With the playoffs looming, each game has more importance as points become more meaningful.
One team that realizes this is the Fitchburg State Falcons, currently in eighth place, only four points out of fourth place, but also with two teams nipping at their skates.
With four points in their last four games, they now have a total of 11 in the conference, and coach Dean Fuller knows that, for now, that would merit a post-season berth.
â€œWeâ€™re in the playoff hunt,â€ Fuller said. â€œWeâ€™re having a little problem putting the puck in the net, but weâ€™ve played everybody tough, weâ€™ve had a lot of good wins, and I guess weâ€™ll call them some good ties and some bad ties. We have to slug it out every night.â€
One recent tie in which a point was lost came against Worcester State on Jan. 22. The Falcons led 5-2 going into the third period, but allowed three unanswered goals to the Lancers, and the game ended, 5-5, after a scoreless overtime.
Perhaps an example of a â€œgood tieâ€ occurred more recently, when Fitchburg State battled UMass-Dartmouth to a 2-2 draw. Despite the fact they out-shot UMD 51-32, including eight shots on goal in overtime, Fitchburg State couldnâ€™t muster the extra point.
So far, Fuller gives much of the praise to his goalies.
â€œWeâ€™ve really gotten some solid play from our goaltending tandem of Bobby Vorse and Bobby Leiser. Both kids have played very well. Weâ€™re looking for somebody really to take control of the situation and step up to be a true number one, but both kids have played like number oneâ€™s during the course of the season, so Iâ€™m happy with both of them.â€
Both Vorse and Leiser have played in 10 games each. Vorse, a sophomore out of Leominster, MA, has a 4-2-3 record with a 2.19 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, which is second best in the conference. Meanwhile, Leiser, a freshman from New York, is 3-5-1, with a 3.73 GAA and an .887 save pct.
Leading the way offensively is junior forward Andrew Hutton, and his coach is thrilled with his output.
â€œHuttonâ€™s really having a real big year for us,â€ said Fuller. â€œHeâ€™s leading the team in goals  and points  so thatâ€™s been huge for us for him to step up. We lost him last year, three quarters of the way through the season, with a broken wrist, so itâ€™s good to have him back and healthy.â€
Of Huttonâ€™s 13 goals, more than half (seven) of them have come on the power play.
Also atop the scoring for Fitchburg State is sophomore Chris Riggs, who has seven goals and a team leading 13 assists. A couple of seniors are also producing on the offense. â€œBob Kaloustian and Matt Arsenault are not quite having the point production that theyâ€™ve had in the past, but are still giving us solid shifts out there,â€ Fuller stated.
Kaloustian has 5-10-15, and Arsenault is right behind at 6-8-14. Both have played in all 19 games.
Two players have also been having outstanding rookie campaigns, and their coach couldnâ€™t be more pleased:
â€œKris Threlkeld and Thomas McAleer are both very good freshmen. Good speed, good hockey sense. Itâ€™s been nice to have them with us this year.â€
Threlkeld centers the third line, and also sees action on the second power-play unit. He has five goals and seven assists so far; McAleer is the left winger on the second line, and has four goals and six assists. He also sees duty on the power play.
One key loss the Falcons recently suffered was when sophomore forward John Goffredo went down with a season ending ankle injury. As a freshman last year, Goffredo was tied for second in team scoring, and led the squad with six power-play goals.
â€œTo have him out definitely hurts, Fuller lamented.â€
To pick up the slack on offense, Fuller knows others will have to pick up the pace, and he is seeing one player do so already.
â€œOne kid whoâ€™s stepped up and played very well in the second semester, especially over the last four or five games, is Bryan Canter. Heâ€™s a freshman, and heâ€™s had three goals in the last two games.â€
Hopefully for the Falcons, Canter, a native of Alaska, will keep his scoring streak going.
Fuller was quick to also point out that his defense has been held steady thanks to the play of senior Wayne Bonkowski, and sophomores Erik Trahan and Billy Pescosolido.
â€œTheyâ€™ve been doing a great job for us,â€ he concluded.
Fullerâ€™s 25 years of experience has taught him that nothing comes easy in this league when it comes to the post-season:
â€œWeâ€™ve played all of the division leaders such as Nichols and Curry, and we lost to them by a goal. Weâ€™ve got good team speed, I think we can play with anybody in the league. Iâ€™m looking forward to it. I think itâ€™s a real toss-up whoâ€™s going to win this thing when it comes playoff time.â€
Good things keep happening to Nichols. Winners of their last four, including a 3-2 win over Curry in which they trailed by two goals halfway through the game, they now sit alone at the top of the conference with a perfect 12-0-0 record. They are also an impressive 18-2-1 overall and made their first-ever appearance in the USCHO.com Division III men’s poll, entering at No. 14. The Bison return to the ice on Saturday when they host Framingham State … Some history was made in Easton last week. With his three assists in the 8-5 win over Suffolk on Saturday, Brendan O’Brien became the first Stonehill player to reach 100 career helpers. The three point performance also put him into third place on the all-time scoring list with 134 points … Donâ€™t look now, but thatâ€™s Becker sitting alone in fourth place. 7-3 in 2009, the Hawks hope to rebound in their final three games following a recent 10-0 drubbing at the hands of Wentworth … Sophomore forward Joe Hill from UMass-Dartmouth had a hat trick on Wednesday night in an 8-3 win over Salve Regina. His first two goals came 17 seconds apart … Quite a January for Curry forward Jeff Hazelwood: 10 games played, seven goals, 10 assists. He is now second in the conference in scoring, with overall totals of 14-19-33, trailing Westfield Stateâ€™s Dennis Zak, who still leads the way with 16-21-37.