Jeffs Edge Middlebury, Secure Home Ice for Quarters
Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – Johnny Van Siclen ’13 tallied two goals and an assist, including the game-winning strike with 3:12 remaining in the third period, lifting the Amherst College men’s hockey team to a thrilling 5-3 Senior Day win over visiting Middlebury College Saturday at Orr Rink.
Brian Safstrom ’14 added a goal and an assist and Daniel Merenich ’15 picked up a pair of helpers as Amherst improved to 15-6-3 (11-5-2 NESCAC), securing itself at least the fourth seed and a home quarterfinal game in the upcoming NESCAC playoffs by sweeping the season series and securing the tiebreaker from the Panthers, who also end the regular season at 11-5-2 in league play (12-10-2 overall).
Action was back-and-forth the whole way Saturday as Middlebury took a 2-1 lead into the third. In a breakneck stretch of scoring starting five minutes into the final frame, Mike Moher ’13 equalized for Amherst but George Ordway ’15 put Middlebury back in front just 40 seconds later. The Jeffs needed only 75 seconds to strike back, however, as Kevin Ryder ’16 netted the biggest goal of his young career, tying it at 3 and positioning Van Siclen for his late winner as well as an empty-net insurance tally in the final minute.
Controlling possession after the opening faceoff, Amherst struck just 50 seconds into the contest as Safstrom received a pass from Andrew Kurlandski ’14 and carried the puck behind the Panther net right-to-left, sneaking a quick shot in from the left post. Middlebury generated its first strong look several minutes later as Matt Silcoff ’16 flew in from the right circle on a breakaway, but Jeff goalie Nathan Corey ’13 deflected the shot and the Amherst defense arrived in time to clear.
Amherst nearly padded its lead shortly before the midway point of the first when Conor Brown ’16 broke free for a one-on-one with Panther netminder Mike Peters ’15, but Peters was equal to the task this time. Both teams found strong looks later in the frame but could not convert as the goalies held fast, Peters making 10 saves in the period and Corey eight.
Within even play continuing into the second, Middlebury capitalized on a golden scoring opportunity as two Amherst penalties in quick succession led to a two-man advantage for the Panthers near the midpoint of the frame. Amherst fended off the initial power play attempts, but with less than 10 seconds before the first Jeff skater returned, Ronald Fishman ’16 collected a blocked shot and dished to Evan Neugold ’16 for a hard slap shot from the left circle that found the back of the net at the 9:26 mark.
Continuing to attack, Middlebury grabbed the lead five minutes later when Trevor Pollock ’13 set up Chris Brown ’13 for a blast from the point that caromed off the crossbar and in for a 2-1 Panther lead. Physical play continued late in the period and each team had a brief five-on-three chance go to naught. Amherst held a 12-8 shot advantage over the frame but a dozen saves from Peters kept the Jeffs off the board.
The action picked up in a hurry with Middlebury going on the power play five minutes into the third. With the Panthers attacking, Amherst turned the tables as Van Siclen picked off a pass in the right circle and fed Moher on the break. The Jeff co-captain sliced in right-to-left, beating Peters top-left to even the score at 2 with the short-handed tally.
Middlebury answered immediately, however, staying on the power play and converting just 40 seconds after Moher’s equalizer as Louis Belisle ’14 sliced in from the right circle and fed Ordway near the left post for a top-shelf finish.
Not to be outdone, the Jeffs continued the flurry, drawing back even just 1:15 later when Merenich’s attempt from the point rebounded out to Ryder in the left circle and his well-placed slap shot beat Peters, knotting it 3-3 at the 7:40 mark.
It was Amherst who would come up with the decisive next tally. With just over three minutes remaining and the Jeffs needing to avoid a tie to secure home ice, Merenich dumped it to Safstrom in the left corner and the junior snuck a nice feed in to Van Siclen for the finish at the right post. With Middlebury pulling Peters two minutes later, Van Siclen added a second tally as co-captain Brandon Hew ’13 picked up a loose puck behind the net and fed the senior forward streaking up the left side for the empty-net clincher.
Amherst finished with a 37-29 shot advantage as Corey stopped 26 shots in a strong effort. Peters finished with 32 saves for the Panthers.
With Trinity (10-4-3 NESCAC) falling to sixth-seeded Wesleyan, Amherst’s playoff seed will depend on the outcome of the Bantams’ makeup game with top-seeded Bowdoin (13-2-2) on Monday night. If the Polar Bears beat Trinity, the Jeffs will move up to the third seed behind Bowdoin and Williams, hosting Wesleyan on Saturday, but a Bantam victory would send Amherst into a four-five rematch with Middlebury. Regardless, the quarterfinal contest from Orr will be next Saturday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m.