This week weâ€™ll focus on the NESCAC from top to bottom and a couple of stops in the middle of the standings as things are heating up in conference play and one school begins a new era with the opening of their new campus rink.
Next week weâ€™ll repeat the favor with an ECAC East conference exclusive and then it will be focusing on all of the key match-ups and team happenings in February that will lead up to the playoffs in both conferences.
Right now things are tight in both conferences with just five points separating top to bottom in the ECAC East and seven points separating one through eight in the NESCAC conference. One point also separates the top four teams in the standings and things are definitely heating up.
Ironically, this weekâ€™s travel partner match-ups showcased a lot of similarities among the teams and just how close the competition is in the conference regardless of the match-up or venue.
Lord Jeffs Winning with Defense
At the top of the standings, tied with Middlebury, Jack Arenaâ€™s Amherst squad has been successful by taking care of the defensive end first.
â€œI really like this group,â€ said head coach Arena. â€œFrom the blueline back the kids have really played well this year. We have done an exceptional job of taking care of the puck in our end. The defensemen are making good decisions with the puck and the goaltending from both our guys has been terrific.â€
How good has it been for Amherst? Through their first 11 games the team has surrendered just 17 goals. Both Jonathan Larose and Cole Anderson have goals against averages under 2.00 and save percentages above .920. Most teams would consider themselves very fortunate to have one goalie playing so well and posting numbers like Arenaâ€™s tandem in net.
â€œThat will win you a lot of hockey games,â€ observed Arena. â€œItâ€™s great having the two guys to go to. As good as Jonathan has been, and he had a great weekend last weekend, Cole has been over the top all year. If the offense starts kicking in a little more and we continue to play solid in the back half, I like our chances against anyone.â€
Before last weekendâ€™s games at UMass-Boston and Babson (both solid wins for Amherst), the offense had only generated 19 goals in their first eight games and were shutout twice by identical 1-0 scores in the Doug Roberts tournament. Last week, the Lord Jeffs broke out with 13 goals in two games and beat Hamilton, 3-1, on Tuesday night for a solid win that moved them into a tie for first place.
â€œI would certainly like to see more production from some of our guys,â€ Arena said. â€œTwo of our freshmen, Mark Colp and Eddie Effinger, have contributed nicely and Joel Covelli just got his first of the season last weekend which hopefully will get him going. Joel is kind of symbolic of how it has gone. Guys are playing well and getting chances, we just donâ€™t have a lot of big goal totals right now. We are getting chances from guys who can score goals, it will be nice to see them getting some bounces and breaks with some of the shots going in more frequently.â€
One of the players whose numbers would actually be even better with a little puck luck is senior defenseman Jeff Landers. Landers posted three assists in Tuesdayâ€™s win and now has three goals and seven assists for 10 points on the season. The defenseman also has a knack for scoring big goals already this season as two of his tallies have been game winners and the third goal a game tying score.
â€œJeff has been outstanding this year,â€ noted Arena. â€œI canâ€™t imagine many playing better this year. His play has been terrific in our end with great decision making and passing. I am sure he would have more points if we finished a little better on the other end but he has been very focused and provides great leadership for this team with the way he carries himself on the ice. He has been a big part of our early success this season.â€
This weekend, Amherst travels to Salem State and Southern Maine for two key conference games on the road. Currently, the Lord Jeffs are 3-1-0 away from the friendly confines and their coach believes that is a sign of a mature team that may benefits later in the season.
â€œIt has been nice to have some success on the road,â€ said Arena. â€œAbsolutely, itâ€™s a confidence booster that the kids can build on as we play into late January and February. I donâ€™t think in their minds it matters where we play and come playoff time that can be very helpful.â€
Amherst has been in this position before over the past several seasons. The difference this year is that they are not as reliant on a potent offense or power play to win games for them and they are apparently comfortable jumping on the bus to play out of town. They say defense and goaltending wins championships — Amherst is showcasing both right now and hopes to carry the momentum at mid-season into February where it really counts.
Cardinals Down but Not Out
I said it would be a top to bottom piece on NESCAC and Wesleyan, while currently in tenth place, certainly has competed hard but does not have the results yet to show for it.
Tuesday night, the Cardinals lost to Trinity by a 2-0 score with both goals coming in the third period — a pattern that has repeated itself all season.
