As the race for the number one and two spots continues to go back and forth between Curry College and UMass Dartmouth, there are some other teams right on their heels who have had great seasons in their own right.
One such team is Wentworth, which is just four points out of first place, and still has two games remaining. Last year, the Leopards went 14-12 overall, with a conference record of 10-5. This year, they have a record of 13-7-3 overall, and a much improved conference record of 10-1-2.
First-year coach R.J. Tolan offered some thoughts as to the improvement from last year. “We take the approach that we’re trying to get a little better everyday. We played a tough schedule in the first half of the year, and that seemed to help.”
With a team comprised primarily of underclassmen, there’s no denying there’s an abundance of youth on Huntington Avenue. Tolan also attributes the maturation of these players as a reason for the ’06-’07 success. “We have a young team, and last year they were even younger. They’ve slowly gotten better, and they’re a good group of kids.”
One of the areas in which there has been marked improvement is in Wentworth’s goals against statistics. Last year, they allowed 112 goals in 26 games, or 4.3 per game. This year, that number is down almost a goal and a half per game, to 2.9, or 73 goals in the 23 game played so far. In conference play, last year the Leopards allowed 56 goals in 15 games, or 3.73 per game. This year, they are only allowing 2.15 per game.
With the post-season rapidly approaching, Tolan knows what needs to be done. “I hope things keep bouncing our way, and the boys keep playing hard, and just do things the way they’re supposed to be done.”
Currently riding a six game winging streak, the Leopards close out the regular season with contests against Framingham State, and Johnson and Wales the weekend of February 17-18th.
Another team that’s done well this year in Fitchburg State, currently in fourth place. They will end up with no fewer points than last year, and with better winning percentages overall, and in the conference.
Coach Dean Fuller gave his thoughts on his teams from the last two years. “Last year, we took a little slide when we lost our number one goalie. This year, we’ve also had injuries. Take Stephen Schofield, who’s missed most of the year with a groin injury. We’ve had guys step up, guys such as Ryan Moore and Mike Dyer, we’re getting great years from them. Look at Bob Kalousian and Ross Goff, or senior defenseman Steve Carkin, who’s really helped our power play.”
Last year, Dyer and Schofield ended up 1-2 in team scoring. This year, Moore and Dyer are the dynamic duo, currently 1-2 in team scoring, with Moore’s line at 20G-184A-38PTS-20GP and Dyer not far behind at 12G-23A-35PTS-20GP. They have both proven to be lethal on the power-play, accounting for 10 of the Falcons 27 goals.
A deep pool of talent is something that Fuller knows he is lucky to have. “We have depth, and the kids are really preparing well for every game. We have decent depth on defense, and six or seven kids who can play. We also have a kid like Matt Arsenault, who’s a local kid who was on the fourth line last year, but got moved up to the second line this year and done a nice job.” Arsenault, a sophomore forward out of Gardner (Mass.) High school, currently has 8 goals and 8 assists in 23 games. Half of his goals have come on the power-play, and one was a shorthanded tally.
With one game remaining, against Salve Regina on Feb. 17, Fuller feels good about what could lie ahead. “That Salve game means home ice and either a three of four seed. I think we match up well with every other team. If everybody plays their game, we can beat the top teams.”
Currently in fifth place, but with two major challenges this weekend against UMass Dartmouth and Wentworth, is Johnson and Wales. Last year, the Wildcats finished with a sub-500 record, going 10-15-1 overall, and 8-7-0 in the conference. This year, they are 11-10-1 overall, with a record of 8-5-0 in league play.
Fourth-year coach Erik Noack admits that this year hasn’t been easy. “We’ve definitely had our ups and downs. We’re playing better as of late. With Matt McGilvray, Zach Cobb, and Ryan Jacobs, they’re playing well. The addition of Craig Houle really helped, also.” McGilvray, Cobb, and Jacobs are 1-2-3 in team scoring, with McGilvray looking to lead the way for the third consecutive season. He currently has totals of 17G-10A-27PTS-22GP, and in those numbers are included 8 power-play goals and 3 short-handed tallies.
Noack sees the team starting to come together. “We’re playing with a little more poise and urgency lately. We’re back into conference play, and every game means so much. We’ve got a tough two games ahead against UMass and Wentworth. We know we’re competing with Salve, and Nichols, and Fitchburg for positioning.”
“We’re a little older now, and we’ve seen more college hockey,” Noack went on to state. “We react better to a two-two tie going into the third period, or going into an overtime game. Last year, we were so young, and we’d get into a tight game and panic. We had Curry in a one-goal game, and teams like Curry and UMass don’t panic. After the Curry game, I gave them three days off, told them to stay away from the rink. They needed the rest.”
As far as what’s ahead, Noack feels optimistic. “I’ve been impressed the last couple of games, with our, sense of urgency, they way we’re dumping the puck in, our shots on goal, we’re executing better; everybody’s been on the same page at the same time. As far as the playoffs, the pressure will be on the higher seeds.”