This year’s edition of the Bowdoin Polar Bears has really not shocked anyone with their level of play and current position at the top of the NESCAC standings. At 13-4-0 overall and 9-4-0 in the league, Bowdoin has really shown off its offensive prowess this season behind big numbers from sophomore forward Daniel Weiniger (16-17-33) and senior forward Jeff Fanning (14-6-20). The two have combined for 30 of the team’s 89 goals so far this season, but if you ask anyone who makes the Polar Bears go, you’ll get one answer: Kyle Shearer-Hardy.
Listed on the roster at just 5-foot-6-inches and 155 pounds, the diminutive defenseman doesn’t quite match the profile of his teammates’ size or bulk, but in terms of playing the game, Hardy is a giant talent whenever he steps out on the ice.
“He is one of the special players in this league,” noted coach Terry Meagher. “It was nice to see him get recognized for his level of play last season, and so far this year he has been a dominant player on the ice. He is such a pure skater, and that enables him to create space for himself and his teammates in any situation we play. He is a terrific quarterback on the power play and has great recognition skills in putting himself in the right place to make good decisions in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. He is the guy that makes us go for sure.”
So far this season, the senior who hails from Montreal, Que. has been very efficient in making plays by contributing 21 assists, which leads the both team and conference. His eight goals have largely come on the power play, where Bowdoin has enjoyed an almost ridiculous success rate at 37.4 percent, which leads the NESCAC conference and is the top-ranked power play in the country.
“Yeah, it is pretty amazing,” laughed Meagher. “I think back to the Dave Taylor days at Clarkson where they had some obscene number like 44 percent and remember thinking that it’s just not possible to be that good against the level of competition being played every night. We have been really good on specialty teams, and the three guys you are talking about are a very big part of that if you just look at their stats. That said, you need the decision-maker out there that controls the tempo and sets up the best scoring chances, and we have Kyle,who is clearly one of the best around at making people on the ice play better.”
Shearer-Hardy is fourth in the nation overall in points-per-game and first among all defensemen in the country. While his offensive contributions have been stellar, don’t short change the defensive game Shearer-Hardy brings each and every game.
Like other defensemen who play at a high level without being six feet and 200 pounds, Shearer-Hardy does not get taken advantage of in his end of the ice. He plays with a bit of an edge, and is not afraid to go to the tough areas in the corners or in front of the net to make plays. His 18 penalties are second on the team, but also speak to his toughness in handling the extra attention he receives against each and every opponent.
“Kyle reads the play as well as anyone we have had here in recent memory,” stated Meagher. “He does take some risks in our system and most often times gets rewarded for his reads and transition game. His skating and speed can cover up for mistakes that other players may not get away with. He brings a definite sense of excitement to every shift he plays, and his teammates definitely benefit from his quick transition game and strong puck movement.”
The nation’s leading offense, at 4.88 goals per game, has carried the Polar Bears to their current perch atop the conference standings, but everyone knows things get tight at this time of the year because the games and points are so important. Weiniger, Fanning and Shearer-Hardy are clearly the leaders and top performers on the team, but the supporting cast has also improved and become bigger contributors in the second half of the season.
Freshmen Colin Downey (6-11-17) and Harry Matheson (10-6-16) have become big contributors and Matheson has chipped in with 6of his 10 goals on the power play. More chances to play in key situations and with the talented upper classmen that are leading Bowdoin will surely have a positive impact as the regular season winds down and focus on the playoffs begins later this month.
The next two weeks find Bowdoin facing key NESCAC opponents that are right behind the Polar Bears in the standings. Match-ups this week with Hamilton and Amherst will be key road games that will either tighten the race for the regular season top spot or create some breathing room heading into the final two weekends of the season. Bowdoin’s final home stand will include games with Trinity and Wesleyan before closing out the regular season at New England College and St. Anselm College.
On the road this season, Bowdoin is 4-3-0 and just 3-3-0 in conference play, while at home, the team is 8-1-0 at “The Sid,” having lost their only home game last weekend to Middlebury in a tough 4-2 loss that was a replay of the NESCAC tournament final last year.
For most of the team, Bowdoin would certainly like to get another shot at winning the league crown, and of course nothing could be better than doing it front of their home fans. The senior class is celebrating its final season as members of the Bowdoin squad, and while individual achievements like reaching the 100-point plateau are within sight, this team has designs on a bigger prize.
“I have always contended that if you can play at least .500 hockey on the road against this level of competition and dominate at home, you will be playing some meaningful hockey at the end of the regular season,” stated Meagher. “This team had a strong taste of that last season, losing in the conference final and playing in the NCAAs. Obviously we just need to focus on the next game and playing our game to the best of our ability and everything else will take care of itself. We certainly have the group of guys who can stay that focused and bring it all every game.”
The season is quickly winding down, but the action is certainly not. Skilled players like Shearer-Hardy will not go unnoticed by opponents looking to slow down the Bowdoin offense, but not many have been successful this year in shutting him down. He has proven to be a leader, and would like nothing better than to lead the Polar Bears to a winter celebration and NESCAC championship.
The snow has stopped in New England, I think — drop the puck!