â€œWe really compete hard,â€ said head coach Chris Potter. â€œWe have been in most of our games through the first two periods but seem to lose our energy in the third and thatâ€™s been enough to not post the results we need to get. We have talent on this team and really need to start seeing some pucks go in the net. We are getting chances but we havenâ€™t been scoring goals and our power play has not been very good so far this year. I expect to see improvement from off our experienced guys in that area.â€
Coach Potterâ€™s third period woes are backed up in the stats. Wesleyan has been outshot by opponents 135 to 89 and outscored 16 to 5. Moreover, freshman Tom Salah is tied for the team lead in points with five while junior Jeff Beck leads in goals with three. The team has scored only 16 goals in 11 games to date, so the offense will be a key area of focus for the Cardinals if they want to challenge for a playoff berth in the remaining games.
â€œNobody is down on this team,â€ noted Potter. â€œWe know we are in a difficult spot but we are not out of it at this point of the season and we have played well but need to finish games if we want to get any points and move up in the standings.â€
The road up the standings starts this week on the road at St. Anselmâ€™s and New England College, both of whom are coming off a good weekend against Bowdoin and Colby.
â€œItâ€™s really about focusing on Friday night,â€ noted Potter. â€œPlaying hard, making good decisions and scoring some goals — win a shift, win a period and playing for the full 60 minutes. We arenâ€™t out of it but we need to get some points now. As tight as the league has been, if we can get on a roll, we can be right in the thick of it so this weekend will be important.â€
Wesleyan is only two points out of eighth and as tight as the league is, a little scoreboard watching might also help keep things tight and the Cardinals in the mix.
Bantams Scoring Bonanza
At the beginning of the season, head coach Dave Cataruzolo knew that his defending NESCAC champion squad had a solid nucleus that included some hard working players, good defense and terrific goaltending. The challenge was thought to be the offense, where a lot of hard work and shots didnâ€™t always translate into goals on the scoreboard last season.
â€œIf I am surprised by anything at this point in the season it is our offensive production so far,â€ admitted Cataruzolo. â€œI really thought this would be a work in progress this year and that we would develop offensively but I didnâ€™t think we would have scored over 50 goals as a team at the halfway mark of the season.â€
Through their first 11 games of the season, Trinity has scored 52 goals (almost five per game) which will certainly help any defensive unit and goaltender feel pretty good about their chances. Eight different players have four or more goals this season showcasing the Bantams balance and depth up front and offensive firepower from the defensive group.
Riding a six game winning streak, Trinity has outscored opponents 35-11 over that stretch, including Tuesdayâ€™s 2-0 shutout over Wesleyan at home.
â€œItâ€™s been great that the offense is playing well and that our production has been good and balanced so far,â€ stated Cataruzolo. â€œThat said there is still room for improvement in other areas with this team. I know we can be better in our all-around game including the defensive end of the ice. I still think our best hockey is in front of us and if we keep up our work ethic we can definitely be playing our best at the right time of the year.â€
At 5-2-0 in the league, Trinity sits tied for third just one point from the top spot. A key match-up this Friday is at New England College where the Bantams would like to improve their road record to match their 4-1-0 start at home.
Bowdoin Set To Open Watson Arena
Itâ€™s the end of an era on Friday night as Bowdoin College will close out their playing days at Dayton Arena against Middlebury, before opening a new era with the dedication of Sid Watson Arena on Sunday afternoon and a game against Williams to christen the new barn.
â€œDayton had that special hockey atmosphere about it,â€ stated Bowdoin alum and current Trinity coach Dave Cataruzolo. â€œWhen you walked in the building you just knew you were there for something that involved hockey right in the middle of the campus. It had a unique atmosphere with the wood beamed ceiling and it was a great place to play. In some ways itâ€™s tough to see it go but it is also really exciting having the new facility to build new memories and traditions at Bowdoin.â€
The Polar Bears will be glad to be home in any rink after suffering two difficult losses last weekend at New England College and St. Anselmâ€™s.
â€œThatâ€™s hockey,â€ stated head coach Terry Meagher. â€œThereâ€™s really nothing I can say except that we played very well and just got beat by two well-coached teams that played very well. I was very pleased with the effort by our team and if we play at that level consistency we will win our share of games.â€
The in-season closing/opening for Dayton and â€œThe Sidâ€ mirrors the format of coach Meagherâ€™s alma mater BU when it closed Walter Brown one night and opened Agganis Arena the second night of the weekend against Minnesota a couple of years back.
â€œIt has been just crazy around here this week,â€ stated Meagher. â€œThere is so much to do and so many past players and alumni that are excited about the end of the Dayton era and the opening of our beautiful new arena that has many features that make it really unique to Bowdoin.â€
The players, coaches and students on campus may need the day in between both events to catch their collective breaths — and definitely send out the old and welcome in the new with victories.
The NESCAC season is heating up and thereâ€™s a new barn to enjoy the remainder of the season in.
Drop the puck!