Middlebury

Men's Hockey Heads To Amherst For NESCAC - Ticket Info.

February 27, 2012

The Middlebury men's hockey team will visit Amherst for 2012 NESCAC Championship. The Panthers will take on Bowdoin, Saturday, March 3rd at 1:00 p.m., followed by Amherst vs. Williams at 4:00 p.m. The winners meet in the title game on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets for the NESCAC men's hockey semifinals will go on sale from Wednesday, February 29th at 2:00 p.m. through Friday, March 2nd at noon in the McCullough box office. Tickets are priced at $5 for adults, $2 for students/seniors. You can purchase tickets online at: http://boxoffice.middlebury.edu/index.php, call 802-443-6433 or stop by the McCullough box office. One ticket gains you admission to both semifinal games at 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.  

Amherst College will look to continue its winning ways this weekend when the top-seeded Lord Jeffs host the final rounds of the 2012 NESCAC Men's Ice Hockey Championship at Orr Rink in Amherst, Mass. Action gets underway on Saturday afternoon when second-seeded Bowdoin meets third-seeded Middlebury in a battle of tournament legends at 1:00 p.m. followed shortly afterwards by fifth-seeded Williams clashing with rival Amherst at 4:00 p.m. Saturday's winners will face off on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. for the conference crown.

Tickets for both days are $5 for adults and $2 for students. Fans unable to make it to Amherst this weekend can watch all the action free of charge courtesy of a live webcast.

Amherst (21-3-1, 17-1-0 NESCAC) left little doubt about where it would end up as the regular season entered the final stretch. A 3-1 win over Bowdoin on Feb. 3 gave the Lord Jeffs a nearly-insurmountable lead in the race for the number-one seed with five games left to play, and a week later Amherst cemented itself atop the standings with a convincing 8-0 decision against Tufts. The Lord Jeffs rolled to their ninth consecutive victory during the opening round of the NESCAC tournament, shutting out Hamilton by a 6-0 score and running their home record to 11-0-0 this season. The win was the first in the postseason for Amherst since it won its only conference crown during the 2008-09 campaign.

Stellar defense, timely scoring, and impressive play on special teams are key ingredients for any successful squad, and the Lord Jeffs appear to have the right mix this season. Amherst leads the nation in goals allowed per game, surrendering a paltry 1.64 goals and recording six shutouts. The Jeffs' rock-solid defense is built on the foundation that senior netminder Jonathan La Rose (Edmonton, Alberta) has created. La Rose enters the weekend owning some of the best figures in the country with a 1.51 goals against average (2nd), a .943 save percentage (1st), and a 16-1-1 record. His performance this year has not only put Amherst in contention for the conference crown but also made him a prime candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year. On special teams, the Lord Jeffs have the top power-play unit among league teams, converting at a rate of .271 percent, and sit in second in killing penalties at .883 percent.

Back in the semifinals for the third time in four years is fifth-seeded Williams (12-8-5, 8-8-2 NESCAC). During the 2011 NESCAC championship, the Ephs were the only higher-seeded team to survive the quarterfinals and advanced as far as the championship for the first time in over a decade. This season, Williams started strong and owned a 7-2-1 record in conference play, a mark that put it in a two-way tie for second in the standings with a month left in the schedule. It all fell apart for the Ephs over the stretch run, though, as they went winless over a seven-game period (0-6-1) and finished outside the top four in the standings. Williams ended the regular season on a high note with a 5-1 victory over Hamilton on Feb. 19 and gained some momentum in the quarterfinals against Tufts this past weekend. Down 2-0 to the Jumbos after the first period, the Ephs regrouped and built a 3-2 lead before needing overtime to claim a 4-3 win.

Williams went 0-5-1 against the three other squads in this year's semifinals, a mark which includes a near-comeback at Amherst back on Dec. 9, 5-4, one of two Jeff wins over the Ephs this season. Looking to lead his team to its first-ever NESCAC title is senior goaltender Ryan Purdy (La Jolla, Calif.). Purdy, a former All-NESCAC honoree, brings a 2.54 goals against average and a .929 save percentage into what will be his team's third meeting with rival Amherst in tournament history, as each squad has recorded a victory over the other in the first round. Amherst currently owns a six-game winning streak over Williams.

