AMHERST, Mass. — Amherst took advantage of opportunistic scoring in the first period, solid defense and sensational goaltending from the nation’s top netminder to beat Middlebury for the first time in nine years and clinch the top seed in the NESCAC playoffs beginning next week.
“This is a great accomplishment for these kids,” said head coach Jack Arena. “We have a lot of respect for Middlebury so even after it we were up 4-0 at the end of the first period, we knew we had to continue to play hard and that they would be coming back at us.”
The first period reflected much of the game’s action as Middlebury applied early pressure but couldn’t get any grade ‘A’ scoring chances on Anderson. At the 3:36 mark, senior Shane Lennox shot from the right point and was stopped by Middlebury goalie John Yanchek, who could not control the rebound. The puck was swept in at the far post by Brendan Powers for the early 1-0 lead.
At 8:08 Amherst again cashed in on a similar play as senior captain Jeff Landers shot from the point was saved by Yanchek and Trip Wray pounced on the rebound for the 2-0 Lord Jeff lead.
Things got even better for the home team when at the 16:48 mark senior Shane Lennox gave the Lord Jeffs a 3-0 lead. Following an icing call on an attempted home run pass by the Panthers, Amherst won the offensive zone face-off back to the right point for a shot by Shane Lennox which was blocked right back to him for another hard snap shot that found the top right corner beyond the outstretched glove of Yanchek.
“The coaches have been on me about getting my shots blocked,” admitted Lennox after the game. “This one came right back to me and with two Middlebury guys down after the block, I had time to move and pick a spot high and it went in.”
That would be all for the freshman Yanchek as he was pulled in favor of senior Doug Raeder.
Middlebury coach John Dawson, acting as head coach in the absence of Bill Beaney, said pulling Yanchek was not a reflection on the play of his young goaltender.
“I really thought we came out flat. We weren’t moving our feet and I was trying to change the karma. We have a lot of confidence in John and Doug Raeder our senior goaltender. We wanted to try to change the momentum.”
Amherst didn’t take long to take advantage of the cold Raeder, when on the ensuing rush, sophomore Luke Arnold took a pass from Landers and swept in from the right side across the goal and tucked the shot between Raeder’s pads for a four goal lead just one minute after Lennox’s goal.
Middlebury applied pressure and had the advantage in shots for the period at 20-11 but Anderson was solid in recording all of the saves and Amherst had a big advantage entering the second period.
“We went into the locker room really pleased with the score but not overconfident that the game was over as we knew that Middlebury would fight back hard so we were prepared to be aggressive in the second period,” stated Arena.
Amherst opened the second period carrying the play in the Middlebury end and generated three strong bids on Raeder who stood up to the challenge for the Panthers.
With just over 12 minutes left in the period Middlebury got on the board with a power- play goal by Charles Nerbak with assists going to Charlie Strauss and Leonard Badeau. In all, nine penalties were called in the period including five on the host team. Momentum then switched over to the Panthers, who applied lots of pressure on Amherst only to be stopped by Anderson’s quick glove on two point blank chances.
With just under three minutes remaining in the period a delayed penalty call Middlebury got Raeder to the bench for the extra attacker and oncoming forward John Sullivan set-up freshman Martin Drolet for a rocket from the right point that went into the goal off the right post and cut the Lord Jeffs lead to just two.
A power play at the end of the period for the Panthers was successfully killed off by Amherst and the teams went to the locker room with the Panthers outshooting Amherst 19-4 in the period and 39-15 for the game.
“We knew they would keep coming at us,” said defenseman Amherst Shane Lennox. “We never felt intimidated or panicked even though none of us knew the feeling of beating Middlebury in the four years I have been here. We were comfortable playing our game and just tried to keep them to the perimeter and shots that Cole could see all the way.”
The third period was a bit sluggish to start as Middlebury looked to increase the tempo but Amherst was successful in slowing the game down with clears and stoppages of play to slow down the Panther momentum.
Amherst was hoping to counter attack against the aggressive Panthers but couldn’t generate much offense and Anderson continued his magic by holding off Middlebury including a sparkling glove save on a point blank bid from the bottom of the face-off circle by Ken Suchoski.
With just under three minutes remaining Amherst took a penalty and Middlebury pulled the goalie looking for a couple of goals to tie. Anderson stood up to the challenge and with just under two minutes left, Middlebury found themselves with an unusual 6-on-3 situation following a penalty to Amherst’s Eddie Effinger for slashing.
The Panthers capitalized on a goal by Mason Graddock with assists to John Sullivan and Jamie McKenna but that would be as close as they would get as Anderson came up with a couple more key saves and a hand pass call against the Panthers all but sealed the Amherst win by taking the face-off back the Panther end with under twenty seconds remaining forcing Raeder back in goal.
“Now we know why he is the best goalie in the country,” stated Middlebury captain Jamie McKenna. “We really cam together in those final two periods and carried the play in their end but couldn’t get another past Anderson. I think the effort tonight will help us heading into the playoffs where you are only playing as long as you can play well and win.”
At the final buzzer the Lord Jeffs swarmed their goalie who finished with an eye-popping 54 saves on the night and celebrated a hard fought 4-3 victory and clinching the top seed in the playoffs starting next week.
“It was a great win,” said a smiling Arena. “Now we need to refocus for Saturday with senior night, a big game against Williams and potentially a win we may need if we will get consideration for an NCAA berth outside of winning the conference.”
For Anderson, who for the first time this season swapped the rotation with teammate Jonathan Larose, the game was not as daunting as the shot total might indicate.
“I thought our guys did a good job of keeping things to the perimeter,” noted a relaxed Anderson. Nobody panicked out there and we focused on keeping the quality of the chances to a minimum. I thought that Middlebury threw a lot of stuff at the net trying to create traffic or rebounds but our team played real well in our zone and I had a good look at everything.”
Amherst closes out the regular season at home on Saturday afternoon against Williams while Middlebury travels to Hamilton needing a win or Williams’ loss to maintain a hold on the second seed in the NESCAC tournament.