MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — It what could have been the class of ’05′s last home game of their careers, all four classes contributed to Middlebury’s 3-0 win over Hamilton in their NESCAC quarterfinal matchup. Freshman Ross Cherry recorded his first career shutout as a Panther, stopping 21 shots for the win.
Senior captain Brian Phinney capped off the night by scoring his 26th career goal into an empty net with 1:46 left in the game. After sophomore John Sales won the draw deep in Middlebury’s zone, a fellow sophomore, Darwin Hunt, chipped it off the boards to Phinney who had nothing but open ice, easily depositing the goal into the empty net.
“The last face-off you knew someone had to make a good effort to make it was going to come down to someone making that effort and Darwin Hunt found a way to chip it out,” said Phinney, who scored his seventh goal of the season. “I was lucky enough to find it on my stick, and I was just skating to get down there. I was happy he made that effort.”
The Panthers have defeated Hamilton in the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament three out of the last four years, but this year came into the game a little less certain of the outcome knowing they had already lost to Hamilton just three weeks ago by the score of 3-2.
“You can’t come into the playoffs thinking it’s going to be easy. You know it’s going to be a battle when teams are fighting for their life for the next game,” admitted Phinney.
The Panthers opened the scoring just 2:20 into the first period. Sophomore Eric LaFreniere stole the puck from behind the Continentals net and fed junior Shady Young who slid a low shot past the glove side of goaltender Rob MacNeil.
The Panthers’ strong defensive play limited the Continentals to just three shots in the first period, giving Cherry a relatively easy first period.
However, his workload increased in the subsequent periods, but Cherry was still able to backstop his way to a shutout. Despite the increase in shots over the next two periods — 8 and 10 respectively — many of the shots were low quality shots which could be attributed to the fact that the Panthers defense allowed very few second chances on Cherry.
“The team played well in front of me to help get the job done,” said Cherry, while Phinney added, “Ross has been playing great for us. He’s making the saves when he has to. The defense helped out too by clearing guys from out in front.”
The Panthers were able to chip one more past MacNeil, who made 27 saves in the losing effort. The dynamic freshman duo of Justin Gaines and Mickey Gilchrist hooked up one more time. Gaines slid a pass from behind the net out in front to Gilchrist who fired a wrist just under the crossbar for his team leading 18th goal of the season with 8:53 remaining in the second period.
“A lot of the young guys are coming on like Mickey and Ross. At this point of the year you don’t have freshmen. You just need guys to step it up,” explained Phinney.
The Panthers know that they’ll need Cherry to stay hot in order to go far in the playoffs, but the freshman goaltender remarked that, “We know it’s a team effort right now. If I do my job and everyone else does their job we’ll do alright and get the results.”
The Panthers move onto the semifinals of the NESCAC Tournament to face Colby at Trinity’s Kingswood-Oxford arena next Saturday.