A close look at the Wesleyan University Cardinals results to date shows a lot of close games, overtime games that somehow didn’t quite go the right way for coach Chris Potter’s squad. Ties are nice, especially when you are not scoring a lot of goals, as was the case for the Cardinals, especially in the first half of the season.
“We really aren’t doing things much differently in the second half as compared with the first,” stated Potter. “We just seem to be getting rewarded for the effort and maybe receiving a little of the puck luck we didn’t get earlier in the season. The kids have worked really hard, and scoring has been a struggle for this team all year, but the past few games we have seen some signs that we may be breaking out of our goal slump with players like John Guay. He struggled getting his chances to go in early in the season. He is still getting his chances, but now they are starting to go in for him. If we can get a couple of more guys going like that, we will be competitive coming down the home stretch.”
The past two weekends saw a couple of milestone wins for the Cardinals. Two weeks ago, after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Williams in overtime, Wesleyan headed to their true house of horrors and a date with Middlebury. Since 1973, no Wesleyan team had ever defeated the Panthers and after a Middlebury rally in the third period to tie the score, the game looked like a continuation of the 0-35 streak. John Guay and the rest of the team had something to say about that, and his overtime goal gave Wesleyan a 4-3 road win and their first-ever against Middlebury.
“That win was a big one for the program,” noted Potter. “But it was not as big as the character we showed and the way we just kept working hard even after they came back at us in the third period. It was a solid effort by everyone, especially after we lost such a tough game the night before against Williams.”
Most teams might have had trouble getting back up again for the next opponent, but Wesleyan didn’t have that luxury when Norwich came to visit last Friday night in Middletown. An 80 percent scoring rate, four of five shots, found the net in the second period and opened up a big lead on the defending national champs and leaders of the ECAC East on the way to a solid 5-2 win.
“That’s the part about the puck luck that we didn’t get in the beginning of the season,” stated Potter. “They are an awfully good team and we definitely were the beneficiaries of some good bounces, but we also kept working hard and got solid play from Matt Hadge in goal. We really like our two goaltenders right now. Their numbers are solid, and they are both playing well doing their job. We have been alternating them every weekend and will continue to split the games each weekend. It’s definitely nice in this league with two games so close together on the weekend to have a fresh guy ready to go for each game on Friday and Saturday. So far, it has worked well for us and both of them, and if we can get a few more guys going in the scoring department, that is only going to help us with the remaining schedule where we have quite a few road games remaining.”
Evan more significant was the game on Saturday against St. Mike’s, where the Cardinals were a bit flat in the first period and were picked up by the goaltending of Glenn Stowell, who held the fort early before Wesleyan answered the bell in the second half of the period and took a 2-0 lead on their way to a convincing 6-2 win.
“Again, it’s all about the effort on the ice,” said Potter. “You look at Tom Salah, who has really struggled scoring goals this season, and he just is burying that frustration everyday in working hard in practices and games and finding a way to contribute to the team, either on a regular shift or on the penalty kill, where he has been a solid player for us this year. We really have to continue doing what we have been all season, and if we can find just a couple of more goals here and there, we have a chance to maybe do something in the standings in February.”
One area the Cardinals are really going to have to improve results is their performance on the road. At 1-4-1 overall on the road, there isn’t much hope of moving up the standings with five of nine remaining games away from home ice. This weekend, Wesleyan travels to play New England College and St Anselm. Potter is hoping to build on the level of play from the past two weekends away from home.
“Look, in this league we could win them all down the stretch and we could just as likely lose them all,” scoffed Potter. “We know the level of competition in this league and also know we have some really tough games ahead of us away from home, where we just have to be better and pick up some points. We are really not looking at the schedule saying we need a win here or this weekend should be or needs to be a three-pointer. We have a standings board in the locker room, but really don’t look at it much. We are much more focused on going out with effort and intensity and playing our best game every night, and hopefully that is going to be good enough to pick up the points we need to get wherever we finish in the standings. At the end of the day, all 10 teams in the league probably deserve to play in the playoffs, but two good teams are going to be done in just a few weeks and we don’t want to be one of those two.”
An interesting stretch of games in mid-February may hold the key to Wesleyan’s fate in the NESCAC standings. The always-difficult trip to Maine, with dates against Colby and Bowdoin, precedes a midweek game with travel partner Trinity, who is also fighting for points in position in the lower half of the standings. The game with Trinity is an outdoor affair at Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn.on February 115, which will add more excitement and atmosphere to what will surely be a hotly-contested game.
“That one is a long way away,” noted Potter. “We have a lot of hockey between now and then, including that trip to Maine, which is always a difficult one for us. No doubt the kids are excited about the opportunity to play outdoors against Trinity and it should be a lot of fun. Right now, we have a game in hand on almost everyone in the league, so hopefully we can pick up a couple of much needed points to help us out.”
Right now the Cardinals are flying high and are looking to extend a season-high three-game winning streak. The recipe seems to be working, and this weekend will bring the added ingredient of needing to again play well away from home. The team would like nothing more than to fly home with four points.