A Tale of Two Teams
This week we take a look at two programs at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Weâ€™ll check in on Nichols College and get Lou Izziâ€™s thoughts on what could be a record-setting season. First, however, weâ€™ll start with the only team in the ECAC Northeast without a league victory: the Framingham State Rams.
â€œAll in all, obviously itâ€™s a disappointing seasonâ€ head coach Chris Heaney said. â€œI think we all had higher expectations of what we did and what we ultimately achieved, but the reality is, other than a few bumps in the road here and there, we were in every game. We played really well against some of the top teams, and we just struggled to finish off teams that we should beat. The reality is, even at this point in the year, our guys are still playing hard every night.â€
With a record of 1-22-1, some observers may judge the season by the numbers, but a closer look reveals that of half of those losses, four were by one goal, and seven were by two goals, reaffirming Heaneyâ€™s earlier statement about playing well against top teams.
When asked about players who stood in during this tough campaign, Heaney was quick to answer.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a few guys whoâ€™ve really stepped up, especially coming down the home stretch. Josh Williams on defense has really kind of put himself into a position as one of our â€˜go toâ€™ guys on the blueline. Joe Hurley has really stepped up his game. Heâ€™s having a tough time finding the back of the net, but he just does all the little things we ask.
Jeremy Schmidt is another guy who just shows up every night and gives us everything he has. Despite the score, or our record, all those guys that I mentioned, they just show up to play, as well as other guys, but those guys in particular, we never have to question their motivation.â€
On offense, as he has for the last two years, senior Nick Glum will lead the team in scoring. He currently has 13 goals and nine assists for 22 points. While offense wasnâ€™t the problem for Nichols, Heaney didnâ€™t admit that goaltending was a concern early on.
â€œWe really struggled at the beginning with goaltending,â€ he said. We tried all three guys, and everybody got their shot, we were looking for somebody to take the ball and run with it, and nobody really did. Then we went with Pete Dundovich, a transfer from UMass-Boston. We went with him down the home stretch, and heâ€™s just played phenomenal, heâ€™s really done a terrific job.â€
Heaney paid what could be the ultimate compliment to Dundovich, who as a sophomore has a record of 0-16-1, with a save percentage of .877.
â€œAfter every game weâ€™ve played, every coach has come up to us in the handshake line and commented on our goaltender. Heâ€™s a great kid, very mature, with solid leadership, and heâ€™s doing a great job for us. The other guys [James Babineau and Andy Joyce] are too, itâ€™s just that he got the job and made the most of it.â€
When asked what it was like as a coach to keep the players motivated through such a season, Heaney didnâ€™t avoid the question.
â€œI actually learned a lot this year, and unfortunately I learned it from past mistakes. The reality is they do want to win. Nobodyâ€™s going out there with the intention of losing a hockey game.
As a coach you have to just focus on the positives rather than looking at negatives, which is hard to do, but it gets a little bit easier when the guys are playing hard. As long as youâ€™re competing every night, you can find a positive in there.â€
A team at the opposite end of this spectrum is Nichols College, currently sitting in second place.
â€œItâ€™s been a super regular season for us,â€ said head coach Lou Izzi. â€œThe thing that a lot of people donâ€™t realize is that we skate 10 freshmen in our line up every night; we donâ€™t have a senior on our roster. Weâ€™ve accomplished what we have so far with a very young team. Itâ€™s been a rewarding season in many ways for our school and program.â€
Nichols will have a big challenge this Saturday night when they host UMass-Dartmouth, a game that will determine second place in the league. With a win, Nichols could set a school record for most wins in a season.
They currently sit at 18-5-1 overall, and are 12-3-0 in the conference. UMass-Dartmouth has an identical conference record of 12-3-0, so the winner clinches second place sometime late Saturday night.
Defensively, there are three juniors who have truly impressed Izzi this year: Cole Ruwe, Jeff Beiber, and Glen Cacaro.
â€œThe game has really slowed down for those guys,â€ said Izzi. â€œTheyâ€™re really playing like seasoned seniors, and theyâ€™re only juniors, and theyâ€™re a big reason why weâ€™re being so successful right now.â€
Continuing, he noted that â€œ[t]hey do an outstanding job in their own end. They have so much patience and poise with the puck. They do a great job getting the puck out of their own zone. Theyâ€™re playing at another level right now, and to have three veteran defensemen whoâ€™ve played in our system for three years and can perform at a very high level, I think thatâ€™s one of the reasons why weâ€™ve been successful.â€
The Bison are 10-3-0 in the new year, and in their last five games have only surrendered seven goals. Theyâ€™ve received solid goaltending from junior Keith Fink, who sports a 15-5-1 record with a winning percentage of .738, which is second in the conference.
On offense, Anthony Monte continues to lead the way, not only for his team, but in the conference. He currently has 18 goals and 29 assists for 47 points in just 24 games. The junior, who has led his school in scoring for the last two years, will lead the school again in scoring for the third consecutive season, most likely too closing out conference play on top as well.
One other player who has contributed up front is junior Ryan Gervais, who is second in the ECAC NE in goal scoring with 21.
â€œHeâ€™s been a guy whoâ€™s gotten a lot of big goals for us,â€ Izzi said. â€œHeâ€™s got a great shot on the power play, he got the overtime winner against Suffolk. Last weekend [against Suffolk] heâ€™s another guy that stepped up, and heâ€™s really just played phenomenal hockey all season long for us.â€
In speaking of his teamâ€™s youth, Izzi is obviously impressed.
â€œMy five juniors have been really good, and weâ€™ve been able to add a freshman class, weâ€™ve got 10 of them playing right now, and they just have a lot of grit, and toughness and good speed and skill, and they just keep coming. When weâ€™ve blended it all together, we have a good mix of youth, and then we have some veteran leadership with our junior class.â€
When thinking ahead to postseason play, Izzi is glad that his squad is healthy right now. He realizes the competition will be tough.
â€œIâ€™ve been around for 10 or 11 years now, and the first five to seven years, the top teams would always go out of conference and kind of get our bells rung. Then weâ€™d come back in conference and really beat up on the lower part of the league. But now, whatâ€™s happening is that every game is just a war, and I think youâ€™re eventually going to see our league do better out of conference because weâ€™re pushing so each other so much in conference games.â€
Concluding, he observes that â€œ[t]here are no more easy skates. Youâ€™re seeing big upsets; youâ€™re seeing teams that are even in the playoff picture get some big wins. I think itâ€™s just a credit to all the coaches who are doing a great job out there recruiting great players. I think whatâ€™s going to happen is that the playoffs are going to be very competitive.
â€œYou look at potential match-ups, and I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s really any good match ups for any of the teams. Everybody has the potential; the lowest seeds all have the potential of winning. Weâ€™re all going to have to come into the playoffs peaking and playing our best hockey of the year, and hopefully we play some good games.â€