OK, maybe they’re not invincible.
Wentworth went into top-ranked Middlebury on Tuesday and battled to a 4-4 tie. It was almost more than a moral victory for the Leopards, who had their chances to win the game outright.
“The shots (58-17) were not an indication of how close the game was,” said Wentworth head coach Bill Bowes. “I don’t think the shots were accurate. It wasn’t that lopsided. We had a lot of good chances to win, as did they.
“I’m so proud of my team. It was the best we’ve played all season. We played with heart and worked hard.”
Bowes said that his players knew it would be a challenge facing the 6-0 Panthers, who had allowed just one goal all season coming into the game.
“Middlebury has set itself apart with the way that they’ve played. My guys, as well as every other team that plays Middlebury, see it as a good opportunity to make a statement.”
An interesting tactic used by Bowes was to swap goaltenders Jamie Vanek and Jeremy Glasgow after every whistle. The netminders would high-five each other as they switched and seemed to enjoy the experience.
“I talked with them about it when we got back from break,” Bowes said. “I told them it was up to them. They had to be comfortable with it.”
I actually was going to use three goalies, but one was away with a family emergency. I’ve got three really good guys in net this season.”
“I wanted to do something special, something off-the-wall to shake things up,” said Bowes. “I wanted to get (Middlebury) thinking. They’re so good at figuring out goaltenders. I wanted to keep them guessing.”
Bowes had never done anything like this before, but had it done to him once — by Middlebury coach Bill Beaney.
“We coached against each other in prep school hockey 18 years ago,” said Bowes. “In one game, I had a better team, but Bill kept swapping his goalies and it worked for them. I took a page out of his book.”
The Leopards try to be giant-killers again this Saturday when they travel to Elmira to take on a resurgent Soaring Eagle squad, followed by a home game against Bowdoin.
“We’ll play anybody,” Bowes said. “I think playing teams that have a good chance to make the NCAA tournament, the major contenders, will prepare us for the tournament if we are fortunate enough to make it. It will help my players know the kind of environments they’ll be playing in, and what to expect in terms of competition.”
After those nonconference games, it’s back to the meat of the ECAC Northeast schedule. Bowes is already convinced that the NCAA automatic qualifier has improved the quality of play in his conference.
“There’s no doubt it’s had an impact,” he said. “The opportunity to play in the national tournament has allowed everybody to bring in higher quality players. We’ve been the weak sister conference for a long time, but we’re a heck of a lot closer (to the other conferences) than we were.”
Close enough to tie the number one team in the nation.
Since there was little action and no conference games since my last column, here’s a recap of all the holiday tournaments for those of you that might have missed the action due to insignificant things like Christmas, New Year’s, Hanukkah …
Salem State Holiday Tournament
The Babson Beavers stayed hot by defeating the host Vikings in a shootout in the semifinals and then shutting out Bowdoin 3-0 in the championship game. Babson is off to a 7-1-2 start (3-0-1 in conference) after finishing dead last in the ECAC East last season with a 1-15-1 conference record (7-17-1 overall).
Salem State, which beat Fitchburg State 4-0 in the consolation game, is still undefeated at 6-0-2. The Vikings lost 2-1 in a shootout after a 4-4 stalemate with Babson in the first round. The game goes into the books as a tie.
Times Argus Classic
The Cadets won their own tournament, which featured a quartet of close games — they were all decided by two goals or less. Friday featured a pair of 4-2 contests, with Norwich defeating St. Michael’s and Trinity handling Johnson and Wales.
Saturday’s games were even closer, with St. Mikes and J&W battling to a 4-4 in the consolation game, and Norwich holding off a late Trinity rally to take the championship, 5-4.
The Bantams get a shot at a rematch right away — the same two teams tangle this weekend in ECAC East conference play.
Elmira continues to roll, scoring 18 goals on its way to the title. The Soaring Eagles have won five in a row after getting off to a 3-6 start.
Elmira defeated St. Anselm 10-6 in the opening round, and then had an easy time with host UMass-Boston, 8-2, in the championship game.
NEC Holiday Classic
This one featured just three teams, and the host Pilgrims came out on top with a 2-0 record.
The main event was the final game of the tournament, which saw New England upset seventh ranked Potsdam, 3-1. The Bears had won four straight going into the game.
One more tournament
The final tournament of the season takes place this weekend when Plattsburgh hosts its annual Pepsi Cardinal Classic. The Cards square off against Hobart in the first round, with RIT meeting Colby in the other semifinal.
The Tigers have been in the tournament two of the last three years, losing to Plattsburgh in the championship game in 1998-99. Last season, the teams met and RIT blew a 4-1 lead in the third period, so revenge is on the Tigers’ minds. They haven’t won in Plattsburgh since 1996.
Back to conference play
With the holiday hoopla coming to an end, some conferences are back in action this weekend. Key contests in the ECAC East include the Trinity-Norwich matchup, and an important game between Amherst and Middlebury.
Out west, first-place Minnesota-Crookston gets back into action after a month-long layoff. The Golden Eagles host Northland for a pair of games.
Last week: 2-1
On the season: 24-11
Norwich at Trinity (1/5) – Upset special? The Bantams (4-0 in conference) almost beat the Cadets at home. Home ice might be worth a goal or two. Trinity 4, Norwich 3
No. 1 Middlebury at Amherst (1/5) – Amherst always plays Middlebury close, but I expect the Panthers to rebound from their mild stumble on Tuesday. Middlebury 4, Amherst 1.
No. 2 RIT vs. Colby (1/5) – The is a rematch of an 8-2 RIT blowout in Maine back in November. Expect this one to be closer. RIT 5, Colby 3.
Concordia at No.4 Wis.-Superior (1/6) – The Cobbers are undefeated in conference, but 0-3-1 outside the MIAC. Superior is 9-0 in non-conference games, but just 1-3 in the NCHA. Gotta go with the trend. Superior 4, Concordia 2.