One of the most historic weeks in the history of the Worcester State men’s ice hockey program was followed by….nothing. The Lancers started their final week of play in 2010 by knocking off Fitchburg State, who they hadn’t beaten since 2003. Following that was a 4-1 win over Westfield State, who swept the season series last year by an aggregate score of 19-10. The week ended with a wild 5-4 win over Salem State, who hadn’t lost to Worcester State since 1971, a span of 44 games.
The Lancers’ hottest week of the year was followed by their longest break of the year, as the team was off almost four weeks for winter vacation.
For coach John Guiney, the almost month-long layoff allowed Worcester State to savor the wins and serve as a reminder of the level they needed to get back to once 2011 rolled around.
“It was nice to have a month to enjoy what happened,” Guiney said. “It’s nice to enjoy, but if we had played [following Salem State] and lost, it would have been forgotten. But we’re able to build on [the hot finish] and see how we need to get back to where we were [prior to the break].”
That three-game stretch to close the first semester helped Worcester State, a team which hasn’t had a winning record since the 1997-98 season, end 2010 with a 5-2-3 record, including a 4-1-1 mark in MASCAC play that was good enough to secure a first place tie with Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
“From a coaching standpoint, entering that week, we had just lost to Mass.-Dartmouth but were down 2-0 and ended up making it 3-2,” Guiney said. “We said we couldn’t end the semester 0-4 but we tried not to put too much pressure on the kids. I was hoping to finish out going 1-1-1.”
With a 6-3 win over Becker on Thursday to start the 2011 slate, it appears any the Lancers have shaken off any rust from the long break.
“I went to [Becker] a little concerned,” Guiney said, noting that it was Becker’s fourth game since the break while Worcester State had only had two practices.
“Our first run through the league went very well,” he said. “We have a lot of new players, 13 or 14 new kids. To be honest, a lot has to do with the recruits from the Western States Hockey League. The kids came out with a desire to play. They have no idea who these teams are, no clue of the history. It doesn’t really matter to them.”
The new group’s resiliency was apparent against the Hawks. After going up 1-0 and then falling behind 2-1, the Lancers showed little panic, scoring three unanswered goals to take charge.
“From a coaching staff, its so nice just to stand on the bench and have players with a will to win and play so hard,” Guiney said.
That work ethic started early, and transcends the whole team, even those who don’t dress on game day.
“Even at the start of the year, when the trainer was working with these kids, he was telling me how hard these kids work and how he hadn’t seen a group like this in a long time,” Guiney said. “Even the kids that don’t play aren’t a problem. We just got off the bus [from Becker] and when the game ended, all the kids that weren’t playing were in packing up and getting shirts. You don’t see that in every program. [With kids] that aren’t playing, there’s usually some moaning, but we don’t have that. They know if they work hard, they will get an opportunity.”
Guiney said the program had a contact in the Western States Hockey League who asked them to come out and check out players in the league. While he wasn’t sure at first how the league and players compared to the Eastern junior leagues, their adjustment to college hockey on the East Coast has been essential for Worcester.
“The kids are very mature and easy to coach,” Guiney said. “The best part is that they’re all nice kids; there’s no problems, and that has a lot to do with our success.”
While Guiney admits Worcester State’s work ethic outshines it talents, the Lancers have had several individual standouts up to this point.
Senior captain Chris Wallin is having a career year, already surpassing his season best in goals, averaging just over a point per game. All this comes after playing mostly at forward after shifting between defense and the front line his first three years. Wallin, the team’s best skater according to Guiney, still will move to defense at key moments late in games.
“Chris is a great, great captain,” Guiney said. “He’s been able to talk to every kid at every level. He’s the right arm of the coaching staff.”
In net, freshman Bryan Kalcynski (2.63 GAA, .934 save percentage) has been a key cog after coming to the Lancers from Erie Community College.
“He does a great job,” Guiney said of Kalcynski. “It’s an old cliche, but every time he plays, he gives us a chance to win. He gives the team so much confidence.”
While Guiney doesn’t believe any team took them lightly in the first half (Worcester State played in only one game that wasn’t a goal or closer), the target is on the Lancers back heading in the second half.
“Our conference is just strong,” he said. “Whether it’s strong in relationship to other conferences doesn’t matter.”
Even with increased pressure, Guiney is looking forward to the second half.
“It’s been enjoyable,” he said. “It’s fun right now, especially with all the new young kids.”
Elsewhere in the ECAC Northeast and MASCAC
Bit of a quiet week, as teams are still getting back into the swing of things following the break and holiday tournaments.
Salem State pushed its record to 9-3 with a pair of nonconference wins over Colby on Monday and New England College on Wednesday. Monday’s win was a 5-4 affair that saw Salem State rally from being down 2-0.
Wentworth fell to No. 4 Bowdoin, 5-3, on Tuesday, while Westfield State’s struggles continued with a heartbreaking 5-4 loss to Assumption. The Greyhounds rallied from a late deficit and scored the game-winner with 2.6 seconds left.
In the day’s other overtime action, Fitchburg State used a Billy Pescosolido goal at the 4:53 mark in overtime to emerge with a 3-2 win over Becker.
I’ve said it before, but I think now is the time when the real season starts. With just under two months left and schedules starting to slant toward conference games, every point becomes crucial. And with the top four teams in the MASCAC and ECAC Northeast separated by one point and two points respectively, it should be another good finish.