A rough start to the season proved to be too much for second-seeded Bowdoin (16-5-3, 12-3-3 NESCAC) to overcome in pursuit of the tournament's top seed. The Polar Bears opened the year 1-2-1 in league play before winning seven of their next eight to keep pace with the Lord Jeffs. Bowdoin was unable to close the gap, falling at league-leading Amherst on Feb. 3 and then tying Hamilton the next night while the Jeffs continued to roll. The Polar Bears returned to form following that weekend series, winning their final four outings of the regular season with a scoring average north of six goals per game.

The offense has not been lacking for the Polar Bears in 2011-12. Leading the NESCAC with an attack that has tallied 4.62 goals per game, Bowdoin scored at least four times in each of its 15 wins during the regular season. The Polar Bears feature a roster full of offensive weapons that have frustrated opponents during any situation in a game. Three Bowdoin skaters rank among the league's top 10 in points with sophomore Colin Downey (East Sandwich, Mass.) pacing his squad with 29 points on eight goals and 21 assists. Classmate Harry Matheson's (Kingston, Ontario) team-high 15 goals tie him for fourth in the category in the conference, as he netted 14 against NESCAC foes. While the offense has been prolific, the Polar Bears' tournament opener against Trinity proved that they could win a tight contest as well. After going 0-5-2 in games in which they posted three goals or less, the Polar Bears earned a 2-1 decision over the Bantams as they shut out the seventh-seeded team over the final 58 minutes. In net, sophomore Steve Messina (Newton, N.J.) holds a 1.30 goals against average and a .950 save percentage over his career in the conference tournament.

A month ago, third-seeded Middlebury (13-9-3, 11-6-1 NESCAC) was stuck in neutral and appeared to be in trouble heading into the final weeks of the season with a 6-5-1 league record. The Panthers kicked things into gear when it mattered most and finished their conference slate 5-1-0, nearly going unbeaten in February if not for a pair of late goals by Amherst in a 2-1 setback during the season finale for both teams on Feb. 19. When it comes to the NESCAC tournament, no team has had more success than Middlebury. The playoff-seasoned Panthers have eight conference crowns to their credit, half of which have been earned against the Polar Bears. However, Middlebury had an uncharacteristic experience during last year's tournament when it was bounced in the opening round for the first time ever, falling to Colby 2-1. If not for a late goal in the third period, the Panthers might have suffered the same fate against Wesleyan in this year's quarterfinals, as the two teams were tied at one prior to Chris Steele's (Revere, Mass.) game-winner in a 2-1 final.

At 2.56 goals per game, the Panthers rank near the bottom of the NESCAC in offense, yet they are near the top in scoring defense at 2.24 goals allowed (2nd NESCAC) and have been assessed a league-low 10.0 penalty minutes per game. The Panthers have gotten needed stability in net from rookie goaltender Dan Fullam (Randolph, N.J.) during their late-season surge. After giving up 10 goals over his first two starts of the year at the end of January, both losses, Fullam has surrendered just 1.38 goals per game and put together a 6-1-1 record. Fullam hopes to backbone Middlebury to its second NESCAC crown in the last three years, as the Panthers' most recent championship came against Bowdoin in 2010.

2012 NESCAC MEN'S ICE HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 25 at Higher Seeds
at No. 1 Amherst 6, No. 8 Hamilton 0
at No. 2 Bowdoin 2, No. 7 Trinity 1
at No. 3 Middlebury 2, No. 6 Wesleyan 1
No. 5 Williams 4, at No. 4 Tufts 3 - OT

Semifinals - Saturday, March 3 at Amherst
No. 3 Middlebury vs. No. 2 Bowdoin - 1:00 p.m.
No. 5 Williams at No. 1 Amherst - 4:00 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, March 4
Semifinal winners - 2:00 p.m.

-- courtesy NESCAC --