For a team top-heavy with freshmen, coach RJ Tolan has the Wentworth Leopards firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt, with an eye on getting home-ice advantage.
Reached while preparing his squad for an important game against the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, the third year coach offered thinks “[i]t’s going all right. We have a young group, and we’re hoping the best is yet to come.”
With an overall record of 11-7-1, the Leopards recently eclipsed the 10 win mark for the 12th straight season. Tied for fourth place, and winners of their last three games, Tolan and his players are aware of where they are in the playoff hunt right now, but have their eyes on the bigger picture.
“Our goal is to try to get home ice in the playoffs to give us the best opportunity once we get there,” Tolan said.
Wentworth currently has a conference record of 8-3-1, and has five league games remaining. The other team sharing fourth place with them is Westfield State, and they have played 14 games with three remaining, one of which is against Wentworth on Tuesday, February 17.
Becker is also in the fight for home-ice advantage, one point behind Wentworth, and with two conference games to play; while Fitchburg State has three games left, all of which are on the road. Another team vying for home ice is Johnson & Wales. The Wildcats still have five games remaining. One of them is against Wentworth, with others against Curry and UMass-Dartmouth.
Both Fitchburg State and Johnson & Wales are two points behind Wentworth in the crowded contest for home ice.
With such a young club, Tolan knows he needs to turn to the veterans to help bring along the youngsters, and he knows he can count on many of his seniors.
“Joey Sides and Greg Demerjian have gone above and beyond what I can ask of those two guys,” he said.
Tolan made sure to also mention two others who have helped with the youth movement.
“He doesn’t have the stats to show it, but we have another senior on the ice quite a bit in Derek Rupert. He’s on the ice in every situation and people kind of overlook him because he’s not a huge point-getter, but he’s been instrumental in helping the younger guys. He and Michael O’Brien have been very big for us in terms of that transition with that younger group to help us get to the point where we’re competing against everyone we play.”
One key cog amongst the slew of newcomers is forward Skylur Jameson, who leads the team in scoring with 12 goals, 21 assists, and 33 points in just 19 games played.
“Our leading scorer, and he’s a freshman. You don’t plan on that, but it’s nice when it happens,” Tolan chuckled.
Right behind Jameson with 32 points is junior forward Jeff Olitch. His 16 goals leads the team, and Tolan felt it was all about finding the right line-mates for him, as he is now skating with Jameson and freshman Casey Shade, who is third in team scoring with 8-16-24.
“Now that he’s playing with a couple of players that complement his game, they can be pretty effective when they want to be.”
The line recently combined for 11 out of 29 points in a 10-0 win over Becker.
One of the youngsters on defense who is also proving he has some offensive punch is Alan Dionne, with has put up an impressive stat line of 4-14-18 so far this season.
“He’s an athletic kid,” Tolan said, “and he’s just an unbelievable competitor. The same as those other young guys, he’s just stepped right in, and he battles every game.
With Alan, we have quite a few freshmen in the line up every night, so there is a little bit of a learning curve, but we’re just trying to get ourselves playing as well as possible going down the stretch here into the playoffs.”
One reason for Wentworth’s success has been the consistent play of goalie Justin Marriott. The junior has played all but 44 minutes so far this year, and has an 11-7-3 record and a 2.67 goals against average.
Tolan is understandably very pleased with his goalie’s performance thus far.
“He’s been steady for us all year. He’s played every game, for the most part, since I got to the school three years ago. He’s second all time in career shutouts now. Justin gives us a chance to win every night.”
Wentworth lost a pair of sophomores to injuries earlier in the year. Defensemen Jeff Fedyk suffered a season-ending concussion just nine games in and forward Phil Cyr has been bothered by knee problems during the season.
Three other sophomores have also played key roles for the Leopards, and have helped fill the void left by the injuries to their classmates.
Forward Geric Brodt Tolan believes is “maturing and getting used to the level of college hockey and being able to be effective. He’s got all the tools, and he’s certainly starting to get it done for us now. He’s doing a good job.”
Sophomore forward Tyler Medeiros and defenseman Kyle Richardson have helped pick up the slack, and Tolan realizes that they’re key cogs in his young squad.
“It’s a younger group. We’re just trying to get a little better each week, each game, and give ourselves an opportunity. We’ve all worked hard, it’s just a matter of learning through having a few ups and downs during the year and hope you can be better in the playoffs.”
With UMass-Dartmouth looming, Tolan knows a big test awaits his young team.
“We’re a blue collar group of kids. We want to keep getting better, we have a tough stretch of games here. We’ll try to hold on to home ice here. We’ll try to climb the ladder, and we’ll see how it goes.”
For those of you who are ambitious enough, you could easily take in two league games on Saturday and on Monday, as there are afternoon and evening games scheduled on both days … Jameson has a shot as being the league’s leading freshman scorer. He trails Westfield State’s Pat Nelson (13-22-35) by one point. Jameson has one game in hand, and both freshmen will face off against each other on Tuesday … With 4.89 goals per game, Wentworth has the strongest offense in the conference … Wentworth also boasts the strongest power play in the conference, with a 27.8% success ratio … Sophomore Derek Zak not only leads the conference in scoring with 17-16-43, but the Westfield State center has at least one point in each of his 20 games. He also has 10 multiple-point games this year … With a win Saturday afternoon at Suffolk, No. 13 Nichols can tie the school mark for most victories. They are currently 19-2-0. And they could conceivably break the record with a win at home Sunday night versus Assumption … Homes-sweet-homes: Wentworth plays their home games at Matthews Arena, which is the long-time home of Division I’s Northeastern University. Both teams have a collective record of 13-4-2 this year at the nation’s oldest arena.