3, 2, 1, … blast-off!
The final weeks of the regular season are ticking down and there are still 12 valuable points up for grabs as teams make their final push for playoff eligibility and positioning in the league standings.
If you want to be playing hockey in March, now is the time to start cranking up the game and making sure you earn some valuable points every weekend. Nothing is guaranteed in these leagues and if the late season performances of the past repeat their pattern this year, there will be some dramatic movement and activity right up to and including the final contests of the regular season.
No doubt this is the time of the year where coaches want to keep their teams focused on the task at hand — no looking ahead to next weekend or even tomorrowâ€™s game, the points are too important now.
Movers and shakers are starting to shine and some teams are making the climb by playing their best hockey at the right time. Will your team be one of the climbers? Letâ€™s see who is picking it up and pushing it towards the regular seasonâ€™s final games.
One of the teams in NESCAC who has been battling to move up in the standings has been the Trinity Bantams. After a slow start in the league, the Bantams under first year head coach Dave Cataruzolo have started to play more consistent hockey and are hoping to leverage a run of five games in nine days to grab some important points and move up into a solid position in the conference playoff hunt.
The stretch run started out great with Trinity sweeping last weekendâ€™s games at home by a 2-1 score over Williams and an impressive 4-1 victory over league leading Middlebury. They hit a speed bump on Tuesday night with a tough 3-2 loss against their in-state travel partner Wesleyan, but look to rebound this weekend against two more NESCAC opponents — Tufts and Conn. College — fighting to move up in the standings.
Ten points in nine days were available and the Bantams still have hopes of reeling in eight of the 10 with continued solid play this weekend.
â€œOur team is really indicative of the league,â€ commented head coach Cataruzolo. â€œEvery team is good enough to win and it is tough to be consistent every night with the level of play needed to be successful in this league. Itâ€™s been a simple formula: when we get some scoring, good defense and goaltending we have been good.
â€œWe are still a young team making steps to be more consistent. We are learning to play in the close games and are still learning what it takes to play back-to-back games in that 24 hour period on the weekend.â€
One of the areas of improvement this season has been found in the goaltending situation for the Bantams. Last yearâ€™s returnee, David Murison (5-4-1, .909 save percentage, 2.49 goals against average) has been joined by newcomer Wes Vesprini (4-3-1, .916, 2.50). Both have posted similar statistics which has their coach pleased with his rotation and the teamâ€™s confidence in either guy between the pipes.
â€œBoth goalies are in a healthy situation,â€ stated Cataruzolo. â€œItâ€™s competitive because they both want to play but they have become good friends on and off the ice and help each other — we really donâ€™t have a No. 1 or No. 2 right now. The team has confidence in whoever is back there and hasnâ€™t changed the way the guys play out front so itâ€™s a good situation to have with two guys that can be fresh and mentally sharp while playing their best at this point in the season.â€
The challenge for Trinity down the stretch is going to be finding some offense to take some stress off the defense and goaltending.
â€œOur question mark has really been offensively,â€ remarked Cataruzolo. â€œWe are getting our chances and in most cases outshoot our opponents by a pretty good margin but we are not getting the goals and we need to look at improving the quality of our chances and cashing in a few more opportunities to make things easier on the guys in back. We are learning to play those tight games and win third periods and the close games which is helping our confidence overall.â€
One player who will be looked to in both ends of the ice is junior defenseman Chris Powers (3-6-9).
â€œWe really expect a lot from Chris in both ends of the ice — he is an important player and will be counted on to be among our team leaders in these final games of the regular season,â€ Cataruzolo said.
The Bantams have been a third period team this season where they have both out scored and out shot their opponents. But up until the Williams game where they made two goals stand up for a victory, any game with two or less tallies has ended up in a loss. To mitigate these unfavorable outcomes, Cataruzolo wants to see that goal total increased coming down the stretch run, including games with Castleton, Skidmore, Bowdoin and Colby.
Another interesting dynamic for the Bantams this season has been the leadership from three seniors. They have helped the team mature and have added to the excitement of the new head coach who continues to enjoy the learning process on a daily basis.
Seniors Matthew Crum (7-5-12), Daniel Maturi (2-9-11), and Ross Grubin (1-4-5) have been key to the growth process of this young team and have shown the less experienced players the dedication and intensity required to be successful in the conference.
â€œThese kids really have been great,â€ commented Cataruzolo. â€œI have been very impressed with their leadership skills and the way they have worked with their teammates to bring everyone onboard. No doubt the schedule is tough — itâ€™s tough every night for everyone and team leadership is essential to stay mentally prepared to compete every night.â€
The leadership for the team has also been changed behind the bench this season and the first-year coach is looking at the game a bit differently having stepped into the head coaching role following the retirement of the schoolâ€™s only hockey coach last season in John Dunham.
â€œEven though I have been here for awhile working with John [Dunham] and involved in all of the program related activities, itâ€™s still different when you are guy running the practices, working the bench in the game, working with the kids and making sure we are ready to play every time we step out on the ice,â€ said Cataruzolo.
â€œI have to say I love it and that it is exciting to be here every day — that there isnâ€™t a day where I am not learning something new about coaching, my team, and more importantly myself. I think I still defining my style behind the bench and I always hope that it will continue to evolve.
â€œYou play a style based on the players you have and we certainly like to play aggressively and up tempo but when you are not scoring a lot of goals you have to stay true to your defensive principles and protect your end of the ice — hopefully the scoring will come — the chances are there so we just need a few more bounces and that will help to open things up for us.â€
Fifth through ninth place (one spot out of the playoffs) are now just separated by four points with six games remaining in the regular season. This weekendâ€™s match-ups with Tufts and Conn College are critical for points, separation in the standings and favorable tie-breakers if Trinity wants to solidify their position.
The playoff hunt is on and the Bantams are trying to make their push by continuing to play good defense and coming through with some more opportunistic offense. If they are going to be successful in moving up in the conference standings, the team will need to reverse a trend when playing on the road this season.
Including Tuesday nightâ€™s game with Wesleyan, five of the teamâ€™s last seven games are on the road where the Bantams have a 1-5-1 record this season. The new arena on campus appears to be to the teamâ€™s liking as they are 7-1-1 at home but only have remaining games next week against Bowdoin and Colby in their barn. Building success on the road will be a key in these last games and likely will be important for any postseason success.
The playoff hunt is on and every single point is now important — drop the puck!