MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury won its second straight national title and seventh in 11 seasons with a 5-0 victory over St. Thomas in the 2005 Division III national championship game.
John Sales scored twice for the Panthers, who opened a 2-0 lead after one period, and made it 4-0 after two thanks to a smothering defense and an opportunistic offense that took advantage of every miscue by the Tommies.
“Every mistake we made, they capitalized,” said St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek. “I give all the credit to Middlebury. They’re a great hockey team.”
In a penalty-filled first stanza, the Tommies dominated for the first five minutes but were unable to score. Freshman goaltender Ross Cherry came up big on a two-on-one, stoning Dan Krmpotich and the Tommies missed an empty net a few seconds later.
“I thought we had a couple of great chances early,” said Skrypek. “If we capitalize on those, it might have been a different game.”
The Panthers got their first goal at 9:25 of the period. After a scramble behind the Tommie net, Eric LaFreniere won a battle for the loose puck and put a centering pass onto the stick of freshman Mickey Gilchrist, who wristed the puck past St. Thomas goaltender Zach Sikich.
Middlebury made it 2-0 on the power play at 16:42. Defenseman Tom Maldonado’s pass from the point found John Sales, who quickly got the puck to senior defenseman Patrick Nugent in the high slot. Nugent’s shot trickled though Sikich’s pads and into the net.
The first few big scoring opportunities of the second period belonged to St. Thomas, but the Tommies couldn’t capitalize. Cherry robbed Kevin Rollwagen at 3:28, and at 10:22 of the second, Panther forward Levi Doria was able to sweep the puck out of danger after Cherry was down and out.
“The more we played, the more frustrated we got,” said Skrypek. “Sometimes you just get that feeling like you’re never going to score.”
Middlebury made it 3-0 a few seconds later. At 11:01, sophomore John Sales stole the puck in the St. Thomas zone and floated a wrist shot from the near face-off circle that went over the right shoulder of Sikich.
With just 5.3 seconds left in the period, the Panthers made it 4-0 on a power play goal from Sales, his second of the game. Brian Phinney’s shot from the far point was stopped by Sikich, but the rebound popped over Sikich’s shoulder and bounced near the goal line, where Sales swatted it home.
Darwin Hunt put the nail in the coffin at with a short-handed tally at 7:33 of the third period. He took a cross-ice pass from Phinney and put a wrist shot into the pads of Sikich, who didn’t handle the shot cleanly. The puck banked off the St. Thomas netminder and into the net.
It was almost 6-0 a little over three minutes later, when Samuel Driver put the puck past Sikich from a tight angle on a five-on-three man advantage. But Richie Fuld had been whistled for interference just before the puck crossed the goal line.
St. Thomas was unable to convert on the ensuing power play, even though it was extended to a five-on-three advantage after Tom Maldonado went for tripping a minute and 18 seconds later.
Final shots on goal were 33-29 in favor of Middlebury.
Cherry’s shutout was his fourth of the season, and also Middlebury’s fourth in national championship games.
“It’s really a legacy,” said Middlebury coach Bill Beaney. “We’ve built our program on strong defense and great goaltending, and this year was no different.”
While every title is different, this season paralleled last year’s to some degree, with the Panthers struggling at midseason before putting things together. Middlebury lost three in a row in mid-January, and Beaney had harsh words for his team, calling them out in the press.
The Panthers responded and went 14-1-2 after that.
“This particular group took a little longer (to put it together) than we would have liked,” said Beaney. “But this is as sweet as any other win, and it’s a real tribute to the leaders on this team.”
“A lot of people have talked about that tough stretch we had and I think some people were doubting us,” said Phinney. “But our mindset never changed. Everybody (on the team) knew we’d be here. And that’s the great thing about this. We’ve worked so hard, and we’ve got something that nobody can take from us.”