MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — If there were any doubts that Middlebury could recover from the loss of so many star players, those questions were answered tonight. In a packed house at Kenyon Arena, the night after Thanksgiving, Middlebury used its outstanding speed and puck control to take it to Plattsburgh. John Sales recorded his first career hat trick as a Panther helping to defeat Plattsburgh 5-1 in the semifinals of the Primelink Great Northern Shootout.
“We’ve got some pretty good hockey players who played hard tonight, and really played together,” said Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney.
The Panthers dominated the second period, outshooting the Cardinals by a 15-7 margin, and putting up three unanswered goals to seal the victory. Sales opened the second period scoring 1:08 into the frame on the power play. Freshman defensemen Tom Maldonado streaked in two-on-two with Sales. One defender chased Maldonado, and the other fell down leaving Sales open for the pass and an easy goal, his fourth of the season, and a 2-1 Panthers lead.
The Panthers continued to pressure the Cardinals for the next few minutes, but it was Plattsburgh that had a great chance to equalize the score. The Panthers defense broke down in front of their goaltender Yen-I Chen, allowing Ryan Busby to cut to the net with a wide open shot on his backhand. He proceeded to miss the shot high, and the Panthers came back the other way.
Freshmen James Guay and Mickey Gilchrist streaked in the offensive zone. Guay lost the puck in his skates, but had the presence of mind to pick it up, and throw it blindly to Gilchrist, who had lost his defender. Gilchrist deked to his forehand and then to his backhand depositing the puck passed the sprawling Tony Seariac for a 3-1 Panthers lead.
“I think the turning point of the game was when Ryan Busby had a wide open net, and he put it right over the net, and then immediately afterwards Middlebury went up 3-1. That was a big change in the game,” admitted Plattsburgh head coach Bob Emery.
Middlebury did not stop there. With 4:24 left in the second period Guay, from behind the net, slid a pass to Sales who fired a high wrist shot past the glove of Seariac for his second of the game, and a Panthers 4-1 lead.
“To come out against a team like Plattsburgh shows a lot of character in the guys,” said Sales.
Plattsburgh kept it close during the first period limiting the Panthers to four shot on goal. However, the Panthers picked up the pace from the second period on showcasing their superior speed and puck movement.
“It was a case of making good decisions, and moving the puck, and our group playing together better,” said Beaney
Every one of the Panthers point-producers were freshmen or sophomore, showing that the youth of a team can in fact carry a team. Currently, the top five scorers on the Panthers are freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s huge to have young guys step up,” said Sales. “Every year the young guys need to step up in order for the team to be successful.”
The Primelink was inaugurated in 1998 at Norwich. The host site is on a rotating basis between the four participating schools: Middlebury, Norwich, Plattsburgh, and Potsdam. This was the fifth time seven years Middlebury and Plattsburgh met in the Primelink. The Panthers currently lead the series 3-2.
“The Primelink is a great opportunity to play competitive teams early on in the season,” said Beaney.
At one point in the second period, the Cardinals had consecutive five on three power plays, but could not convert. The Panthers, which blocked shots so well in last year’s NCAA tournament, continued to do so, stifling the Plattsburgh offense.
“Middlebury did a hell of a job blocking shots. Pucks were just not getting through,” said Emery.
Chen ended the game with 12 saves, while Seriac made 24 saves in the losing effort.
In attendance, were a number of last year’s Panthers graduates including Marc Scheuer, Mike Velez, John Dawson, Adam Foote and Mike Kennedy.
The Panthers will face-off against Norwich in the championship game at 7:00 p,m. Norwich defeated Potsdam in the other semifinal earlier tonight in thrilling fashion; winning 31 seconds into overtime by the score of 4-3. Plattsburgh will play Potsdam in the consolation game at 4PM.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun tomorrow night. There’s no better team to play than Norwich,” said Sales.