Just about a month into the season and already some interesting races are starting to heat up in each of the three divisions. Finishing the first half of the season on a high note will be important as teams look to build up positive momentum prior to breaking for the holidays. Let’s take a look at the conference hierarchies-something’s old, something’s new and a lot of interest for the New Year!
After a slow start out of the gate including a tie against Salem State and two one-goal losses at the Primelink Tournament to eventual champion Middlebury and host Potsdam, the Norwich Cadets have reeled off four wins-including three in a row-and hold the top spot in the league. During their three-game win streak the Cadets have outscored their opponents by a 21-4 margin. Leading the way is senior forward Garrett Winder, who has scored nine goals to go with eight assists for seventeen points in just 7 games. The leadership example has apparently rubbed off on a couple of Winder’s young teammates, as freshman Nikita Kashirsky and sophomore Rick Cleaver have chipped in with six and seven goals respectively.
In addition to getting the offense going, the Cadets have tightened up on defense going with junior goaltender Jeff Knapp who has won three of his first four starts and posted a stingy 2.01 goals against average. The Cadets close out the first half with a non-league contest against Wentworth before hosting the Annual Times-Argus tournament against Curry, St. Thomas and Manhattanville. Look for Coach McShane’s team to build on their recent success and be right in the hunt for the top spot.
Holding a game in hand, New England College sports a 4-0-0 mark in the conference, and unlike recent past seasons has gotten out of the gate quickly this season. Tom Carroll’s Pilgrim’s finish the first half of the season on Friday night against league and state rival St. Anselm’s with the opportunity to hold the top position in the standings heading into the holiday break. No surprise that last year’s Frozen Four participants have picked up where they left off last season. Three NEC forwards are scoring at a better than one point per game pace including senior Jeremy Koning (6-6-12), sophomore Mike Carmody (5-4-9) and senior Tor Persson (4-4-8). The goals and assists have not only been frequent in the first six games but timely as well as the Pilgrims have won three one-goal games early in the season.
In the goal, junior Scott Gray has shown early the form that helped carry the team to a terrific post-season. He is already 4-0 with a 2.35 goals against average and .901 save percentage. New England has traditionally been a second-half team so staying at the top early will give the Pilgrims a better starting position after the holidays and potential to push to host in the league playoffs.
It had to happen eventually. Nobody goes three regular season games with an undefeated record in conference play although that’s what the Curry Colonels were quietly sneaking up on this year. The nearly 50 game streak-yes, that’s five-zero-that began three seasons ago came to an end last Saturday against arch-rival UMass-Dartmouth in a low-scoring 2-1 game. It took a heroic effort by the Corsairs’ freshman goaltender Jon Dryjowicz-Burek who stopped 44 of 45 shots to end the streak on Curry’s home ice.
While the streak has ended, Curry enters the break in a very familiar position at the top of the standings. They closed the first half with a hard-fought 3-2 win over upstart Nichols with Captain Bret Adams scoring a pair of goals including the game winner. For Rob Davies’ team who needed to find offense this season to replace the production from the graduated players, the key word is balance. Sixteen players have scored for Curry already this season in their first nine games including eight players with three or more goals. Juniors George Cademartori (3-8-11) and Adams (6-2-8) are pacing the offense and leading a young group of new forwards in pursuit of a return to championship competition.
As games have become close for the Colonels, they are becoming less reliant on offense to win contests and more focused on a complete three zone game. Despite surrendering 13 goals in two non-conference games against highly-ranked Oswego and Manhattanville, senior Lenny Mosca has been solid in goal in all of the conference games and will need to be build on his consistent play for the second half starting against Norwich at the end of the month.
While UMass-Dartmouth is also in the hunt for the top spot, another familiar Northeast squad is making some noise of their own. The Wentworth Leopards, currently 4-0-0 in league play are showing some of the characteristics that led them to three league titles in the past four seasons. Senior defenseman Blayne Goodman is tied for the team lead in scoring with three goals and eight assists for eleven points. A pair of sophomores, Matt Koehler and Jeff Oddleifson has chipped in with eleven and ten points respectively on a team that has exhibited extraordinary balance in scoring distribution this season. Eighteen different players have scored goals for the Leopards this season and their difficult non-league schedule will have them very focused on the remaining conference schedule after the break.
With games yet to play this weekend against Norwich and Wesleyan – both on the road – Wentworth has posted a 2-4 record outside the league including a tough 6-4 loss at New England. While the tougher competition has surely helped Wentworth get their game in gear for the league opponents, they will need to excel in the second half and compete against the league’s best as they battle to compete for the league title and return to the national stage. Mark down January 21 on the calendar as Coach Jon Deptula’s squad travels to Curry for a very big showdown.
Wow, here’s a surprise, the defending national champion Middlebury Panthers have picked up exactly where they left off last spring. Sporting some familiar and new faces making an early impact on the start of the new season, Coach Bill Beaney’s team has exhibited strong defense, solid goaltending and opportunistic goal-scoring. Currently 6-0-0 overall, the Panthers took home the Primelink tournament title with one goal wins over Norwich and Plattsburgh. The Cardinals visit Middlebury on Friday night to close out the first half of the season and will look for a measure of revenge at Kenyon Arena.
Junior Evgeny Saidachev has recaptured the form he exhibited in his freshman season and has already scored six goals and two assists for eight points, including two shorthanded goals so far this season. Leading the way for the Panthers has been a pair of highly touted freshmen. Forward Jamie McKenna leads the team in scoring with three goals and six assists for nine points while defenseman Kyle Koziara already has netted five goals including four on the power-play. The Panthers have outscored their first six opponents by a margin of 24-8 and special teams have been outstanding early in the season.
Sophomore Ross Cherry and freshman Doug Raeder have split time in goal in the first six games of the season with each posting a 3-0-0 record. Cherry’s 1.00 goals against average is just slightly better than Raeder’s 1.67, but having two strong netminders push each other to excel for playing time will keep each of them sharp.
Sporting a clean 7-0 record and tied at the top of the NESCAC standings, the Colby White Mules have been a pleasant surprise to start the season. Coach John Tortorella’s team which graduated a large group of seniors last year has a solid nucleus back and is getting some great early results from a number of a new and young players. Sophomore forwards T.J. Kelley (4-10-14) and Josh Reber (1-12-13) along with sophomore defenseman Arthur Fritch (2-8-10) have ignited a strong offense that has scored 39 goals in just the first seven games.
What has been the Achilles’ heel for Colby the past few seasons appears to be one of their strengths this season. Already three goaltenders, including two freshmen have posted wins this season. Freshman Andy Cook is 4-0-0 with a 2.25 goals against average and impressive .902 save percentage.
This weekend Colby will face a stiff challenge to end the front end of their schedule. In perhaps what may be one of the best rivalries in college hockey, Colby faces-off against state rival Bowdoin in a rare home-and-home series. The first of the two games hosted by Colby is the game that counts in the league standings as a conference game. The second night is a non-conference game that may have impact later in the season as teams look to improve their national positioning and ranking. Without a doubt, both games are likely to be great contests and a great finish for the fans in Maine to the first half of the season.
Coach Tortorella likes his senior leadership on this team a lot and if they can maintain their consistent play this weekend and beyond, look for Colby to challenge up top in the always highly competitive NESCAC conference.
That’s a quick profile on some of the top contenders in each of the three conferences as we head into the semester break for most schools. The bar has been set pretty high in each of the conferences and one thing you can count on is that all of the teams will come back from the break looking to make their run at playing their very best hockey and hopeful to play meaningful playoff hockey come February.