Wentworth Makes History … Again
The official ECAC Northeast press release termed it “perhaps the biggest game of the year thus far in Division III.” That is not an overstatement by any means. Saturday’s game between Wentworth and RIT featured two of the only undefeated teams remaining in the nation.
I’m not above tooting my own horn so I’ll come right out and say it – you heard it here first, folks.
In last week’s predictions I wrote that one of the two ECAC Northeast programs playing RIT over the weekend, Johnson & Wales and Wentworth, would come home with the biggest win in the program’s history. And it happened for Wentworth. The Leopards, after posting a 2-1 victory over Utica the night before, beat the number one team in the country in a huge comeback victory.
Wentworth is in the midst of a history-making season. Not only are the Leopards off to the best start in school history with an 8-0 record, but with the win over RIT, Wentworth became the first ECAC Northeast team to ever be ranked in the USCHO Division III top 10 poll.
The naysayers (and RIT fans) will say that the final outcome was a bit misleading. RIT played with a short bench as a result of suspensions. Two of their top scorers, Mike Bournazakis and Jerry Galway, were amongst those suspended for the game. This factor was not lost on Wentworth coach Bill Bowes.
“Clearly playing RIT with only half of their team helped us,” said Bowes.
As Bowes said, the suspensions were a factor. Plus, RIT outshot Wentworth by a wide margin, 53-25. However, a come from behind win over an RIT team that dressed three lines, two sets of defensemen and standout goalie in the person of Tyler Euverman is still a stellar achievement. Minus a few guys they are hardly a team of slouches. The poll voters obviously agree with that sentiment.
Keep in mind that Wentworth does not have to play RIT either. That is a choice they made and credit has to be given to coach Bowes for having the intestinal fortitude to schedule a team as tough as the Tigers, at Ritter Arena no less. You have to play the best to become the best.
Bowes knows that playing a team like RIT will help his team, not only in the short term, but it can be used as something to build on for the rest of the season.
It is one thing to say that you can get down against a good team and still have a shot to win. It is a whole other thing to be able to say that you have done it before and you can do it again. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made this point in his post-game comments after the Patriots big win over the Jets last weekend. He said that the win is especially important because it shows a tangible example that the team can point to so they can say to themselves, we can come back and beat a good team because we have done it. The psychological edge for the Leopards is similar. Now they know they can beat a good team even when they are down late in the game because they have done it.
“Beating the best team in the nation definitely helps you,” concluded Bowes. “Hopefully it can help us get the attitude to play well against all teams.”
The win was a showcase of the usual suspects for the Leopards. Tim Yakimowsky and Raj Bhangoo, two players who Bowes pointed to as being potential All-American candidates at the end of the year, made their cases to support that assertion. What better place to showcase your talents than in a game with the number one team in the country?
Yakimowsky had two goals and Bhangoo made an incredible 50 saves in the afternoon contest. Bhangoo earned USCHO Defensive Player of the Week honors for his weekend efforts.
Get out the broom
Another first-time-ever happened this week. The ECAC Northeast made a clean sweep of the USCHO weekly Player of the Week awards.
Wentworth sophomore goaltender Raj Bhangoo is now 5-0 with a 1.60 GAA and a double take worthy .955 save percentage. His 50 save effort against RIT included a 21 save second and a 16 save third which included a ferocious RIT flurry of shots in the waning seconds of the game. He was named ECAC Northeast Goalie of the Week and USCHO DIII Defensive Player of the Week.
Fitchburg senior forward Jeff Brodeur had a nine point weekend including a school record tying five assists against Framingham State. For the effort he was named both ECAC Northeast Player of the Week and USCHO DIII Offensive Player of the Week. He followed that up with two goals and two assists in Fitchburg’s 8-3 drubbing of Worcester State.
The Fitchburg State Falcons are unbeaten in their last six contests and Brodeur has been the catalyst, as expected. His 9-14-21 line leads the team in points. The kid is on fire and he is supremely talented so the rest of the league better take notice. As if they needed a heads up.
One player who may be flying under the radar as a result of being overshadowed by Brodeur is junior forward Greg Horan. He is averaging 2.6 points per game in each of the last five non-losses for Fitchburg. He is 6-8-14 on the year. Horan should not be overlooked.
