beaney explained that, “We went out there to establish an identity of the team we want to be, and I think we were able to do it.”