Amherst Claims Program's First NESCAC Title with 5-2 Win Over Middlebury; Jeffs Headed for NCAA Tournament

The Amherst men's hockey team won the program's first NESCAC Championship title!
AMHERST, MA – Top-seeded Amherst College played host to No. 2 Middlebury College this evening in the 2009 NESCAC Championship title game held at Orr Rink. Amherst never trailed during the game, and put in an empty-net score in the final minutes to win their first NESCAC Championship, 5-2.

The Lord Jeffs earned a spot in tonight’s title game with a 3-0 win yesterday over No. 4 Trinity, after seeing the Panthers topple No. 3 Williams 4-1. This is the second time Amherst and Middlebury have played for the NESCAC Championship, with the Panthers taking a 4-3 overtime win at home in the 2001 title game.

After seeing sophomore goaltender Jonathan La Rose (Boyle, Alberta) pick up a shutout win in last night’s semifinal round, Amherst head coach Jack Arena ’83 turned to their other sophomore backstop Cole Anderson (Sylvan Lake, Alberta) tonight. Middlebury countered with senior netminder Doug Raeder (Needham, MA).

Amherst went on the power play after just four minutes of first period action when Middlebury’s Tucker Donahoe (Canton, MA) was sent to the sin bin. The Lord Jeffs wasted no time pouncing on the Panthers, as junior Ted Vickers (Chilliwack, BC) put home a power play score off a feed from senior captain Jeff Landers (Hanover, MA).

With 10:07 to play in the first period, Amherst doubled its lead on an amazing play by senior forward Brendan Powers (Walpole, MA). Powers stole an errant Middlebury pass and wrapped the puck around the right corner to classmate Joel Covelli (Carlisle, Ont). Covelli then skated behind Raeder’s net, and found Powers streaking back down the middle for a one-timer.

Middlebury was given a golden chance to cut into Amherst’s lead with five minutes remaining in the first period, as Lord Jeff senior Will Collins (Edina, MN) was sent to the penalty box for holding. During the delayed penalty call, Middlebury senior captain Jamie McKenna (Lake Placid, NY) nearly scored on a fast break.

Just 42 seconds into the penalty kill, Amherst’s nation-leading unit was put to the test when a second Lord Jeff player sent to the penalty box. Middlebury needed just over half-a-minute, before McKenna set up his fellow co-captain Mason Graddock (Stowe, VT) for a slap shot that beat Anderson glove side on the 5-on-3.

Neither team scored again in the frame, and at the end of one, the statistics reflected a deadlock as Amherst held just a 14-13 edge in shots on goal.

Amherst opened back up a two-goal advantage just 30 seconds into the second period when Landers and rookie Eddie Effinger (Belleville, IL) combined to spring sophomore Luke Arnold (Lincoln, MA) down the middle. The sophomore sensation waited until he was on top of Raeder before lifting a shot top-corner to put Amherst ahead 3-1.

The Lord Jeffs went up 4-1 with 14:23 to play in the second period when Vickers scored an amazing behind-the-back, back-handed rebound goal on the power play. Powers and Landers picked up the assists on the score.

With 10:26 to play in the second period, Middlebury went back on the power play still down a trio of scores. Halfway through the extra-skater session, Raeder was called on to make a great glove save as an Amherst forward came down on a short-handed breakaway.

Throughout the final minutes of the second period, Anderson made save, after save, as Middlebury picked up their pressure for a response to Amherst’s pair of early scores. That response never came for the Panthers, and at the end of two periods Middlebury held a 26-23 advantage in shots on goal, while Amherst still held a 4-1 lead on the scoreboard.

Early in the third period, Middlebury held Amherst scoreless on the power-play, before Anderson mad a great save to deny a scoring chance from the Panthers. With 10:57 to play in the frame, Amherst’s Rylan Burns (Jasper, Alberta) was sent to the penalty box for slashing. Middlebury came up empty on the power play, leaving very little time to start a comeback effort.

Middlebury grabbed one goal back from Amherst on the power play with just over four minutes remaining. Junior John Sullivan (Delmar, NY) put home the goal off an assist from Michael Kretschmer (Indianapolis, IN), cutting Amherst’s lead down to two goals.

With 2:33 remaining, Middlebury called Raeder to bench for an extra skater. The Lord Jeffs held strong, and added an empty-net score from Arnold with just 1:35 showing on the clock. The score cemented the result, putting Amherst back ahead 5-2.

The final whistle blew, giving Amherst its first NESCAC Championship. Anderson and Raeder finished the night with 35 saves apiece, as Amherst improved to 21-4-1, and Middlebury dropped to 19-7-1.

The Lord Jeffs take the NESCAC’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament, while Middlebury will await the release of the bracket tomorrow to see if they will receive an at-large bid.