Around the League
With the winter break approaching, this week’s look around the league will be more brief than usual. At some point in the coming weeks, look for an individual, in-depth breakdown of each team. For now, we will just briefly touch on some noteworthy points for some of the teams.
Lebanon Valley remains undefeated in league play. They have been destroying the competition and they are averaging over seven goals a game in their wins.
Five players are in double figures in points so it has been a total team effort thus far for coach MacCormack’s crew.
They will close out the season with a road trip. The Flying Dutchmen will travel to Plymouth on Friday and close out the first half of the season with what should be a nip and tuck game against Fitchburg on Saturday.
Stonehill has won five in a row and they are obviously rounding into shape as a team. This is the Stonehill team that was expected before the season. You don’t want to come to play against the Chieftains? Try an 8-1 and 12-2 pounding on for size. Just ask Nichols and WNEC.
Ditto for Curry. If you don’t show up against them they will make you pay. You cannot say enough about Curry’s 7-2 start. It is just remarkable that a team that had been a perennial bottom feeder is now throwing up seven goals here, nine goals there and 14(!) against Framingham? Holy goal scoring ability Batman. Yep, I really wrote that.
Is Suffolk turning it around? Good question. 1-1-2 in their last four games which is not bad. A tie against Worcester and a win over an underrated Westfield State squad look like steps in the right direction.
After a strong start, JWU had dropped their last five before Tuesday night’s win over Salve. Don’t fret Wildcat fans, the losses have come against some of the best teams in the country. Cortland, Utica, Bowdoin, Colby and RIT are not chopped liver. And, just like Wentworth, you have to play the best if you want to become the best. Coach Izzi has said that he schedules those types of games more to toughen up for league competition than anything else. We’ll see if that strategy bears itself out in the second half.
UMass-Dartmouth has been playing excellent hockey. They couldn’t quite pull it out against non-conference foe Conn. College but that is almost irrelevant. League play is what really matters and the Corsairs are 3-1 in that department.
SNHU’s 3-2 overall start is surprising, not so much because they are posting wins but because they are having no trouble scoring after losing 70% of their offense to graduation. The Penman (One of the coolest or dumbest nicknames in all of college hockey depending on where you’re at. I don’t see a middle ground there. I’m in the coolest camp.) are averaging seven goals in their wins.
Assumption has been hit by the injury bug a bit. Sophomore forwards Mike Cataldo and Sean Jackson are out. Also troubling AC is the presence of bad penalties at inopportune times.
“If we play five on five we can play with anyone,” said head coach Keith Hughes. “We get deflated giving up power-play goals and we can’t have that. The mindset has to be tougher.” Coach Hughes thinks he has the talent to do good things should the Hounds can the stupid penalty routine. “If we show up to play we can beat anybody.”
Tuesday night’s 7-4 win was a good one for the Ice Dogs. Was it a Josh Tierney breakout party? Perhaps. The gifted sophomore from Newburyport, Mass scored a hat trick upping his line to 4-5-9 on the season. Expect more good things from him as the season wears on. Senior goaltender L.J. Goldblatt earned his first victory of the season in the effort.
Assumption hosts non-conference opponent Wesleyan on Saturday in the last game action before the break.
And finally …
Things That Keep Me Up At Night
I saw the O.J. Simpson SportsCentury piece the other night. A strange mixture of feelings came over me.
At one point I found myself marveling at the man’s athletic ability, his highlight reel is spectacular. It is almost as cool as Walter Payton and it made me realize why they called him “the Juice.” The man was an exciting football player. And 2000 yards? In one season? In a fourteen game season, no less? Unbelievable.
Sitting there, I allowed myself to get right up to the point where I realized how special the guy was but, right when I normally get swept up in that whole proclamation of him as “the greatest to blah, yadda, etc.” moment I always have watching these SportsCentury things, I stopped.
I reminded myself that this guy is, by all reasonable supposition, a murderer. A murderer. Think about that. Seven years later and it still feels weird to think that the guy who ran through the airport in Hertz commercials murdered his wife with a knife.
And then this stuff comes out and it really hits home that, no matter how well we think we know athletes in the public eye, we have no clue.
I think Nate Newton said it best when he said, “I thought O.J. would have learned something. He ain’t learned $#!+.” Gotta love Nate.