WATERVILLE — A reboot or a rebuild, whatever it is it didn’t look pretty Friday night.

Under spiffy new banners hung around Alfond Rink, the Mules’ inexperience showed as Colby College opened the defense of its first New England Small College Athletic Conference championship with a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Middlebury College. Colby will try and salvage a weekend split when it hosts Williams on Saturday afternoon.

Middlebury (1-0-0), which had won just seven of its 48 games over the previous two seasons combined, scored twice two minutes apart late in the second period and rode the outburst to its first victory since winning at Colby on Jan. 19 of last season. Owen Powers, Charlie Parsons, Brendan Dawson and Emack Bentley all collected goals for the Panthers, who got a strong 26-save performance from junior netminder Brian Ketchabaw.

“It’s a great way to start the year off, obviously,” Middlebury coach Neil Sinclair said. “I did know coming up here that it’s been one of the better buildings for us over the last three years. We’ve played some good games here, and our goalie has played well here in the past.”

Ketchabaw entered the night with just a .762 career save percentage in NESCAC play, but he held the Mules scoreless for more than 57 minutes. Senior Nick O’Connor took advantage of a deflected puck to put Colby (0-1-0) on the board, but not until Middlebury had built a 3-0 lead.

“We knew that he had it in him, and he came out and played well,” Sinclair said of Ketchabaw. “It bodes well for us.”

“(Ketchabaw) looked great,” Colby coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We’ve got to do a better job offensively.”

Colby College’s Brendan Murphy (12) tries to score on Middlebury College goalie Brian Ketchabaw in Friday night’s NESCAC season opener in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Owen Powers gave Middlebury a 1-0 lead at the 14:35 mark of the second, turning and firing an errant Colby clearing pass from the right wing circle with two freshman Mule defenseman on the ice in Michael Thomas and Austen Halpin.

Rookies weren’t to blame on the Panthers’ second goal.

Junior goalie Andrew Tucci (31 saves) misplayed a puck he ventured into the right wing corner to play, losing it in his skates and trying to kick it up the boards in desperation. The puck went straight to Tyler Capello, who centered for Charlie Parsons to fire into an empty net at 16:35.

“What was surprising overall was our inability to be strong on loose pucks, to win walls and to support the puck,” MacDonald said. “All those turned into long shifts and disjointed play. … That clearly happened in a lot of spurts tonight.”

Middlebury wasn’t done doing damage, apparently.

A young Colby College fan cheers on the Mules in the home opener against Middlebury College at Alfond Rink in Waterville on Friday. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Parsons’ celebration broke a pane of glass, and the two teams headed to the intermission early with nearly three and a half minutes of the second period still to be played.

The game was delayed approximately 28 minutes as the staff made repairs.

Colby lacked third-period urgency after the lengthy break, managing just five shots on goal over the final 20 minutes.

Dawson gave Middlebury a 3-0 lead at 16:32, less than 40 seconds before O’Connor scored. Bentley’s empty-netter with 2:09 remaining sealed it.

Colby had a couple of chances to get on the scoreboard first, including cross-ice openings during one of its two second-period power plays, but came up short.

Colby had its moments — at both ends of the rink — in a scoreless first period.

David Greene, president of Colby College, unveils the NESCAC championship banner with Colby College captains Thomas Stahlhuth (21) left and Nick O’Connor (22) right before their home opener against Middlebury College at Alfond Rink in Waterville on Friday. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

J.P. Schuhlen’s blind pass along the blue line sent Logan Clarke in alone less than seven minutes in, but Clarke’s shot sailed over the crossbar behind Ketchabaw. At the 12:59 mark, Justin Grillo hunted a loose puck in the right wing corner and fed O’Connor racing down the slot, and O’Connor forced Ketchawbaw to make his third point-blank save in a 30-second span.

The Mules were not without their nervous moments in their own zone, however — harbingers of what was to come in the middle stanza.

A poor turnover behind their own net helped set up Matt Danner in front, but Tucci’s glove save with three minutes left in the period kept things scoreless.

Prior to the game, Colby (0-1-0) hung three new banners in its home rink. Team captains Thomas Stahlhuth and O’Connor joined Colby College president David Greene in unveiling banners commemorating the team’s NESCAC championship, as well as its two NCAA Tournament appearances and the team’s first trip to the Division III Frozen Four last March.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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