Athletics

Jeffs to Begin Title Defense with Panther Rematch

Contact: Matthew Hart

VIDEO: Amherst-Middlebury Senior Day Highlights (by Kate Beemer '15)

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AMHERST, Mass. – Don’t be surprised if you hear about a few cases of déjà vu at Orr Rink on Saturday when the Amherst College men’s hockey team begins the postseason leg of its quest for a second consecutive NESCAC title.

The Lord Jeffs’ quarterfinal round opponent will be a familiar one, as fourth-seeded Amherst is set to host fifth-seeded Middlebury College in a rematch of last year’s conference championship as well as last Saturday’s regular season finale.

With opening faceoff scheduled for 1 p.m., the Jeffs will look to pick up where they left off last weekend, when an exciting 5-3 Amherst win over the Panthers secured home ice for the upcoming quarterfinals. With the Jeffs and Middlebury each finishing with 11-5-2 conference records, Amherst’s sweep of the season series won the tiebreaker, but a rematch wasn’t confirmed until Monday evening, when Trinity grabbed the No. 3 seed from the Jeffs with a win over top-seeded Bowdoin in a Winter Storm Nemo makeup game.

THE BASICS
Matchup: No. 5 Middlebury (12-10-2, 11-5-2 NESCAC) vs. No. 4 Amherst (15-6-3, 11-5-2 NESCAC)
Tickets: $3 Adults, $1 Students/Senior Citizens
Live Coverage: Live Stats, Jeffcast (featuring play-by-play commentator Hugh Campbell)

SERIES HISTORY
The Amherst-Middlebury rivalry has turned in favor of the Jeffs lately. After a 13-game Panther unbeaten streak between the 1999-2000 and 2008-09 seasons and seven straight Middlebury wins from 2003-04 to 2007-08, Amherst holds a 7-1-1 record against their Green Mountain rivals over the last five years. The run has included NESCAC Championship game victories in 2009 and 2012 and a trio of Jeff triumphs last season. The Amherst momentum continued into this season’s first clash as the Jeffs picked up a 4-2 win on Dec. 8 in Vermont.

Last Saturday’s win marked another two-goal triumph for the Jeffs, but the 5-3 game was tenser than the final score indicates thanks to an empty-net Amherst goal in the final minute. Johnny Van Siclen ’13 tallied two goals and an assist, including the game-winning strike with 3:12 remaining in the third period to lead Amherst, while Brian Safstrom ’14 added a goal and an assist and Daniel Merenich ’15 picked up a pair of helpers.

Action was back-and-forth nearly the entire way as Middlebury took a 2-1 lead into the third thanks to Evan Neugold ’16 and Chris Brown ’13 goals in the second after Safstrom had opened the scoring just 50 seconds into the contest. 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.

SCOUTING AMHERST (15-6-3, 11-5-2 NESCAC)

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Ranked 11th in the latest USCHO Division III poll, the Jeffs enter the postseason as defending NESCAC champions for just the second time in program history. After last season’s run to the league title, Amherst holds a 10-11 all-time record in conference championship play. The Jeffs’ first crown came in 2009 courtesy of a 5-2 defeat of Middlebury while last season’s title game against the Panthers proved more dramatic, with Amherst overcoming a 2-0 deficit with four consecutive goals en route to a 4-3 win.

Overall, the Jeffs are 2-2 against Middlebury in NESCAC tournament play, with the Panthers triumphing in the 2008 semifinals as well as the 2001 title game, just the second year of the conference playoffs’ existence.

The 2012-13 season has shown Amherst to be plenty capable of another title run if the Jeffs can channel the kind of play that led to a 3-2 win over non-conference rival SUNY-Plattsburgh in the Cardinal Classic title game on Dec. 29 and a 6-3 drubbing on the home ice of top-seeded and fourth-ranked Bowdoin on Feb. 1.

Amherst has been plagued by inconsistency, however, suffering a disappointing 3-3 tie to seventh-seeded Colby the day after their win at Bowdoin as well as a 2-2 draw to Connecticut College – a squad which finished ninth in the conference standings – on Jan. 12. The Jeffs have also struggled against the two teams directly above them in the playoff table, with No. 2 Trinity and third-seeded Williams each sweeping its two games with Amherst.

A stifling defense has carried Amherst to its successes this season, with the Jeffs leading the NESCAC and ranking seventh nationally with an average of just 2.00 goals allowed per contest. Head coach Jack Arena’s squad has been suffocating on the penalty kill, leading all of Division III with an 89.4 percent (76-of-85) clip.

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Despite losing standout rookie Theo Hannah to injury earlier in the winter, the Amherst blue line has remained strong under the leadership of co-captain Brandon Hew ’13 and fellow senior Jamie Hawkrigg as well as the strong play of defensemen Elliot Bostrom '14, Aaron Deutsch '15, Ryder and Jake Turrin '15. Between the pipes, Nathan Corey ’13 ranks second in the conference with a 2.05 goals-against average and fifth in save percentage at .920.

