AMHERST, Mass. – The third-seeded Middlebury men’s hockey team erupted for four goals in the second period en route to a 6-3 victory over second-seeded Bowdoin College in the NESCAC Championship semifinals at Orr Rink.
Rebounding from a slow 7-8-3 start, Middlebury has gone 7-1-0 over its last eight to advance to its 12th NESCAC final. The Panthers improved to 5-0 all-time against Bowdoin in NESCAC Tournament play. Bowdoin, which had lost just once in the last two months, dropped to 16-6-3 on the year with the loss.
Registering the game’s first good scoring chance at the 13:45 mark, the Panthers’ Brett Brazier tracked down a loose puck inside the right circle before turning and firing a hard slap shot that forced a Steve Messina save. On the power play with just under nine minutes remaining in the opening period, first year George Ordway corralled a rebound to the right of the Bowdoin net, but a sprawling Messina got a glove on the forward’s putback from point blank range to hold the Middlebury attack at bay. With time winding down in the period, Martin Drolet again tested Bowdoin’s sophomore goaltender, redirecting a centering pass in front toward the Polar Bear cage, but an alert Messina smothered the try to keep things scoreless.
Getting outshot 12-3 in the first, Bowdoin looked to turn the tables on the Panthers in the opening minutes of the middle frame when Harry Matheson, one-timed a wrister from the right circle that found the pad of Dan Fullam on the near post. Moments later, Middlebury responded, almost taking the lead on an Ordway rebound chance that caught a scrambling Messina out of position.
Continuing to go on the offensive while on a 4-on-4 after a pair of matching minors with just under 13 minutes left in the stanza, Tom Cantwell skated behind the Bowdoin net, before feeding a pass to an open Charlie Strauss in front to finally stake the Panthers to a 1-0 edge. Just 36 seconds later, Chris Brown continued to take advantage of the open ice on the 4-on-4, racing up the left side on an odd-man rush before sliding a pass to Tucker Donahoe on the far post to suddenly give Middlebury a two goal advantage.
With just over three minutes left in the second, first year Derek Pimentel found a streaking Drolet up the left side, allowing the forward to move uncontested toward the Bowdoin net, where he beat Messina with a backhand just inside the right post. Shorthanded just over two minutes later, a hustling Drolet stole the puck from Messina behind the cage on a hard forecheck before turning and firing into the empty net to make it 4-0.
Looking to get on the board early in the third, Bowdoin senior Jordan Lalor appeared to have an opening on the near post, but Fullam quickly slid over to momentarily preserve the shutout. Continuing to push forward, Daniel Weiniger put together a tremendous individual effort, eluding a pair of Middlebury defensemen inside the right circle before lifting a shot over Fullam’s shoulder for the Polar Bears’ first score. Coming up the right side with under 12 to go, sophomore Nick Wetzel suddenly cut the Panther lead in half, sneaking a hard wrister from the top of the circle past Fullam, but Alex Walsh padded the Middlebury lead with just over six minutes to go, scoring a power play goal with a shot from the point through a screen in front of back-up netminder Richard Nerland.
Bowdoin junior Rob MacGregor got a goal back with a tally off an Ollie Koo assist at 17:15, but that was as close as the Polar Bears would get, with the Panthers’ Trevor Pollock tacking on an empty net goal with 35 seconds remaining in regulation.
Fullam made 24 saves to improve to 7-3-1 on the season, while Messina made 19 stops over the first 38:48 before giving way to Nerland who made five saves in the final 19 minutes. Middlebury held a slight 30-27 advantage, going 0-for-4 on the power play, while Bowdoin finished 1-for-3 on the man up advantage.