Coach Lou Izzi and the rest of the Nichols College team roared into 2009 much like they finished 2008: winning hockey games. The Bison kicked off the new year by winning the St. Michaelâ€™s Tournament last weekend to extend their winning streak to six, and now boast a conference best 8-0 record, and are 13-1 overall.
Izzi feels the success he and his team are enjoying is the result of yearsâ€™ worth of hard work.
â€œWeâ€™ve been building this for four years,â€ Izzi said, â€œand we obviously had a lot of success last year with 20 wins and we gained valuable experience going to the playoffs and playing in the championship game. We arrived at this season with a much deeper team and veteran leadership, which is something we havenâ€™t had at all in the past.â€
A deep team may be an understatement. Nichols regularly skates four lines, and all six defensemen get healthy amounts of ice time on a nightly basis. Senior goalie Keith Fink is unbeaten with a 10-0-0 record, and his freshman backup, Michael Davis, is 3-1.
The veteran leadership comes from the seniors, all of whom have played since they were freshman. Besides Fink, there are defensemen Cole Ruwe (who leads the team in scoring with three goals, 16 assists, and 19 points in 14 games) and Jeff Beiber and Glen Carcaro. Up front, Anthony Monte and Ryan Gervais are back. Monte is second in team scoring with 6-11-17 in 14 games. Last year, his 51 points led the team and the conference. Monte currently has 70 career assists, and with 10 more can break the record of 79 set by Dave Delmonico, who graduated in 1978.
The winningest coach in Nichols hockey history, Izzi is now in his fifth season behind the bench. In 2007-08, Izzi not only guided the Bison into the ECAC Northeast playoffs for the third straight season, but brought Nichols to the conference championship game, the first time in the programâ€™s history they had advanced that far. The Bison finished with a 20-7-1 overall record, the finest in the programâ€™s long history. Izzi was named the New England Hockey Writers Association/ECAC Northeast Coach of the Year.
The Bison began this season by winning seven straight prior to carving their Thanksgiving turkeys, but dropped game number eight by a deflating 10-0 score to New England College. It wasnâ€™t so much the winning streak Izzi remembers from the first half of the year, but the lesson learned in the NEC rout.
â€œIf you look at that game, it was 1-0 halfway through the game,â€ he said. â€œWe were on a 5-on-3 power play and we turned the puck over and they went down and scored. From that point, we just hung our heads and we stopped competing, and like a good team and well coached team will do to you, they [New England College] sensed an opportunity to drive a stake through our hearts, and they did that.â€
â€œI think that may have been the turning point in our season,â€ Izzi continued, â€œbecause it stung us, and it really made us understand that we have to compete every single shift. We didnâ€™t compete in the last half of that game. It set us up for what we called a â€˜four game seasonâ€™ to finish the first half.
â€œWe had two road games versus Fitchburg and Plymouth which are always difficult road games, and we had Becker and Southern New Hampshire, which is our nemesis. We condensed everything down to a four game season and we went back top the drawing board and were able to extract a lot of things from that New England College game. We were able to rededicate ourselves to our work ethic and competing every shift.â€
The drawing board lesson obviously was paid attention to as Nichols traveled to Plymouth State and won 5-3, and followed that up with a win at home over Becker, 3-0.
Next up was a win over Fitchburg, and then came their nemesis, SNHU. Izzi feels that he learned something about his squadâ€™s character in that contest.
â€œWe hadnâ€™t beaten them in 20 years,â€ said Izzi. â€œAnd for as long as Iâ€™ve been here, every time we play them it always seems as though the weirdest things happen and they just have our number. We came out really fired up for that game, and we found ourselves down 3-1 eight minutes in. We could have said â€˜here we go againâ€™ but we really came together and with the veteran leadership they wouldnâ€™t let the guys come unraveled and we ended up beating them over the last 50 minutes, 7-2.â€
Izzi is very pleased with the group heâ€™s coaching right now.
â€œWeâ€™ve got a combination of a good mixture of upper class presence and very good players in our freshmen and sophomore classes. When our goaltending is at least consistent, weâ€™re a tough team to beat. Weâ€™ve got a very, very challenging schedule the rest of the way.â€
The Bison will encounter four more conference games this month, with road games against Franklin Pierce, Johnson & Wales, and Wentworth, followed by a home game against Curry on January 31.
While Izzi is certainly not overlooking Franklin Pierce, he knows that the other three contests will be emotional games. Curry currently sits in second place in the conference, also with an unbeaten record at 8-0.
â€œWe know that every game is a dogfight and weâ€™re going to get the best from everyone that we see,â€ Izzi said. â€œI think this is by far the best team Iâ€™ve ever had, up and down the line-up. Weâ€™ll see if we can keep it going, but I keep telling the guys that every night wee play, weâ€™re going to have a big bulls-eye on our back!â€
News and Notes
The Bison had a roster change over the break. Joining the team is goalie Jacob Rinn, who was a first-team All-State selection in Rhode Island last year for Tollgate High School. Departing is freshman forward Billy Sabia, who transferred to Salve Regina, where he hopes to get more ice time … Ruwe leads all defensemen in overall scoring in the conference, with 19 points and a 1.36 points per game average … Westfield Stateâ€™s duo of Dennis Zak and Pat Nelson lead the conference in overall scoring. Zak, a sophomore, has tallied 14-12-26 and the freshman Nelson isnâ€™t far behind with 8-16-24. Both have played in a dozen games … Jon Dryjowicz-Burek, from UMass-Dartmouth, leads the conference in overall goals against average with a stingy 1.76. He is the only goalie currently with a sub-2.00 average … Most potent power play right now belongs to Wentworth. They have scored an eye-catching 20 goals on 60 attempts (33%) … Games to watch include Manhattanville taking on Curry in a non-conference tilt on Saturday in Milton. On the same day, Westfield State travels to Fitchburg State and UMass- Dartmouth hosts Assumption.