The Middlebury men's hockey team lost for just the second time in its last eight games, falling at 10th-ranked Amherst 5-3 in the regular season finale for both teams. Final NESCAC standings will not be available until Monday night, when Bowdoin and Trinity play a make-up game which will have a significant impact on the standings. Middlebury moved to 11-5-2 in league play, 12-10-2 overall with the loss.
Johnny Van Siclen tallied two goals and an assist, including the game-winning strike with 3:12 remaining in the third period, to lift Amherst to the win. Brian Safstrom added a goal and an assist and Daniel Merenich picked up a pair of helpers as Amherst improved to 15-6-3 (11-5-2 NESCAC).
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 equalized for Amherst but George Ordway put Middlebury back in front just 40 seconds later. The Jeffs needed only 75 seconds to strike back as Kevin Ryder tied it at 3-3 to position 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 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 when Matt Silcoff flew in from the right circle on a breakaway, but Jeff goalie Nathan Corey 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 broke free for a one-on-one with Panther netminder Mike Peters, 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.
With 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 collected a blocked shot and dished to Evan Neugold 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 for a blast from the point that caromed off the crossbar and in for a 2-1 Panther lead.
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 sliced in right-to-left, beating Peters top-left to even the score at 2-2 with the short-handed tally.
Middlebury answered 40 seconds later as Louis Belisle 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.
With just over three minutes remaining, 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 Brandon Hew 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.