MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — After notching six goals on Saturday night, the Williams men's hockey team (13-6-3) only scored once in a 3-1 loss to a sharp Middlebury College (11-9-2) team on Sunday afternoon.
The Eph attack was stymied by a stout Panther defense and some timely saves from goaltender Mike Peters, who saved all but one of the Ephs' 24 shots on the afternoon.
Goaltender Sean Dougherty stopped 22 of 25 Panther shots on the defensive end for the Ephs, but the Middlebury offense notched a goal in all three periods to take a lead that they would never relinquish.
"We had our scoring chances and scoring moments, but I don't think we shot the puck very well," said coach Bill Kangas. "I thought we missed the net a lot today, unlike yesterday when we were getting pucks to the net."
The early minutes of the first period were dominated by special teams, as two penalties on the Panthers and one on the Ephs gave both offenses a chance to get on the board early. The two penalty-killing units held strong, however, as Peters and Dougherty each made key saves to keep the game tied.
At the halfway point of the first period with the game still scoreless, the Panthers broke the ice with an even strength goal from forward Matt Silcoff. Silcoff's score was set up by defenseman Mathieu Castonguay, who carried the puck on net on the left side and flipped a shot on Dougherty. Dougherty made the pad save, but the rebound deflected in front of the net to Silcoff, who chipped it in to give the Panthers an early 1-0 edge.
The Eph penalty kill almost tied the score with five minutes remaining in the period when a strong backcheck generated a 2-on-1 breakaway chance for forwards Nick Anderson and Eric Rubino. Rubino and Anderson couldn't connect, however, and the first period ended with Middlebury nursing a 1-0 lead.
Looking to build on their first-period advantage, the Panthers put the pressure on the Eph defense to start the second period and cashed in with a goal just a minute into the frame to extend their lead to 2-0. Defenseman Ben Wiggins initiated the chance by finding forward Louis Belisle for a shot that was stopped by a nice pad save from Dougherty. Once again, however, the Ephs could not clear the rebound, and forward Riley Dickie tapped in the loose puck for Middlebury's second score.
After withstanding a barrage of shots in the first half of the second period, the Ephs battled back and swung the momentum on a Cody Skinner goal with 9:30 remaining in the frame. Skinner's score came on a 3-on-2 rush for Ephs, as co-captain John Wickman moved the puck to Mike Erickson, who found Skinner in the center of the ice with a nice feed. Skinner held the puck and fired a wrist shot on the right side past Peters to cut Middlebury's lead to 2-1.
Just as they had in the second period, the Panthers came out of the locker room strong to start the third frame. Two and a half minutes into the period, their pressure once again paid off as forward Brendan McGovern found a wide-open Wiggins for a wrist shot goal to extend the Middlebury advantage to 3-1.
Wiggins' call served as a wake-up call for the Ephs, who turned up the intensity offensively and generated a number of quality chances in the middle of the period. Their best chance came with 11 minutes to go, when Paul Steinig found Craig Kitto in front of the net. Peters would not be beaten, though, as he made a pad save to preserve Middlebury's two-goal lead.
Coach Kangas pulled Dougherty from goal with two minutes remaining to give his team an extra attacker, but the Ephs could not muster a goal on the man-advantage and were forced to settle for a 3-1 defeat.
After their weekend split, the Ephs and Panthers are once again tied in the New England Small College Athletic Conference standings with conference records of 10-4-2. Both teams trail Bowdoin College (11-2-2 NESCAC) and Trinity College (9-3-3 NESCAC), which moved into second place in the conference with a win over Colby on Sunday.
The Ephs have one weekend left in their regular season, and it promises to be a good one. They will travel over the Berkshires to take on Amherst College (13-5-3) on Friday night at 7 p.m., then travel to Hamilton College to take on the Continentals (5-12-3) on Saturday at 3 p.m.