Near the top of the Division III standings, nestled in between first place Curry and third place UMass Dartmouth, is Johnson and Wales. With a 5-2-0 conference record, and an overall mark of 6-2-0, third year coach Eric Noack was asked about the great start. “I think it’s basically that our first recruiting class is now juniors, and the last few years, we lost close games, and now we’re finding a way to win them. The last four games were extremely tight games that could have gone either way. The last four games were huge for us.”
The four games produced wins against Suffolk, Franklin Pierce, Worcester State, and Stonehill. Two games were won by a single goal, and two games were decided by a two-goal margin. “We’re not doing anything different or special,” said Noack, who was reached on the team bus on his way to a two-game set against Oswego State this weekend. “Some of our guys are becoming better college players, they’re leaving the Junior A thing behind. These guys aren’t focusing on goals and assists, they’re focusing on wins and losses.”
Noack is very pleased with his goaltending. Sophomore Brian Noiles is unbeaten, sporting a 4-0 record, and a 3.50 GAA. Junior Charlie Bacon has a 2-2 record, with a save percentage of .847. The play in front of the goalies has made Noack happy, also. “Jakub Kubrak is standing out on defense,” the coach stated, referring to his junior blueliner, “He’s shooting the puck real well from the point.” Kubrak has two goals, both power play scores, and two assists so far. Another defenseman contributing to the early season success is sophomore Mike O’Malley, who is logging close to 35 minutes per game.
Up front, the Wildcats were recently bolstered by the addition of transfer Craig Houle from New England College. The freshman forward provided an immediate impact, scoring on his first shift, and is now entrenched on the first power play unit. Captains Ryan Jacobs and Zach Cobb lead the cub in scoring. Jacobs, a junior, has 9-3–12, and Cobb has totals of 3-9-12.
Noack was asked his feelings on the upcoming break, and he’s glad it’s coming. “The break will be good. We’re playing the number two team in the nation [Oswego] in their rink. We’re up at 6 a.m. for practice every day, so this will be a good break, from me, for them. Some guys are looking forward to it. They’ve gotten beaten up.”
After the two games at Oswego this weekend, the Wildcats will be off for three weeks, then pick up play again with a game against Hamline University in the first round of the St. Michael’s tournament.
Noack looked ahead towards what happens after the break. “We’ve got to do the little things right in the defensive zone. We really need to stay out of the penalty box. The teams that do well in the nationals are the ones that stay out of the box. If we have too may guys playing short-handed, they’ll be out of gas when we’re playing even strength.”
“This league is so tight right now with the top three. You’ve got a bunch of teams fighting for the four through eight spots. There’s a ton of work left to be done after the break,” Noack stated.
In Boston, RJ Tolan is enjoying his first year behind the bench at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Off to a solid 3-0-1 start in conference play, and a 5-3-2 overall start, Tolan kept things in perspective. “It’s all been all right. We try to get a little better every day, and we’ve only played four league games.”
One of those league wins was the season opener against Worcester State, a 4-2 win which was significant for Tolan, as it was his first career win as a head coach. When asked what that felt like, Tolan reflected. “It’s been great. We’ve got a great group of kids, and they’ve made my job easy.”
The former UMass Lowell defenseman is obviously enjoying his role as coach. “I’m very happy with the group of kids we have. Character-wise, it’s a great group. We don’t have any superstars, it’s a blue collar group.”
One player that Tolan has been very pleased with is sophomore defenseman Greg Demerjian. “We had three senior defensemen last year, so his playing time was somewhat limited. Now, he’s been out there all the time.” While Demerjian may be logging Zdeno Chara-like ice time, there’s one slight difference between the two blue-liners, and that’s size. Demerjian is 5’9″, and 178lbs., quite unlike Chara’s 6’9″, 260 lbs. frame. The North Carolina native is averaging a point per game, with 4 goals and 6 assists so far.
Offensively for the Leopards, senior captain Ryan Singer leads the way with 4-10–14. Right behind him is fellow western Canadian Jeff Olitch. The freshman has 8-2–10. in his first ten games, and he also leads the squad with three power play goals.
With two games remaining (vs. No. 1 Norwich, and vs. Castleton State) until the break, Tolan was asked about the upcoming layoff, which will last close to four full weeks. “We have a little more work, in terms of academics, so they need that time. We’ll come back and only have two practices, so it’s like we’re starting from scratch, and we’ll have to build it all back up.”
In Springfield, Mass., Western New England College goes into the holiday break on a roll. Winners of four of their last five games, Coach Chris Bernard is thrilled. “We’re certainly excited to be ending the semester with a winning record. That was a goal of ours, coming into the year. We’ve had huge contributions from everyone. We’ve had an opportunity to play everyone on the roster.”
One player who has been on his own roll in sophomore forward Phil Lamy. In eleven games, the former Kent Hills Prep (Maine) star has 6-10–16. Freshman forward Matt Haddock also has six goals, to go along with his four assists.
Bernard is also very pleased with his goaltending. Junior Brandon Gervais has started nine of the games, and has a 4-5 record. Sophomore Kyle Sagnella has started two games, and won them both. He has a miserly 0.64 GAA, and a save percentage of .969.
When asked his feelings on now being off for three weeks, Bernard responded. “I ask so much of our guys to be attentive to detail, to have a superior commitment level, that I think it’s good for the guys to get a mental and physical break. I want them to be mindful of their physical condition, though.” The Golden Bears return to action on Jan. 6 with a home game against Franklin Pierce, and then the following Saturday have a tough contest against UMass, at Dartmouth.
A former Clarkson University goalie, Bernard summed up the season so far, “We’re happy to have eclipsed our win total of last year. This is our best start in ten years. We have high expectations, and we do believe in them.”
In Division II, one team off to a slow start is Assumption College. Heading into the season, coach Kevin Zifcak was hoping his offense would improve over last year’s, which scored 3.52 points per game. Currently, the Ice Dogs are averaging 2.5 goals per game, and are still searching for their first conference win, with an 0-4-0 league mark, and an overall record of 1-7-0.
Junior forward Chris Trahon is picking up where he left off last year, leading the team in scoring. The left winger has 1G-6A-7PTS. so far, and is tied for the club lead in scoring with Luke McDonough, who has 4G-3A-7PTS.
Goalie David Pinkham has gotten off to a slow start. Last year as a freshman, he posted a GAA of .482, and a save percentage of .875. So far this year, the Melrose, Mass., native has a GAA of 6.63, and a save percentage of .862.
Assumption will travel to Stonehill for a contest on Dec. 9, and then head into the break. Stonehill will be flying high after beating Southern New Hampshire earlier in the week.