Hawks in the Hunt
Sitting in the middle of the pack right now are the Becker College Hawks, with a 5-5 record that puts them right in the thick of the playoff hunt, which seems to be getting tighter and tighter according to coach Steve Hoar.
â€œI think outside of the big four — Curry, Wentworth, Nichols, and UMass-Dartmouth, and Fitchburg, too — outside of those top five I think itâ€™s going to be a dogfight, a real dogfight, who gets into the playoffs. Weâ€™re all scratching to get in, and thereâ€™s a logjam with the sixth, seventh, and eighth spots.â€
At press time, there was a logjam at the top of the standings, with Curry and Nichols deadlocked at 9-0-0 each, and UMass-Dartmouth right behind at 7-1. Upstart Westfield State is tied for points with Curry, based on their 6-3-2 record, and rounding out the top five is Johnson & Wales. Wentworth and Becker trail J&W by a single point.
Reached while he was making final preparations to take on Curry, Hoar felt that there may only be two spots up for grabs as the season rolls on.
â€œWestfield has had an outstanding season in their first year, just a tremendous season, and my hatâ€™s off to Jerry Keefe,â€ he said. â€œSo thereâ€™s six spots right there, so seventh and eighth are going to be a real dogfight.â€
The Hawks, now in their third season in the ECAC NE, were riding a three game winning streak before facing Curry, and have an overall record of 7-11-0. One thing Hoar has tried to impart on his players in not to take bad penalties, and the results may be showing.
â€œWeâ€™re winning these one goal games because weâ€™re staying out of the box. Weâ€™re playing much more disciplined hockey. Some of the youngsters who are freshmen are getting great experience. Hopefully weâ€™re making continual improvement. We have about eight games left, and hopefully we can get over the .500 mark.â€
One of the freshmen who have really impressed Hoar is forward Brian Murray, listed at 5â€™5â€, 155 lbs.
â€œHe keeps telling me that size doesnâ€™t matter,â€ Hoar stated. â€œHeâ€™s a New Jersey kid, and heâ€™s tough as nails.â€
Murray currently has four goals and four assists, as well as fellow frosh Patrick Bellew. Murray and Bellew arenâ€™t the only freshmen have cracked the line-up, according to Hoar.
â€œTrevor Peltak and Nate Sayer have become regulars in our line-up, along with Rob Johnson, and Kevin Coyne, from Chicago. Iâ€™d those freshmen will be the nucleus of the program down the road. Our league is a terrific league, and a high-school kid canâ€™t just step in and play in our league. Itâ€™s mostly junior [hockey leagues] dominated and over-age freshmen and itâ€™s a solid league and itâ€™s getting better and better.â€
For the Hawks, though, itâ€™s more than just the freshmen pitching in. Upperclassmen are helping as well.
â€œJared Kersnerâ€™s starting to regain where he was a year ago,â€ Hoar said. â€œAnd Mike Caprio at forward, and our mainstay back on defense is Jimmy Ceglarek. A boy that transferred in a year ago and has really come on strong and is a competitive groove is John Nogatch. Heâ€™s really starting to play outstanding hockey.â€
At 6â€™3â€, and 205 lbs., Nogatch forms an imposing figure on the blue line, and brings some offense to his game as well, as evidenced by his five goals and three assists. He formerly played at Division I schools Wayne State and Lake Superior prior to that.
Kersner leads the team in scoring with 6-6-12 in 15 games, and has three goals and three assists in his last four contests. Last year, he led the team in scoring with a point per game average on 15 goals and 10 assists.
One major blow was the loss of freshman goalie Jake Rosenthal, who injured ligaments in the Manhattanville game earlier this month. Fortunately for the Hawks, junior Tony Stoehr has been solid. The Wisconsin native was unbeaten in his last four starts prior to the Curry game, in which the Colonels easily handled the Hawks, 6-1.
Of the remaining eight games Becker has left, three of them are against Curry, Fitchburg and Wentworth. The Hawks have played an aggressive schedule thus far, facing off against non-conference opponents such as Neumann, Brockport, and Manhattanville.
Hoar feels as though his squadâ€™s ready for the homestretch.
â€œItâ€™s all going to come out in the wash in the next couple of weeks where these last two playoff spots are,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™re going to see some outstanding hockey in the Northeast over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully we can sneak up on the Currys and the Wentworths. Weâ€™re hanging around, winning these one goal games, and theyâ€™ve been very competitive.
“Those games could have gone either way. Plymouth State, Suffolk, usâ€¦..weâ€™re all very competitive. Maybe on a given night we can knock off one of the powers, one of the top six, but I think those top six are in there to stay unless they falter down the road, which I donâ€™t see happening.
Westfield Stateâ€™s duo of Dennis Zak (16-19-35) and Pat Nelson (12-18-30) continue to lead the conference in overall scoring. They have both played in 15 games … Zak leads the conference in goal scoring, with Nelson right behind … Nelson leads all freshmen in scoring … Assumptionâ€™s Pat Oâ€™Kane leads the conference with three shorthanded goals … Nicholâ€™s Cole Ruwe is far and away the leading scorer in the league. He has totaled 3-17-20 in 17 games, and is the only blueliner averaging more than a point per game, with 1.18 … Jon Dryjowicz-Burek of UMass-Dartmouth is the only goalie sporting a GAA of under 2.00. The junior owns a stingy 1.98 GAA in 16 ames … Wentworthâ€™s special teams are just that. They lead the way on the power play (31.1%) and the penalty kill (91.4%)… Nichols at Wentworth is a huge game on January 24 as Nichols looks to stay unbeaten while Wentworth can inch closer to the top third of the league with two points … In the Northeast 10, freshman forward Anthony Chighisola from Franklin Pierce leads the scoring race with 11-7-18 in 13 games … Three of Chighisolaâ€™s goals have been game winners … Curryâ€™s Jeff Hazelwood is on a torrid scoring streak, with 15 points in his last five games. Not so coincidentally, Curry is unbeaten in those five games, with a tie followed by four straight wins.