While it may be human nature to always look at the top of the standings when scanning Web sites or even newspapers, this week we focus on the Golden Bears of Western New England College, a team still in search of its first victory of the season.
Chris Bernard, now in his second year as head coach of WNEC, refuses to let the 0-12-1 record get him, or his players, down.
â€œFor us, itâ€™s been a situation where we have had a highly competitive and ambitious schedule,â€ he noted. â€œWe also have not had a lot of practices between some of these games to address problems.â€
The coaching staff has been very careful not to let the record snowball into negative momentum.
â€œWe donâ€™t get overly focused on the overall record, but on one shift at a time, one game at a time,â€ Bernard said. â€œWeâ€™ve developed a mantra of â€˜win todayâ€™ whether itâ€™s in practice, or on your shift in a game. This has helped not to feel the weight and burden of an 0-12 record. We just try to get it in, get it out, and be good in front of both nets.â€
A former goalie for Clarkson University in the mid-90s, Bernard feels that his own goaltending has been better than the record would indicate.
â€œOur goaltending has been very good all year long. We understand the mentality that youâ€™re going to work hard every night and maybe not get a win.â€
Junior Kyle Sagnella has appeared in all 13 games, making a total of 400 saves along the way, putting him first in the conference. He has also logged more minutes than any other goalie in the league. Bernard feels that his starting goalieâ€™s GAA of 4.58 is certainly not a true reflection of his talent, especially given some of the opponents theyâ€™ve faced along the way, such as Hobart and Elmira.
â€œThese are quality opponents, and long term they should help us be battle tested. Sagnella has seen a lot of shots, and his goals-against-average is not a direct reflection because of some of the top teams in the country weâ€™ve faced.â€
Also seeing some limited time in net has been Justin Richards, and Bernard likes what heâ€™s seen of the freshman: â€œHeâ€™s been able to play, and heâ€™s proven heâ€™s capable.â€
The goal crease will become a bit more crowded with the addition of sophomore transfer Dennis Harrsch from Plattsburgh State, and maybe take some of the workload off of Signella.
On his defense, Bernard commented, â€œTheyâ€™ve worked hard as a unit, weâ€™ve gone through a lot of different pairings looking for a hidden formula, and weâ€™ve played a lot of young guys. Three of our six defensemen who have seen significant time are freshmen, and we know theyâ€™ll make mistakes, but they want to get better. Everyoneâ€™s done their best. Weâ€™re all collectively trying to get better.â€
One glaring problem for WNEC has been their lack of offense. They have been shut out three times so far, and have yet to score more than three goals in a game.
â€œWe have to score more goals,â€ Bernard stated. â€œWe have the lowest total of goals in the conference. Part of the problem is weâ€™re trying not to lose as opposed to trying to win. Weâ€™re pressing, looking for the perfect scoring chances. Weâ€™re squeezing the stick in front of the net, we need to loosen up.â€
Theyâ€™ll need to try something as their offense is ranked dead last in the ECAC NE, with a measly 1.13 goals per game.
Despite the fact that the last WNEC victory was on Feb. 3, 2007, Bernard tries to keep his troops up, while at the same time continue to rebuild the program.
â€œThe kids have been great. Theyâ€™re really working on individual skills development. The kids understand that when youâ€™re mired in this situation, the only ones who can turn it around are in the locker room. Theyâ€™ve become more accountable and more motivated to compete on an amplified, elite level.â€
In looking ahead, Bernard feels optimistic. â€œWeâ€™ve got an outstanding chance now after playing high quality teams outside of the conference. That experience should allow us to compete within the conference. Weâ€™ve had a nice break, now itâ€™s time to go out, compete hard, and take what we get. The first one [win] has seemed elusive.â€
The Golden Bears returned to action with a road game at Plymouth State on January 9, which they dropped 5-1. That was the first of four games in 10 days, Theyâ€™ll have a home game versus Potsdam State on January 13, followed by a trip to Franklin Pierce, and ending with a tough game when they host UMass Dartmouth on January 19.