Just one month remains in the regular season. Yup, just four weeks of games left to decide playoff dreams and seeding for conference glory.
Now is the time that all of the coaches are worried about the one thing they hope to control: the outcome of the game their team is playing (and, very likely, secretly — or not so much — checking the scoreboard for the out-of-town scores to see what other teams in the league are doing.) Everyone could use a little help right now as things are very tight in both conferences.
In fact, going into the weekend only three points separate second from eighth in the ECAC East and while the gap was slightly larger in the NESCAC conference, everyone understands that one good or one bad weekend can have a significant impact on your place in the standings.
Many years ago, Leonard Nimoy hosted a science fiction television show called In Search Ofâ€¦ . In his show they attempted to located the Loch Ness Monster and discover the true meaning of Stonehenge, to name but a couple of the episodes. If he hosted the New England hockey version, he could definitely have shows focused on goaltending, consistency, a power play and what every coach is in search of: goals.
Maine Power Outage
â€œItâ€™s probably the nicest rink in New England,â€ stated former ECAC referee Bill Stewart. â€œI had the chance to tour the new rink with Terry [Meagher] after the closing of Dayton Arena a couple of weeks ago and it is spectacular. Itâ€™s a great facility and a great place for the players and the fans.â€
Bill Stewart is referring to the new Sid Watson Arena which opened on January 18 with Bowdoin facing off against Williams. The Polar Bears won the game 8-3 and with the win snapped a four game losing streak that saw the team score just nine goals in the four games played. Following the rink dedication and opening night victory, the team then went on another three game losing streak where they only scored four goals and were shutout at Colby, 1-0.
â€œWe are really having trouble scoring goals,â€ said head coach Terry Meagher. â€œI donâ€™t know if itâ€™s us or whether we are just facing really good goaltending but we are really struggling to put the puck in the net right now and need to figure it out.â€
Headed into this weekendâ€™s play, Bowdoin has lost seven of their last eight games and has looked to the injection of some new blood to jump start the offense. Sophomore forwards Benjamin Higgins and Rudy Luther (one goal) along with freshmen Benjamin Tsujiura (one goal), Thomas DiDonato (one goal) and Trent Blossom have all dressed and played in the past few games as the Polar Bears are looking for goals from any and all sources coming down the home stretch of the season.
Most teams would be delighted with balanced scoring from 18 different players on their roster but one of Bowdoinâ€™s perceived strengths at the beginning of the season was their offense which has recently dried up. Sophomore Kyle Shearer-Hardy leads the team in goals with seven including four on the power play. Junior Colin MacCormack has just five goals and nine assists for 14 points and freshman, Graham Sission leads the team in points with 15 on six goals and nine assists.
Coach Meagher hoped at the beginning of the season that his goaltendersâ€™ save percentage would improve to at least 90%. The good news is that freshman Richard Nerland and senior Nick Smith have done exactly what their coach was looking for, so the Polar Bears will be in search of goals to get the results and confidence needed heading into February.
This weekend Bowdoin returns home against two tough ECAC East opponents in Salem State and Southern Maine. Hopefully the magic from opening night will continue and Bowdoin will regain their offensive prowess in front of the home crowd this weekend.
Spartans on Alert
So you want to find a way to help your team visualize exactly how close things are in the league standings. What do you to make it real? You hang the standings in the locker room for all to see.
â€œWe went out and bought one of those standings boards with magnetic plates labeled for each of the teams,â€ laughed Castleton head coach Alex Todd. â€œAll of the other teams have their names in black and of course we are shown in green so we stand right out on the board.
â€œIt becomes fairly obvious as to where we are and how close things are between all of the teams so we think it will help to keep the kids focused on what we need to do down the stretch. Every Monday my assistant coach changes the standings on the board in the locker room as appropriate so everyone knows how valuable every point is in the standings and how important each game is remaining on the schedule.â€
One thing that coach Todd likes about the remaining schedule is that his team has the opportunity to get points against the teams that they are battling for position in the standings.
â€œI really like our schedule over the last month or so,â€ Todd said. â€œWe play six of our final eight games against teams in our league that are all bunched together and you just know that at the end it is going to come down to one point or a head-to-head tiebreaker. This is really exciting and as a player or coach, everything you could ask for if you want to be competitive and really showcase how good you can be at the important part of the season.â€
The Spartans will be looking for contributions from everyone in order to gain the results they are looking for in trying to move that green nameplate higher on the board in their locker room. Specifically, some of the freshmen will be looked to for more significant contributions on the scoresheet in support of the teamâ€™s overall play.
Goalie Seth McNary has stepped in with exceptional play since the break and backstopped the team to some key wins including their first ever over in-state rival Middlebury by a 2-1 score. Fellow freshmen Jeremy Hilliard (three goals, four points, seven points) and Lindsey Gullett (4-1-5) are being looked to for more production up front to support some of the usual suspects on the Spartans who are getting their fair share of attention from opposing teams.
Sophomore defenseman Omar Pacha leads the team in points with eight goals and 12 assists for 20 total points. Senior Brandon Heck (8-11-19) is second on the team in scoring and has passed the 100 point mark for his career as the leading scorer in Castleton history. Before the end of the season, he will also pass the century mark in games played and is looking to finish his college career with a nice run in March.
â€œWe definitely want to be playing our best hockey in February and hopefully into some games in March,â€ noted Todd. â€œWe have a lot of seniors on the roster so for most this is the end of the line for their hockey careers. Of course I hope we have success for the remainder of the season but one of the things I am most proud of is the fact that all of our seniors — all of the kids from my first class when I took the job here — will be graduating this spring in four years. That is something I am very proud of for our school and our kids and this program.â€
One thing the Spartans would like to do before matriculating is to find a way to move up the standings and play for a conference title in March. The Spartans are on alert — their opponents should be too!
For the coaches who — dubiously — claim not to be scoreboard watching, the joy of the mobile Internet is alive and well in virtually every locker room.
â€œToday the kids are just barely in the locker room and they are already on their mobile phones pulling up the scoreboard to see who won and who lost,â€ said coach Todd, obviously amused. â€œEverybody is into what is going on in all of the games so we just need to focus on our game and weâ€™ll see what happens.â€
Fittingly, all of the fans are doing the same thing. Ditto for the writers. Itâ€™s always a surprise and itâ€™s going to be really exciting right down to the wire.
Drop the puck!