March 5, 2012

Middlebury’s hope for a ninth NESCAC title came to an end as Amherst  won its second title. The Jeffs overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring four consecutive goals and getting clutch saves from Jonathan La Rose en route to a 4-3 win at Orr Rink.

Andrew Kurlandski gave Amherst a 3-2 lead 12:03 into the second period and Mike Moher scored what held up as the game winner 7:09 later. The Panthers got to within one 11:15 into the final frame and nearly tied it up in the final minute, but La Rose came through with the save of the night.

Amherst improves to 23-3-1 and will receive the NESCAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while Middlebury closes out the year at 14-10-3.

Senior Charlie Strauss (Eagle River, Wis.) wrapped up his career by scoring two goals for the Panthers. Middlebury won eight of its final 10 games of the season, with both losses coming to Amherst.

La Rose finished with 33 saves for Amherst, as the Panthers held a 36-22 advantage in shots on the day. First-year Dan Fullam (Randolph, N.J.) stopped 18 shots for Middlebury.

Middlebury came out firing and needed only 3:21 to get on the board, as the Panthers became the first team in seven games to score against Amherst in the opening period. First-year George Ordway (Long Lake, Minn.) skated up the left side and let loose a crushing slap shot, beating La Rose on his blocker-side for a beautiful goal.

The Panthers then made it a 2-0 game by taking advantage of a power play 9:40 into the period. The visitors worked the puck down low on a long pass from the blue line, allowing Strauss to calmly slide a shot past La Rose and inside the right post for a two-goal Middlebury lead. Junior Mathieu Castonguay (St. Edouard, Que.) was credited with his eighth assist of the season on the play.

Amherst got one back in similar fashion at 14:02, as the Jeffs worked the puck down low while on the power play. Moher and Aaron Deutsch picked up assists by finding Mark Colp on the doorstep, allowing the senior forward to push a shot past Fullam. The Panthers carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission with a 12-8 advantage in shots on goal.

The first period was dominated by Middlebury, but the second belonged to the Lord Jeffs, who scored three unanswered goals to carry a 4-2 lead into the third stanza. First-year Andrew Fenwick got things going when he lunged at a loose puck and deflected it to a wide open Brian Safstrom, who streaked in from the right and had plenty of net to shoot at. Fullam had no chance of making a stop, as Safstrom tied the game at 2-2 with 10:48 on the clock.

The Jeffs took their first lead less than three minutes later when Kurlandski came off the bench and immediately collected a loose puck, coming out of nowhere to beat Fullam with a backhanded shot at 12:03.

Amherst made it a 4-2 game after Middlebury was whistled for slashing with 59.9 seconds remaining in the period. An initial shot by Johnny Van Siclen was knocked down by Fullam, but an unmarked Moher took advantage of an open net and gave the Jeffs some breathing room heading into the second intermission.

Middlebury came up empty on its first power play chance of the final period but would capitalize on its second opportunity, as the Panthers cut their deficit to one with 8:45 remaining in regulation. Castonguay swung the puck around to senior Charles Nerbak (Martinsville, N.J.), who had his shot from just outside the left circle knocked away by La Rose. Strauss was there to quickly put home the rebound, with his second goal of the afternoon making it a 4-3 game.

The Panthers called a timeout and pulled Fullam with 1:39 remaining in regulation. It looked as though Middlebury had found the tying goal when junior Chris Steele (Revere, Mass.) fired a one-timer at what appeared to be an open net, but La Rose dove to his right across the crease and came up with a pivotal glove save.

Middlebury then had a goal waved off due to a high-sticking call with 50.8 seconds on the clock, resulting in a faceoff down at the other end. Fullam was pulled again with 32 seconds to go and the Panthers made one last push, but Amherst held on for the 4-3 final.

Middlebury erupted for four goals in the second period en route to a 6-3 victory over Bowdoin in the semifinals.

Registering the game’s first good scoring chance at the 13:45 mark, Panther junior Brett Brazier (Okemos, Mich.) 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, 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, senior Martin Drolet (Montreal, Que.) 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 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, senior Tom Cantwell (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) skated behind the Bowdoin net, before feeding a pass to an open Strauss in front to finally stake the Panthers to a 1-0 edge.

Just 36 seconds later, junior Chris Brown (Quincy, Mass.) continued to take advantage of the open ice on the four-on-four, racing up the left side on an odd-man rush before sliding a pass to senior Tucker Donahoe (Canton, Mass.) on the far post to suddenly give Middlebury a two goal advantage.

With just over three minutes left in the second, rookie Derek Pimentel (Laval, Que.) 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 Ordway 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 rookie Alex Walsh (Basking Ridge, N.J.) 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 Panther junior Trevor Pollock (Sunderland, Vt.) tacking on an empty net goal with 35 seconds remaining in regulation.

Fullam made 24 saves to improve to 7-3-1, while Messina made 19 stops, falling to 10-5-1. Middlebury held a slight 30-27 advantage, going 0-4 on the power play, while Bowdoin finished 1-3 on the man-up advantage.

• Men’s hockey final record: 14-10-3