This Week In The ECAC Northeast: Jan. 26, 2007

Three weeks ago, this column focused on the crowd of five teams at the top of the ECAC NE, and the fact that only three points separated the first from the fifth. This week, only four points separate the eighth place team from the first place team.

Earlier this month, Curry College was tied for first place with Johnson & Wales. Curry now finds itself in a battle for the top spot overall, but now with undefeated UMass Dartmouth. Johnson & Wales has slid into seventh place, due in large part to not having won a game in 2007 (0-3-1), but still only four points away from the top.

UMass Dartmouth is not only at the top of the league, with sixteen points and a winning percentage of 1.00, but they were just ranked eighth nationally, their highest ranking ever. Coach John Rolli spoke of the achievement. “It’s an honor to be ranked eighth in the country, fourth in the East, and first in New England. Our focus, though, is the ECAC Northeast.”

When asked about the crowded situation at the top of his division, Rolli hardly sounds like the coach of the only team with an unblemished record. “We’re just hanging in there, to be honest with you. You look at teams in our league like Curry, with just eight goals against, or Plymouth State University, playing well and with a new goalie that has sparked them. You’ve got Wentworth with a loss and two ties; and RJ Tolan is leaving his mark on that team-they went through a transition and he’s got them playing well. Then there’s the old veteran, Dean Fuller, and he has Fitchburg State playing their best hockey of the season.”

Rolli has matches coming up with the seventh and eight place teams, Johnson & Wales, and Salve Regina, later this month, and he knows that with the accolades his team has received lately, there could be a price to pay. “We’re wearing a bullseye.”

Sitting near the top of the ECAC NE is Curry College, also with sixteen points, and an 8-1 record, and coach Rob Davies offered his thoughts while on his way to scout a game. “As far as our team looks, I don’t know if we’re better or worse than we were over the last two weeks. We’re still looking for our identity, we how to find it shortly, and I think we’ll play better when we do.”

Two areas that Davies is focused on are special teams and goaltending “We
need to focus on special teams, because so much of the game is just that. We’re trying to concentrate on our penalty killing, and that starts with good goaltending, which I think we’re getting. Our goaltending has been above average, especially in the league games, and I think that’s what we’ll have to count on down the stretch.”

Most would agree that the Colonels have received outstanding goaltending. In
nine league games, they’ve only given up ten goals, and this has been done with freshmen goalies! Andrew Lisi and Zach Cardella are currently ranked 2-3 in GAA in the conference, only behind UMass Dartmouth’s Jeff Green. Lisi’s 18 goals allowed lead the entire ECAC NE conference.

Davies is well aware of the crowded situation at the top of the league. “Every game is going to be a meaningful to a lot of teams. We’re going to have to be ready every night. It’s so bunched up. I still think UMass Dartmouth and ourselves are the top two teams, and you’ve got the three and four teams fighting for home ice in the playoffs. There are some teams we’re going to have to gear up for.”

Another team vying for first place in Wentworth Institute of Technology, and coach R.J. Tolan spoke about the tight race. “You can lose any night. There’s a lot of parity in the league, which is good. Basically, every game we’ve had this year is a tough game.”

Wentworth in now in third place, and has won their last two games, with victories over Nichols (4-3) and Stonehill (4-2.) Prior to that, though, the team stumbled after coming back from the holiday break, going 1-3-1. Tolan attributes this to the long, extended break his team had between semesters, and feels they’re back on track now.

“We finish with nine league games in a row,” Tolan said. “Salve [Regina] could beat us, Plymouth State, UMass Dartmouth. It’s all two points to us. Hopefully we’ll win these and get home ice.”

Fitchburg State is another team that has to be reckoned with now. Currently in fourth place with 13 points, they are undefeated in their last five games (4-0-1) and have a major test coming up on January 27th against UMass. Plymouth State University has won four in a row, and they find themselves in fifth place, with 12 points. One important note with PSU is that they have only played seven conference games, and have as many as three games in hand on some opponents.

One team just four points out of first place is Nichols College. In fifth place, Coach Lou Izzi knows that the time has come to get points. “We need to win games. We’re not locked into the playoffs right now.”

Nichols is 3-3 in the new year, but they’ve won three out of their last four, going 3-1-0 in that span, and it was the last two games that impressed Izzi. “To be honest with you, we played our best hockey of the season this weekend [an 8-1 win over Franklin Pierce on Jan. 20, and a 4-3 loss to Wentworth on January 21st.] We played exceptionally well against Franklin Pierce, and good enough to win Sunday against Wentworth. We had the lead with six minutes to go, but two penalties hurt us.”

Izzi knows that things won’t get easier, and he’s even been running different post-season scenarios through his mind. “We have some brutal games coming up. We’ve got Curry, Manhattanville, UMass Dartmouth. Our chemistry is the best it’s been all season, but we’ve got a tough schedule coming up. You want to stay out of seventh or eighth place, or you’ll end up with Curry or UMass Dartmouth in the first round. I’ve looked at it all kinds of ways. You could have Wentworth, Fitchburg State, and Plymouth State end up in any of the third through fifth spots. We have to win. It’s crunch time right now.”

Now in his third season at Nichols, Izzi did admit that he’s happy with the way the team is coming together. “I like the make-up of our team. Our goalies [Keith Fink and Matt Gassman] have to get better. We’ve done a lot in practice to help with that, and we’d like to get one hot, and then ride him into the playoffs. If not, we’ll play them both, but you need a hot goalie in the playoffs.”