After closing out the regular season with a win against Hamilton and a 6-2 loss to Amherst, men’s ice hockey (9-11-4, 7-8-4 in the NESCAC) finished in seventh place in the NESCAC standings last week.
Their finish earned the Ephs a trip to Middlebury, to face off against the second-seeded Panthers in the first round of the NESCAC post-season tournament. Middlebury, a perennial Div. III powerhouse, entered the contest having also faced Hamilton and Amherst in the last weekend of the season, trouncing both on their way to a 16-6-2 overall regular season record. It was clear that the matchup would be a tough one for the Ephs.
In the end, the Panthers’ prowess proved to be too much for the Ephs to handle, as Middlebury advanced to the second round of NESCACs with a decisive 6-0 victory. The defeat shut the book on the Eph’s season of ups and downs, which was colored with individual brilliance and unfulfilled potential; above all, the Ephs were dogged by inconsistency.
The Middlebury game was a straight-forward defeat for Williams: two goals in each period for the Panthers, with Middlebury statistically ascendant, outshooting Williams 38-14. While it is clear that Middlebury out-played Williams through three periods, the game was put out of reach early in the contest.
The Ephs began the game with aggressive offense as rookie Ryan Young ’11 fired a shot off within the first 30 seconds of the game. But Panther goaltender Ross Cherry denied Young and the Ephs in a clear goal-scoring opportunity. This was followed by two successive Williams penalties, interrupted by a Middlebury penalty for too many players on the ice. With Williams in penalty trouble Middlebury gradually began to dictate play.
Middlebury Panther Casey Ftorek wasted a golden opportunity after a smart save from Marc Pulde ’10. He unleashed another shot that was again saved by the Eph goaltender. Ftorek’s second shot rebounded to Bryan Curran, who on 10:38 buried the puck for the 1-0 lead.
Following the goal, the Ephs were presented with two golden power play opportunities. They failed to use the advantage to score, however, and during the second of the man-up opportunities, they were caught on the break and conceded a shorthanded goal that put Middlebury up 2-0. The period ended with a slew of Williams penalties, but the Ephs managed to escape from the period still within relative striking distance.
However, the game was put out of reach in the second period, when a deflected puck at 6:12 found the back of the Ephs’ net, extending the Panthers’ lead to three. Shortly thereafter the Panthers scored again at the 11:56 mark, capping off a well-worked move.
With the victory already in the hands of Middlebury, the third period was all but a formality. Just over five minutes into the period, the Panthers added their fifth of the evening, and six and a half minutes later, they scored their sixth and final goal, putting their stamp on a dominant performance. Pulde made 32 stops in net for the Ephs.
Co-captain Greg Schultz ’08 expressed his and the team’s dissatisfaction with the way the season ended. “I was very disappointed with this season,” he said. “We had the personnel to win a lot more games than we did and we finished below .500.”
Co-captain Steve Bruch ’08 looked back to some memorable good moments. “[The win against] the fourth-ranked Norwich Cadets comes to mind. They had only lost one of their 13 regular season games before we beat them 5-3 at home,” Bruch said. “Then we went on to thoroughly beat Middlebury the next day. I’m sure the strong returning players will be able to build on these successes next year.”
The NESCAC tournament will continue this weekend at Colby, with Middlebury taking on fourth-seed Amherst in the semifinal round.