Amherst Clinches NESCAC's Top Seed with Thrilling 4-3 Win Over No. 7 Middlebury

Sophomore Cole Anderson made 54 saves in the Jeffs' 4-3 win over Middlebury.
AMHERST, MA – In front of its largest home crowd of the season, the 12th-ranked Amherst College men’s ice hockey team scored four first-period goals en route to a 4-3 upset over seventh-ranked Middlebury College (16-6-1, 13-4-1 NESCAC). With the win, the Lord Jeffs (17-4-1, 15-2-1 NESCAC) clinched the top seed in the NESCAC Championship for the first time in program history.

In addition to increasing its winning streak to nine games, Amherst snapped the 13-game unbeaten streak Middlebury had held over the Jeffs. The last time the Jeffs got the best of the Panthers was during the 1999-2000 season, when they earned a 5-2 victory at Orr Rink.

The 2009 NESCAC Championship is set to begin Saturday, Feb. 28, when the Jeffs will host Tufts University, the tournament’s No. 8 seed, at Orr Rink.

Amherst entered the game boasting the best defense in Division III (1.52 gpg), but its offense stole the show by tallying four goals in the first period. Senior Brendan Powers (Walpole, MA) opened the scoring when he put home a rebound 3:36 into the frame, with assists going to classmates Joel Covelli (Carlisle, ON) and Shane Lennox (N. Vancouver, BC).

Less than five minutes later a face-off in the Middlebury zone was won by Amherst, with senior captain Jeff Landers (Hanover, MA) gaining control of the puck. Landers put a shot on net and was denied, but sophomore Trip Wray (Walpole, MA) was right there to put home the rebound and give the hosts a 2-0 lead.

Midway through the period, junior Ted Vickers (Chilliwack, BC) got the puck on the left wing and stormed in on a breakaway. Vickers elected to go high and to the near post, but first-year goaltender John Yanchek knocked the puck away to keep it a two-goal game.

Vickers made up for the failed breakaway attempt when he picked up an assist on Amherst’s third goal. Lennox took the pass from Vickers just ahead of the blue line, but his first shot attempt resulted in a swing-and-a-miss. The muffed shot wound up paying off for the veteran defenseman, as he gathered himself and placed a perfect shot high and on Yanchek’s glove side to give the Jeffs a 3-0 advantage with 3:12 still to play in the first.

It took only one minute for Amherst to build on its lead once again, as Landers picked up his second assist of the night by feeding sophomore Luke Arnold (Lincoln, MA). Landers’ pass went from blue line to blue line and the puck was misplayed by a Panther defenseman, allowing Arnold to skate in untouched and flip his shot past senior Doug Raeder, who had replaced Yanchek in net.

It looked as though Middlebury was going to get on the scoreboard with time running out in the first period, but Amherst sophomore goaltender Cole Anderson (Sylvan Lake, AB) made a sprawling save and smothered the puck with only three seconds showing on the clock. The visitors held a 20-11 edge in shots after 20 minutes, but the Lord Jeffs carried their 4-0 lead into the locker room thanks to an offensive outburst and 20 saves by Anderson.

Anderson continued to dazzle fans by making a spectacular glove save 11:21 into the second period. With Middlebury on the power play, sophomore Ken Suchoski stopped on a dime at the blue line and ripped a slap shot from the left wing, but Anderson snagged the puck out of the air. The Panthers then had 48 seconds of a 5-on-3 to work with, but the Jeffs killed the first penalty thanks to yet another nice glove save by the Amherst goalie.

Senior defenseman Shane Lennox had a goal and an assist in the Jeffs' win.
Amherst could not fend off the second penalty, however, as Middlebury got on the board 12:34 into the second period. Immediately after the Panthers won a face-off in the Lord Jeffs’ zone, senior Leonard Badeau and first-year Charlie Strauss assisted first-year Charles Nerbak on his third goal of the year, as the rookie forward managed to cut his team’s deficit to three.

It became a two-goal game less than five minutes later when the Panthers took advantage of a delayed Amherst penalty by scoring an extra-attacker goal. After the referee signaled for the penalty, Raeder sprinted to the bench and was replaced by junior John Sullivan. The switch paid off as Sullivan and Badeau each picked up an assist, with first-year Martin Drolet drilling home the visitors’ second goal of the night with 2:50 to play in the second frame.

Middlebury’s momentum continued to grow when Amherst was whistled for another penalty just 12 seconds later, but the Panthers could not find a third goal and the second period ended with the Jeffs holding a 4-2 lead. The Panthers once again dominated the shots column, holding a 19-4 edge in the period.

Each team came out strong in the third period, but the score remained 4-2 when Middlebury called the game’s first timeout with 10:47 left to play in regulation. The Panthers maintained their intensity and finally cut into the lead once more with just under three minutes to play. The visitors pulled their goalie while on the power play to create a 6-on-4 advantage, which moved to a 6-on-3 edge when the Jeffs were yet again called for a penalty. With 57 seconds of the three-man advantage to work with, Sullivan fed senior Mason Graddock from behind the goal, and his one-timer found the back of the net to make it a 4-3 game with only 1:27 to play.

Raeder briefly returned to his net but was once again removed after the ensuing face-off to give Middlebury just over a minute of a 6-on-4. A final timeout was called with 47 ticks on the clock, and the Panthers failed to complete the comeback despite a valiant effort in the game’s waning moments.

Anderson, who entered the game with the nation’s lowest goals-against average (1.36) and highest save percentage (.955), made 54 saves to earn the win and improve to 8-3-1 on the season. In each of Anderson’s losses on the year, he allowed only one goal while the Jeffs failed to get on the scoreboard. Yanchek made six stops in the first period and Raeder stopped 13 shots while not allowing a single goal.

Amherst’s seven seniors will be honored Saturday when the Lord Jeffs wrap up their regular season by hosting archrival Williams College at 3 p.m. Middlebury will travel to take on Hamilton College Saturday at 3 p.m. in its regular season finale.