Amherst edges Middlebury for title
Amherst receives NESCAC’s automatic bid to NCAA tournament
AMHERST, Mass. – Amherst College 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 in the NESCAC Men’s Hockey Championship finals Sunday afternoon 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.
This is the second NESCAC title for the Lord Jeffs, who also defeated the Panthers in the 2009 title game in Orr Rink. Amherst bumped its win streak to 11 games and improved to 12-0 at home with its third one-goal victory against Middlebury this season.
Senior captain Charlie Strauss wrapped up his career by scoring two goals for the Panthers, who fell just shy of a ninth conference title. 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 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 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 defenseman Mathieu Castonguay 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 Charles Nerbak, 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 Chris Steele 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.