People hadnâ€™t even carved their turkeys yet this year when the Johnson & Wales University hockey team had earned their fourth win.
Last year, folks were making New Yearâ€™s Eve plans when the Wildcats finally garnered win number four. With his team 4-0 in league play, and 4-0-1 overall, coach Eric Noack canâ€™t help but to be pleased so far.
â€œI think itâ€™s just simply getting the bounces right now and weâ€™ve gotten some solid goaltending from J.R. Woodland,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s really all it is. Weâ€™ve got some young guys who are really trying and really skating hard, and weâ€™ve got some bounces.
Thatâ€™s the big difference between this year and last year. Last year, we just couldnâ€™t buy it. There was nothing we could do at times to get those wins. Weâ€™ve got some pretty good freshmen, but certainly, the big thing is that weâ€™re getting some fortunate bounces and fortunate calls.â€
In the last two Wildcat wins, fortuitous calls late in each game led to opportunistic power play game winners. Against Southern New Hampshire University on November 22, a Penmen penalty in overtime led to a Kevin Marchesi game winner with 36 seconds left in the game.
Two nights prior to that in Boston, Suffolk University took a penalty late in the game and Joe Simeone notched the game winner with eight seconds remaining. These wins have helped Johnson & Wales stay tied for second, along with Wentworth and UMass-Dartmouth.
â€œAre we creating those penalties?â€ Noack wondered. â€œI donâ€™t know. Maybe we are, maybe because itâ€™s weâ€™re skating hard, who knows? But thatâ€™s really it. There are no secret systems, no secret recruiting. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s the coaching, I really donâ€™t. Iâ€™m not doing anything differently than I did last year.â€
One of the freshmen that Noack is pleased with is Jeremiah Ketts.
â€œHeâ€™s done a real nice job, heâ€™s got a good set of hands and he sees the ice pretty well. Heâ€™s been doing pretty well for us on the power play, also.â€
Ketts leads the squad so far with one goal and six assists through the first five games. Fellow freshmen classmates Luke Van Asch, Joe Sullivan, and Shane Viola have wasted little time in getting on the score sheet as well.
A couple of veterans who are off to hot starts are forwards Joe Simeone and Kevin Marchesi. Simeone, a sophomore, already has equaled his output of five goals from last year and Marchesi is already halfway to his 10 points registered a season ago, with three goals and two assists so far.
On defense, freshman Tony Gallante and Domenic Recchia have impressed Noack so far, and Jimmy Van Asch, who transferred from Hamline University, has caught his coachâ€™s eye.
â€œHeâ€™s logging a lot of minutes and doing a nice job.â€ Noack said of Van Asch.
Noack knows he can also count on the experience of junior Shane Poulin, and seniors Tyler Bickford and Mike Oâ€™Malley, with the latter averaging a point per game right now.
Still, there is plenty of hockey ahead.
â€œWe just have a nice mix right now,â€ Noack said. â€œThe one thing I keep telling the guys is â€˜Hey, itâ€™s four games. Weâ€™re playing 25 this year.â€™ We could end up 4-21 pretty easily.â€
The sixth year coach is also optimistic that the fast start in November could lead to more hockey in March.
â€œWeâ€™re just looking to find a way into the playoffs somehow. Weâ€™re really not trying to look into why [they are off to a fast start] but what weâ€™re trying to embrace is â€˜Hey, letâ€™s keep this thing going.â€™ Letâ€™s really embrace it, ride it a little bit, and see where it takes us. Letâ€™s not try to figure it out and then recreate it again. Letâ€™s just go with it, and hopefully itâ€™ll take us where we want to go.
I think the important thing is that if it doesnâ€™t continue through Christmas, or through whenever, not to get frustrated. If we lose a game before Christmas, hey, just keep plugging away. We have a good thing going here, but weâ€™re not going to go undefeated, thatâ€™s for sure.â€
In their three games prior to the Christmas break, the Wildcats will take on Stonehill, Westfield State, and Franklin Pierce.
Noack is also in a solid position off the ice as well.
He serves as the universityâ€™s community outreach coordinator, as well as the CHAMPS Life Skills Coordinator, which is an NCAA initiative designed to reach each student-athlete based on his or her individual needs. The CHAMPS program focuses on the individual as a whole: academically, athletically, and personally. It also focuses on the changing needs and skills needed in the years during and after college.
â€œWeâ€™re a big community service university here,â€ explained Noack about some of his outreach duties. â€œAlan Sean Feinstein [a Rhode Island philanthropist] donates money to the university, and all of our student athletes are mandated to do some form of community service, upwards to 15-20 hours per person, every year. Iâ€™m out in the community and I find projects for them, whether itâ€™s with Special Olympics, or a local youth hockey program. We do things at elementary schools, also.â€
One of Noackâ€™s off-ice colleagues at Johnson & Wales is also a coaching rival. Lou Izzi, head coach of Nichols College, serves as the Compliance Officer at J&W.
â€œWe talk hockey a lot,â€ Noack said. â€œHeâ€™s a great guy and obviously has a good program.â€