At 8-4-0 overall, there are a lot of good things happening in Middletown, Conn.for the Wesleyan Cardinals. So far in the NESCAC conference this season, they are sitting at 3-3-0, but are coming off a split of road games against Middlebury and Williams that continues positive momentum about taking points every weekend.
“We talk all the time about taking points every weekend,” said Cardinals coach Chris Potter. “We really think we will be in the hunt in the conference if we can get points on the road and find some weekends at home where we can get that two-game sweep and four points. So far, it is working pretty well for us, and this weekend will be no different with two tough games against Bowdoin and Colby on the schedule.”
Last weekend, the Cardinals extended their win streak against league foe Middlebury to two, coming up with a 5-4 overtime win on the road. Following 29 years of frustration that saw zero wins against the Panthers, Wesleyan now has won the last two meetings in dramatic fashion. Friday night, a third period rally saw sophomore Keith Buehler tie the game with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, followed by freshman James Albrecht’s game-winner at 3:38 of overtime.
“I thought we played pretty well at Middlebury on Friday,” said Potter. “These kids play hard and against a good team really stayed in the game for the full 60 plus minutes of play. Ironically, I thought we played better against Williams on Saturday, but their goalie, who is an All-American candidate, makes 49 saves and they get a couple of bounces and we are on the short end of an overtime result. Both games were really played at a high level, and I think our kids know that is what we need to bring to the rink every night in this conference if we are going to be successful.”
Two catalysts for Wesleyan can be found in a pair of sophomore forwards who are leading the team in scoring. Keith Buehler (9-5-14) and Nik Tasiopoulos (10-7-17) lead the team in both points and goals, and are responsible for just under 50 percent of the total goal output for Wesleyan so far this season.
“These guys are really fun to watch,” noted Potter. “Both are extremely hard working and dedicated to being productive on every shift.They believe and try to score every time they step out on the ice. Over the past few seasons, we have struggled a bit offensively, so having a couple of guys that are able to have success and score virtually in each of our games creates some balance for us with other players who don’t get the same level of attention from our opponents. We also have seen the positive effects on the power play, where we have not had a great deal of success in recent seasons. This year, we actually have two units that have been effective with the man advantage, and if one is not really having much impact, the other unit seems to be able to pick up the slack and carry the play.”
Another pair of prominent Cardinals has been the goaltending duo of Matt Hadge and Glenn Stowell. Both netminders are having solid seasons to date, with save percentage numbers exceeding .900 and goals-against averages around 2.00.
“It’s really nice having two guys playing well,” said Potter. “The best thing about Matt and Glenn is they are great friends off the ice and support each other well when the other goalie is playing. They are both very competitive, but we really like the idea of rotating them when they are both playing well so we have that fresh guy to start on Saturday following the Friday game. I think the rotation helps them stay focused, and certainly both are doing very well for us so far this season. At some point, maybe one guy gets hot and plays a little better, but right now we are comfortable with our system and it is working well for both of them and the team.”
The irony of the early season success overall is that Wesleyan is a fairly young team with just two seniors seeing any significant playing time. However, those seniors are a big part of the success of the team so far, and coach Potter knows he has a pending leadership void coming following their graduation in the spring.
“Tom Salah and Geoff Mucha really have been everything you could ask for from senior leadership in what they do on and off the ice. While their numbers don’t necessarily jump out and grab your attention, these guys always do the little things on the ice and with the team on the bench and in the locker room to keep the focus and energy going in a positive way. They have been outstanding in our program during their time here and will be difficult to replace moving forward. It’s definitely one of the things I am looking at now in terms of seeing who can step up next year and provide the kind of leadership we see from Tommy and Geoff.”
So Wesleyan seems to have all of the ingredients this season to make some noise in the ultra-competitive NESCAC conference. Offense, defense and goaltending are all there, along with good special teams and strong leadership. Their coach likes this group, and who knows where they may end up.
“This is a great group,” noted Potter. “As long as we stay focused and keep the effort and energy in focus for each of the games, we will get our points and stay in the hunt. Right now, we are just focused on a strong Bowdoin team that clearly can put the puck in the net after hanging seven goals on Amherst last weekend and then another five on Hamilton. They are going to be a challenge for us, so excuse the cliché; it really has to be one game at a time for this team to be ready to compete at our best.”
Point made coach, and hopefully your team will keep taking their fair share of points down the stretch.
For both Jamie Rice and Mike McShane, the opportunity to play at Fenway Park this Friday afternoon has been both a blessing and a curse. It’s hard enough to manage the regular day-to-day schedule, but when something of the magnitude of an outdoor game at “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” intrudes on the routine, there is fun, excitement and a whole lot more work in orchestrating the events around the game.
“Thank God I have had someone in the administration able and willing to take on the tickets and all of the action around that alone on this game,” said Norwich’s McShane. “I think the average player has about 12 people coming to see the game. I have 43 friends and family coming myself, and I understand there are already 400 alums that have pre-paid for a dinner at a nearby restaurant after the game. It’s really a great thing and we are excited to be part of it. We are just going to need to stay focused and keep the game in perspective once we get inside the glass. There are obviously a lot of distractions that come with the venue and uniqueness of this event, but at the end of the day, this is a league game against a Babson team that always plays very well against us, so we need to be focused on playing our game and picking up needed points this weekend.”
Norwich should be healthy for the first time in awhile, with the return of both Kyle Forkey and Kyle Thomas to the line-up. Not news that Jamie Rice wants to hear, but these two teams always play great against each other, and maybe this is the jump start Babson can point to in trying to get on a positive run from a 3-10-0 start to the season.
If you are in Boston on Friday at 3:30 p.m., you might want to catch some of the atmosphere and excitement, as the Norwich/Babson game is the front half of a doubleheader that will see Harvard and Union meet in the nightcap.
Hope Mother Nature cooperates again this weekend — drop the puck!