MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury College will defend its national championship on home ice Saturday night, after a 5-2 come-from-behind win over New England College in the second NCAA D-III semifinal.
The Panthers trailed 2-1 at the second intermission, but reeled off four unanswered goals in the third period.
“Our thought was that if we worked hard and created a tempo for three periods that we’d get some dividends in the third,” said Middlebury coach Bill Beaney. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
Middlebury took 1:40 of a power play into the third period, and while the Panthers didn’t score, the momentum they gained help swing things into their favor.
“We thought the key would be to kill that penalty off, but they did get some momentum from that,” said New England College coach Tom Carroll.
The Panthers’ forecheck kept the Pilgrims bottled in their own end for most of the third period. NEC couldn’t muster a shot on goal until the 17:00 mark of the third period, after allowing nine Middlebury shots.
Middlebury got its third-period flurry underway with when Jocko DeCarolis dove from the right side of the net to poke the rebound of Tim Graham’s point blank shot behind New England goalie Scott Gray to tie the game at 2-2.
“I was trailing the play, looking for something to happen. The goalie made a nice save, but it dropped right in front of me. And I just swung,” said DeCarolis, who also tallied a late empty-net goal.
Middlebury took its first lead of the night, 3-2, at 10:15 of the third period. Graham fed the puck to defenseman Brett Shirreffs at the blue line. Shirreffs walked into the high slot and wristed a puck low on the ice through a screen and past Gray on the glove side.
Beaney said that the eventual game winner was the final shift in momentum toward his squad. “I didn’t think they had the legs after the third goal,” he said.
NEC didn’t feel like it was out of the game, though. “Even when the game was 2-2, I thought we were in good shape. Until the final horn blew, we never thought we couldn’t come back,” said New England coach Tom Carroll.
Middlebury captain Brian Phinney said his team’s speed is what eventually helped them overcome New England College’s physical game. “If you can’t catch us, you can’t hit us. … Our game’s skating by you, not skating into you.”
The Panthers opened a two-goal lead on Mickey Gilchrist’s goal at 13:16. Patrick Nugent fed it back to Gilchrist, who took a step forward and wristed it under the crossbar from the high slot. DeCarolis’ empty-net goal came at 18:57.
New England College led twice in the game’s first two periods. The Pilgrims had taken a 2-1 lead on the power play at 11:51 of the second for that period’s only goal. Nick Fouts took a cross-ice pass at the point and fed it low to Mike Carmody at the goal line. Carmody dished it to Robin Bjorkman in the slot, and the pinching defenseman wristed it high past Middlebury goalie Ross Cherry.
The Pilgrims dominated play early and tallied at 4:02 of the first period when Rashaun Ewing fed defenseman Greg Tam at the point. Tam lofted a puck from the blue line over traffic in the slot, and beat Cherry over his left shoulder.
“Any time you have a big game like this one, especially at home, you’re going to have the jitters,” said Middlebury captain Brian Phinney. “But I think the most important thing to do, especially when you’re playing at home, is to realize it’s just another hockey game.”
Cherry kept NEC to one goal with a spectacular windmill save on a shorthanded shot by Jeff Van Dyke at 7:05 of the first. The freshman netminder has been Middlebury’s starter since midseason. “I think he’s helped our team gain a confidence that we didn’t have before,” said Beaney.
Middlebury tied it at 16:54 on Shady Young’s goal. Gray, after making two initial saves, couldn’t find a loose puck in his feet. Eric LaFreniere lay in the crease, trying to poke it home, but Young circled behind the Pilgrims net and tapped it in on the left post.
The Panthers will try for their seventh national championship at 7:00 p.m. ET at home tomorrow against the Tommies. “I think St. Thomas is a formidable opponent, and I think tomorrow’s is going to be a great one,” said Beaney.