Men’s hockey loses NESCAC title game to Middlebury in overtime

This weekend saw the conclusion of the 1999-2000 Williams men’s hockey season. On Friday, the Ephs defeated Colby 6-1 to advance to the NESCAC Finals. The final featured a dream matchup between Middlebury, the reigning five-time defending national champions, and Williams, which did not start the season well, but peaked in the last month and a half.

The Panthers entered the contest a well-oiled offensive machine, succeeding by combining excellent skill play with aggressive forechecking and disciplined defensive zone coverage. In addition, they were the most dominant team in the country with a man-advantage.

The stakes were very high. If the Ephs could get past their formidable Panther competition, they would gain their first every NCAA tournament bid. To do so, the Ephs needed to play solidly in their defensive zone, convert offensive opportunities, have an exceptional game from goaltender David Haimson ’00 and not take any penalties.

The Ephs accomplished all of those goals except the last one, and in the end it served to tip the balance in favor of Middlebury, as the Ephs fell in overtime in an extremely close game, 3-2.

The game was played in Middlebury’s Kenyon arena, which managed to seat 2900 rabid fans. As soon as the puck dropped to start the contest, both the game and the stands were permeated with intensity and a sense of the occasion. In the first five or six minutes of the game, the flow of play was choppy with both teams finishing their checks and making few mistakes.

Play quickly opened up and Middlebury succeeded at getting many good scoring chances and controlling play. Haimson was up to the task and made his most spectacular saves of the game in the first period.

Twelve minutes into the first period, the Ephs conceded a power play to Middlebury. The Panthers managed to keep the puck in the Eph zone for over a minute, generating scoring chances through point shots and cross ice passes, and somehow managing to continually win the puck along the boards and keep it in at the points.

After a minute of sustained action in the Eph zone, Williams managed to clear to the puck to the neutral zone, where Chad Ogiba ’00 chipped the puck ahead to Bobby Moss ’01, who had a breakaway from the blue line in. Moss skated straight at the goalie, faked a shot and when the goalie committed, he wristed the puck five hole to put the Ephs ahead 1-0.

For the rest of the period, the Ephs began to establish the forecheck. In the offensive zone, the Ephs fired long slapshots on Middlebury goaltender Jon Marsh in pursuit of rebounds. The strategy succeed at yielding rebounds, but Middlebury did an excellent job clearing the slot and tying up Eph forwards who tried to screen their keeper. This trend was present throughout the game.

In the second period, the Ephs played well at even strength, but were hurt by four penalties. On Middlebury’s third power play of the period, Panther defensemen Ben Barnett faked a shot from the point and instead passed the puck to Scott Goldman, who was positioned to the right of the crease. Goldman deflected the puck into the right corner of the net, evening the score at one.

Much later in the period, at the 19:20 mark, Middlebury controlled the puck behind the Eph net. The Ephs made a rare defensive error and allowed Barnett to slip from the point into the high slot. There, he received a pass and scored by elevating the wrist shot.

Excluding Barnett’s tally, the Ephs did a brilliant job of forcing Middlebury to take perimeter shots by effectively marking Middlebury forwards. Despite Williams’ efforts, the score at the end of the second period was 2-1 in favor of the Panthers.

In the third, the Ephs played inspired hockey, aggressively cycling the puck deep in the Middlebury zone. With 10 minutes remaining in the third period, the Eph line of David Carrillo ’00, Andrew Beasley ’02 and Ogiba had a shift with sustained offensive attack. However, Middlebury managed to defuse the attack and clear the puck. In the neutral zone, Beasley won the puck and skated up the left wing into the offensive zone. There, he passed it to Ogiba, who was on the left wing near the goal line. Ogiba turned and saw Carrillo cutting towards the net. He played a perfect pass onto Carrillo, who jammed the puck past Marsh to make the score 2-2.

This phenomenal goal raised the spirits of the Williams fans in attendance so much that, even though vastly outnumbered, “Let’s go Williams” chants could be heard throughout the arena. As regulation time began to wind down, it was impossible to avoid the feeling that any given shift or shot on goal could win the NESCAC championship.

With under a minute in regulation, Middlebury was putting sustained pressure on Haimson and slid a shot from the left side of the net that got behind Haimson and trickled less than six inches wide. Every fan in the building gasped after the near score, and the game was headed to overtime. Unfortunately for Williams, defender Eric Demment ’01 was whistled for a penalty in the closing minute of the third, meaning that the Ephs would begin overtime a man down.

In overtime, the Ephs scrambled after loose pucks, dove in front of shots and managed to kill off Demment’s penalty. Afterwards, the even strength play began to settle into nervous, intense hockey, and it appeared the game might go into the wee hours of the night.

However, five minutes into the sudden death overtime period, the Ephs were penalized for having too many men on the ice, their first such penalty of the season. It was their ninth penalty of the game, but the impending Eph penalty kill had a different and frightening air to it. Thirty seconds into the Middlebury power play, Barnett fired a high slap shot from the point, which was deflected downwards by Goldman and went through Haimson. The Ephs had lost the NESCAC championship 3-2 in a tremendous hockey game.

The Middlebury goal brought the careers of many Eph seniors to a close: aggressive forward Craig Branca; solid standup defensemen Rob Hodge; tough forward Chad Ogiba; consummate power forward David Carrillo; and the cornerstone of Eph hockey for the past four years, All-American goaltender David Haimson.