March 8, 2010

Middlebury senior captain Charlie Townsend (Pennington, N.J.) scored the game-winning goal with 1:42 remaining in the third period to give the Panthers their eighth NESCAC Men's Ice Hockey Championship, 3-2, over Bowdoin on Sunday at Sidney J. Watson Arena. With their fourth win over the Polar Bears in the title game, the Panthers (19-4-4) earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA appearance will be the 14th for the Panthers, who missed the tourney for the last two seasons after going every year from '95-'07. Bowdoin (19-6-1), who lost for the first time in nine games received an at-large bid. Middlebury will host Plattsburgh in a quarterfinal game on Saturday, March 13th.

         Rookie Mathieu Dubuc (Blainville, Que.) gave the Panthers a two-goal lead after one period of play with a pair of power play goals. After too-many-players penalty against Bowdoin, Middlebury wasted little time converting, taking the initial faceoff and getting a perfectly played pass from sophomore Charlie Strauss (Eagle River, Wis.) on the wing to Dubuc in front, who slammed home a one-timer at 3:45 of the opening frame. The Panthers took advantage of a 5x3 power play later in the frame when Dubuc converted on the back post from sophomore Nick Resor (Westwood, Mass.) with 18 seconds left in the period. The goal was his team-leading 16th of the season.

         Bowdoin cut the lead in half midway through the second period as Ryan Blossom broke in alone on sophomore netminder John Yanchek (Hillsborough, N.J.) and scored shorthanded at 7:11. The teams traded thrilling 5x3 chances late in the frame with neither team finding the back of the cage as the game entered the third period.

After a frantic first 10 minutes to the stanza, Kyle Shearer-Hardy took control of the puck for Bowdoin at the blue line and fed Blossom on the left wing. Blossom circled around one defender and slapped a shot inside the left post to deadlock the game with 9:23 to play.

With the game seemingly destined for overtime, Middlebury chipped the puck out of their defensive zone to neutral ice where Townsend won a fight for the puck with under two minutes to play. Townsend skated into the Bowdoin zone and ripped a shot from the right circle that found the top-left corner with just 1:42 to go. The Polar Bears pulled Rossi with 1:34 remaining, but could not find the equalizer as Middlebury skated to victory.

Rossi (14-1-1) was outstanding in his first loss of the season, making 25 stops in the game. Yanchek (13-2-2) stopped 17 shots in all, including eight in the third period. Middlebury went 2-7 on the power play as Bowdoin accumulated 27 minutes of penalties for the afternoon. The Polar Bears went 0-4 with the extra man. The game was played in front of a packed house of 2,300 at Watson Arena and a peak viewership of over 1,100 people on the video webcast.

Middlebury took command with a three-goal second-period en route to a 4-2 win over Trinity in the semifinals.

An early Trinity penalty resulted in the first tally of the game for the Panthers. After a period of sustained offensive pressure, the Panthers finally capitalized off a series of tipped passes that drew Bantam netminder Wesley Vesprini out of position. Junior Bryan Curran (Wilmette, Ill.) found junior Ken Suchoski (Bear Creek Township, Pa.), who buried the puck into the net at 7:33 to make it 1-0.

         The Panthers took control of the game with a second-period flurry. Middlebury doubled their lead when sophomore Jak Knelman (Edina, Minn.) found sophomore Martin Drolet (Lachine, Que.) streaking down the ice. Drolet finished with a short-handed backhander to the top right corner at 5:31. Middlebury made it 3-0 after a forced a turnover in the Trinity defensive zone.

         Dubuc converted on a backhander through a screen past the shoulder of Vesprini at 8:34. After killing off a Trinity 5x3 power play, the Panthers gained a 5x3 of their own and made it a four-goal game when senior John Sullivan (Delmar, N.Y.) took control of the puck behind the net and wrapped it around the post at 17:23.

Trinity found their way onto the scoreboard at 6:10 of the third frame when Adam Houli picked up pass from Richard Hollstein and beat a Middlebury defender in a footrace. Yanchek came out to play the puck and Houli easily shot the puck into the empty net earning Trinity's first tally. Vesprini made a nifty save on a breakaway for Middlebury with 6:30 remaining and Trinity's Jeffery Menard responded with a great individual effort to beat Yanchek at 16:21 to close the gap to two goals.

The Bantams had a late chance with a two-man advantage thanks to a Middlebury penalty and empty net, but could not draw any closer. Vesprini stopped 36 shots for the Bantams while Yanchek made 26 saves for the Panthers. 

• Men's hockey record: 19-4-4

• Up next: 3/13 vs. Plattsburgh - 7:00 (NCAA Quarterfinals)