The Middlebury men's hockey team saw its season come to a close when the Panthers fell to Amherst 4-2 on Saturday in the NESCAC Semifinals held at Trinity. With the win, the sixth-seeded Purple & White improve to 12-11-4 and advance to their third-straight conference championship game. Amherst will take on the winner of the second semifinal between second-seeded Trinity against eighth-seeded Tufts. The fifth-seeded Panthers (8-11-7), who have the most NESCAC titles of any program in the conference, were looking to return to the final for the first time since 2012.
Amherst's John Festa opened the scoring, netting his first goal of the season right before the nine-minute mark. Festa scooped up a loose puck near center ice before deking around a Middlebury defender and slotting a low wrist shot into the bottom corner. Despite a relentless Amherst attack to close out the period, the Middlebury defense limited the Purple & White to just one goal as Panther goalkeeper Liam Moorfield-Yee (20 saves) recorded nine saves.
The Panthers came out with energy in the second frame, forcing their way into the Amherst zone early and often, nearly capitalizing on a power-play opportunity. An organized and aggressive Amherst side kept the Panthers at bay as goalkeeper Connor Girard (26 saves) came up with a number of timely saves.
Amherst doubled its lead near the end of the period, when Thomas Lindstrom put home a feed from Kevin Ryder. Ryder threaded the puck through the Panther defense, eventually finding a wide-open Lindstrom in front of the net. Lindstrom calmly settled Ryder's pass and roofed the puck into the top-right corner. The goal was Lindstrom's team-leading ninth of the season.
In the third period, Amherst extended its lead to 3-0 when Patrick Arena batted in a nifty pass from teammate Brendan Burke. Arena connected with Burke's airborne pass and slapped the puck past Moorfield-Yee four minutes into the final period. The Panthers cut into the deficit when Mike Najjar netted his fourth goal of the season just after the midway mark in the period. Najjar drifted away from an Amherst defender and collected a pass from teammate Brendan McGovern, before slotting a long-range shot past Girard at the 11:54 mark.
Amherst added an insurance goal when Festa put home an empty-net goal to extend the lead back to three at 4-1with 3:15 remaining. The Panthers refused to go quietly, as Max Greenwald picked up his own rebound and muscled in a late goal to close the gap to just two. That score came with 52 seconds left on the clock. Middlebury was unable to close the gap in the remaining time, falling 4-2.