Five’s A Crowd
If you look at the ECAC Northeast standings, you’ll notice it’s crowded at the top. Right now, only three points separate the fifth place team from the first place teams (two are tied for first with ten points each.) The two teams tied for second place both have eight points, only underscoring the fact that every conference game takes on more meaning from here on out.
From the top, Curry College is tied for first with Johnson & Wales. Curry has played six conference games, going 5-1-0. Johnson & Wales also has ten points, and a record of 5-2-0. Curry coach Rob Davies doesn’t need to be told how important the remaining games are. “With the second half of the season, all of the games are meaningful, whether they’re conference games or non-conference games. We just need to take one game at a time.”
Curry started things off on Jan. 2 with a 6-0 loss to Colby College in Maine. Even though Curry out-shot their opponent, 37-29, they went 0 for 7 on the power-play. It was the first time Curry had been shut out since March of 2005.
The Colonels next game will be against Trinity College on Jan. 9. Davies will expect a better effort from his team. “Against Trinity, we have to play better and be more effective than we were against Colby. During different parts of the season, you see different guys going real well. Our system’s not predicated on individual stars, but to play as a team, and within our system. I’m excited about getting the second semester going.”
Johnson & Wales shares the top spot with Curry, and coach Eric Noack has some thoughts as to how his team got there. “In the conference games, we’ve played better than the non-conference games, and those are the ones that really matter. I’m feeling pretty good about the second half of the season, everybody’s pretty healthy right now.”
The Wildcats kick things off with a home game vs. Fredonia on Jan. 5,
travel to Buffalo State for two games a week later, and then have eight of their remaining nine games against conference opponents. “Those games are absolutely huge for us,” Noack said of the conference games. “Every team we play is a potential playoff spot. Everybody has their fate in the own hands right now.”
Noack is happy with how the first half of the season went, and wants to see that carry over into the second half. “We’ve got some guys who are really doing well offensively, guys like Ryan Jacobs, who’s leading the team in scoring, or Craig Houle, who came over from New England College and has six points in six games. D.J. McNaughton and Kevin Marchesi are playing well.”
Besides being happy with individual players, Noack sees a team that is bonding off the ice. “Things are positive in the locker room, we’ve got good guys on the bus, just good chemistry. Last year’s team may have been more talented, but it had a lot of different personalities. This year, everyone jokes around and hangs out. We also have a smaller roster this year. Last year, we had 33-34 kids, so during practices, you may have to stand in line a minute or two. This year, kids are moving around.”
Another team right in the thick of the pack is UMass Dartmouth. The Corsairs
are the only team so far to have won all of their conference games (4-0-0) and they’ll get it going against Assumption on Jan. 6. Coach John Rolli couldn’t be happier to be back on the ice. “We’re just getting started. We had practice on Tuesday, and we have Assumption on Saturday. They had the luxury of playing in the St. Michael’s tournament.”
Rolli knows that this upcoming stretch is critical. “The focus is on the ECAC Northeast. We have a three game home stand, then we play eight out of ten on the road. That’s a concern. We’ll either come together and get it done, or we won’t. We’ve got a bulls-eye on us. I’m anxious to get things going.”
UMass will have everybody back, with freshmen defensemen Paul Moran and
Chris Carpenter now healthy, and junior forward/defenseman Jon Finn still “a
little nicked up” according to his coach. “In our league, and in our conference, some people don’t think the hockey’s that good, but it’s pretty darn good.” Rolli said. “Last year we beat a Geneseo team 8-2, but we also struggled to beat Framingham State, 3-2. There are no givens anymore.”
RJ Tolan is looking forward to getting the second half of the season going again, but he knows it may be “tough to get it rolling again. We played a tough schedule the first half of the year, and only four league games.” The Leopards kick things off again on Saturday, Jan. 6 when they host Fredonia State, a team Nolan has never seen. Next week, they get back into league play, almost two full months since their last conference game. Wentworth travels to Fitchburg State (Jan. 10th) and Assumption College (Jan. 13th) and Tolan is happy there was a non-conference game prior to those two contests. “From December 10 until January 2, we’ve had no practices, so at least with Fitchburg and Assumption, we’ll have some practices under our belts.”
Tolan will be without juniors Matt Koehler and Phil Gabriele for the second half of the season. Both are not eligible to play, and losing Koehler means that Wentworth loses an important cog in the offense, and Gabriele brought a senior presence to the defense corps.
“This is tough,” Tolan said. “We only had about four to five upperclassmen in the line-up, we’ll see how it goes.”
This loss means only two seniors remain on the squad. Forward Ryan Singer currently leads the team in scoring, and Matt Bono is the other senior. The only junior now on the squad is goalie Alan Keeso.
“We’ve got a good group of kids,” Tolan stated, “and as long as our goaltending holds up, we’ll be okay. We just have to try to stay under the radar, and maybe surprise a couple of teams.”
Another team nestled into the top five is Nichols College, and coach Lou Izzi is happy to get things going again. “We’re excited, and looking forward to the second half. From our perspective, we’ve got a lot of important games coming up … a lot of conference games. Some could be swing games, where we play each other and it might determine seedings.”
The first two games the Bisons come back with are against Fitchburg State and Plymouth State, two teams directly behind them in the standings. Both are road games, and will be played on Jan. 6, and Jan. 10, respectively. Another conference game follows on Jan. 13, when the Bisons host Framingham State.
The break saw some player movement for Nichols. Senior Mark Malone opted to turn pro, and signed a contract with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. His former coach explained the circumstances, “He had graduated in December, and Wheeling needed a defenseman. He could have finished out the season with us, and then gotten his master’s degree, but he felt that he didn’t want to wait until the end of the season, for then the Division I players would have been out signing. We hear he’s doing quite well in Wheeling.” So far, the 6’4″, 210 lb. native of Pittsburgh has played in seven games, with one assist, and is a +2.
Izzi also had two players transfer to UMass Boston. Forwards Rocco Dabecco and Kris Kranzky are now gone, and with them go their point-per-game scoring averages. Hopefully making up that void will be Matt Broadhead, who joined Nichols after playing with the Owen Sound Greys. Izzi was excited to have Broadhead coming aboard. “He looks like a nice player. He’ll give us muscle down low, and he’s got good hands. He hasn’t played in a while, so he’ll have to get acclimated.”
Izzi also feels the same type of chemistry developing now that did at this time last year. “This feels similar to what we had in the second half last year. We need to stay healthy, we can’t afford to lose guys, and we’ve got to get everyone in. I still think that Curry and Dartmouth are the class of the league, but if you look at teams three through eight, there’s not a lot separating them. You get on a roll, you can make things happen.”
Around The Boards
Sophomore forward John Rocchio is currently tied for tenth in the nation in Division III scoring. In twelve games, the Rhode Island native has 6 goals and 17 assists, and is averaging 1.92 points per game. … Junior forward Jeff Grant from UMass Dartmouth is tied with Rocchio with a 1.92 points per game average with 12 goals and eleven assists. … Grant’s teammate, Kyle McCullough, is currently ranked 15th in the nation with a 1.91 points-per-game average. The senior out of Danvers, MA, has 8 goals and 13 assists in eleven games … Nichols sophomore Anthony Monte is currently fifth in the nation with 7 power play goals. He has already eclipsed his total of six from his freshman year.