Meanwhile, the Amherst attack ranks fifth in the league in goals per game (3.29) and fourth in power-play efficiency (21.3 percent) while the Jeffs trail only Middlebury in net special teams (+9). Amherst has been especially dominant early in games, surrendering just nine first-period goals and outscoring opponents 58-29 over the opening two frames. Things have been tougher in the third, however, as Amherst holds just a 21-19 edge in final stanzas.

Individually, a trio of Jeff forwards rank among the NESCAC’s top ten scorers, led by Van Siclen’s 25 points on 14 goals and 11 assists. Mike Rowbotham ’15 has been a dangerous distributor, ranking second in the league with 17 assists in addition to seven goals, while Moher (8-15-23) has been a consistent threat all season.

Meanwhile, Andrew Kurlandski ’14 (10-9-19) has been lethal of late, tallying two goals and four assists over the last three games and an 8-7-15 line over the last 11 contests. Safstrom tallied two goals and an assist last weekend to up his season line to 11-7-18, while Conor Brown ’16 (7-10-17) has also come on strong for the Jeffs, sharing a line with Moher and Van Siclen and notching 10 points (5G, 5A) in his last eight games, including a four-goal weekend at Bowdoin and Colby.

SCOUTING MIDDLEBURY (12-10-2, 11-5-2 NESCAC)

Middlebury

Since the advent of the NESCAC tournament for the 1999-2000 season, no team has dominated the competition like Middlebury. Winners of the first three conference titles and four straight from 2004-07, the Panthers added an eighth league crown in 2010 to match their eight Division III national titles (1995-99, 2004-06) all of which have come since the NESCAC lifted its ban on national tournament play in 1995. Middlebury boasts a remarkable 29-5 (.853) record in league championship play, but the competition has been tougher lately, with the Panthers 9-4 in the tournament since their 2007 title and just 2-2 over the last two years , including a quarterfinal upset loss to Colby as defending champions in 2011.

The 2012-13 season has been a rollercoaster ride for the Panthers, who struggled against a tough lineup of non-conference opponents but enter the weekend having won seven of their last 10, the lone setbacks coming to Amherst, Williams and Bowdoin.

Don’t let Middlebury’s 10 losses fool you; despite falling out of the USCHO’s national Top 15 early in the year, the Panthers are still plenty dangerous, with six of those losses coming to nationally-ranked teams. Head coach Bill Beaney’s squad has played a pair of tight games with top-ranked Norwich this season while also defeating Plattsburgh and tying Bowdoin early in the year. Furthermore, the Panthers have notched wins over both Trinity and Williams, a feat which Amherst cannot claim.

Middlebury boasts the NESCAC’s third-ranked offense, averaging 3.42 goals per contest, but has been nearly as porous as its opponents, surrendering an average of 3.12 scores per game. Led by senior co-captain Chris Steele, the Panther blue line features a pair of offensively-minded junior defensemen in Robbie Donahoe (4-9-13) and Ben Wiggins (6-6-12) as well as solid first-year Terrance Goguen (4-5-9), who has appeared in all 24 games as a rookie.

Meanwhile, four Panther goalies have logged over 200 minutes this season, with Nick BonDurant ’14 posting the group’s best record at 5-1-2 but Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16 (1-6-0), Dan Fullam ’15 (4-2-0) and Mike Peters ’15 (2-1-0) also earning significant time between the pipes.

The Panthers have been strong on special teams, ranking ahead of Amherst with a 26.9 percent (29-of-108) conversion rate on the power play while leading the league at +10 net showing. Offensively, three Middlebury forwards rank among the league’s top-20 scorers as rookie standout Matt Silcoff (11-10), Louis Belisle ’14 (11-10) and Derek Pimentel ’15 (6-15) have each tallied 21 points. Neugold (8-9-17) has also enjoyed a strong first-year campaign while Ordway (4-10-14), Brendan McGovern ’16 (2-8-10) and Brown (2-8-10) have also scored in double figures for Beaney’s balanced attack.

2013 NESCAC Men’s Ice Hockey Championship

Quarterfinals – Saturday, February 23 (at Higher Seeds)
#8 Hamilton at #1 Bowdoin – 1:00 pm
#7 Colby at #2 Williams – 3:00 pm
#6 Wesleyan at #3 Trinity – 4:00 pm
#5 Middlebury at #4 Amherst – 1:00 pm

Semifinals – Saturday, March 2 (at Highest Remaining Seed)
1:00 pm | 4:00 pm
Highest Remaining Seed vs. Lowest Remaining Seed
Remaining Quarterfinal Winners

Championship – Sunday, March 3
2:00 pm

Semifinal Winners