With five points separating the top three teams in the ECAC Northeast, itâ€™s obvious that this race is going right down to the final buzzer. Right at the top of the pile is Curry College, one point behind front runner Nichols, and coach Rob Davies is happy with where they are at this juncture.
â€œIf we end up in first, Iâ€™ll be happy,â€ Davies said. â€œIf we end up in second, Iâ€™ll be fine with that, too. Weâ€™re just more concerned about how weâ€™re playing right now and trying to get to a certain level of consistency that weâ€™re happy with.â€
Currently riding a five game winning streak, and with a record of 10-1-1 in their last 12 games, the Colonels seem to be peaking at the right time. Davies is happy with what heâ€™s seen during this streak.
â€œI think the win against Suffolk [4-0 Curry win] was a pretty thorough job on our part. I though the game against Johnson and Wales, a 3-2 win, even though it was a close game, score-wise, we were pleased with the sixty minute effort the kids gave us.â€
Perhaps last yearâ€™s early exit to Fitchburg State in the playoffs still weighs on Daviesâ€™ mind.
â€œEight teams are going to make the playoffs,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™d like to have home ice advantage for as long as you possibly can, but we had home ice advantage last year, and we got bounced in the quarterfinals. I think the most important thing is youâ€™ve got to be comfortable with your game, regardless of where youâ€™re playing.â€
One player on the Colonels who is comfortable in any rink is senior Jeff Hazelwood. The senior leads the team in scoring with 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in just 24 games. He has scored five goals and added three assists during his teamâ€™s five game winning streak.
Davies feels his overall stats could be even more prolific.
â€œHeâ€™s having a good year, I think heâ€™d have more points if our power play wasnâ€™t as anemic as it is.â€
Despite being ranked seventh in the conference with a 20.8% success rate on the power play, Hazelwood has still scored six goals while a man up.
Davies has also been fortunate to have some freshmen step right in and contribute.
Forwards John Williams and Payden Benning are both having a good rookie campaigns. Williams is second on the team in scoring, with 15-13-28 in 24 games, and Benning has 7-15-22 in that same time.
Another freshman who has performed admirable while putting up with a nagging hip injury is Michael Guzzo, who has put up 11-10-21 in 24 games. Freshman defenseman Ryan Barlock has been a stand-out, adding seven goals and nine assists in 22 games. Defenseman Jonathan Miller, a fellow rookie, has also played well overall while adding some offense with one goal and eight assists.
Davies is aware that with all of the youth his team possesses, you still need some veterans.
â€œWeâ€™re having good leadership from our senior class,â€ explained Davies. â€œJeremy Hmura, whoâ€™s our captain, is having a solid senior year. Jason Tarbell, who is a defenseman, is having a solid senior year. Weâ€™re happy with that.â€
Both seniors have contributed 14 points each so far this year.
Two juniors who have played a major role in Curryâ€™s success are forwards Ross Enmark and Sean Sylvester. Enmark is third on the team in scoring, with 11-15-26, but in only 18 games, due to missing the early part of the season due to injury.
Davies is impressed with how Enmark responded when back in the line-up.
â€œEnmark missed the first six games to injury, and he’s a point and a half a game guy. Heâ€™s really come on. Itâ€™s not an easy thing to miss the first portion of a season and then pick it up, but heâ€™s done a good job, and he deserves credit.â€
Davies is also impressed with Sylvesterâ€™s versatility.
â€œHeâ€™s played a lot of different roles for us. He kills penalties, weâ€™ve had him on the power play a little bit. He works hard, and he centers a line with Hazelwood. He does a lot of the work that goes unnoticed,â€ his coach remarked.
Sylvester currently has 8-11-19, with half of his goals on special teams (two on the power play, and two shorthanded.)
One area in which Davies is extremely pleased with is his goaltending.
Junior Steve Jakiel and Zach Cardella are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the conference in winning percentage. While Jakiel has played slightly more and sports a 10-2-2 record, Cardella has posted a very respectable 7-2-0 mark.
â€œThe goaltending has been solid for us. Theyâ€™ve given us a pretty good opportunity to win every night,â€ Davies stated.
Curryâ€™s record is even more impressive when you realize they have been without the senior leadership, and offense, of James Pentecost, who was lost for the season when he suffered a serious knee injury against Middlebury on January 3. His coach knows what a valuable player he was.
â€œA real good senior for us. He could have very easily been an assistant captain this year. He had 10 points in 10 games. He tore his ACL and his MCL. That was a tough, tough, tough loss because Jimmy knew how to play on the ice, and he was battle tested over the years. He was a great guy in the locker room, and just a great citizen at Curry College. It was a huge loss. We always put his jersey in his stall, or would bring it on the road.â€
Prior to the Senior Night festivities, Davies had an idea he wanted to put forth involving Pentecost, who is slated to have surgery on his knee next week.
â€œLast night, we had him dress for the warm-ups. He was moved to tears when I asked him if he could go in the warm-up, just go out there and take a few shots. His parents came all the way from Marquette, Michigan, and drove down, so it was really moving, during the whole ceremony.â€
Pentecost recently put some of his free time to good use when he went to see Travis Roy speak. In 1995, Roy was a Boston University skater who 11 seconds into his first shift as a freshman cracked his fourth vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Davies recalls being asked his thoughts on seeing Roy.
â€œHe asked me about it, and I strongly suggested that he definitely go in and listen to Travis talk. He came back so inspired by Travis and his message that he almost felt embarrassed that he was having a hard time getting over his predicament.â€
Curry has also lost freshmen Tommy Monteiro (broken hand) and Taylor Morgan and Bryan Kriner have been out following concussions.
All Davies can focus on now, though, is the players in his line-up, and he thinks some good hockey lies ahead.
â€œItâ€™s going to be exciting down the stretch. Our league is up for grabs. Weâ€™ll sort out the last playoff spots. Thereâ€™s some good hockey going on now, and jockeying for the last playoff spots. Weâ€™ll sort out probably five through eight. The top four have been determined, maybe not the order, yet.â€
All one can do now is watch the games, because this race will go to the finish line, with Nichols and Curry each having one game to play. If Curry wins their final game against Assumption, and Nichols loses to Western New England College, the Colonels will end the season in first place; otherwise Nichols will take the regular season title and earn the top seed in the playoffs.
Fourteenth ranked Nichols College set a school record for wins in a season with its 21st victory of the season, a 3-1 triumph over UMass-Dartmouth on Wednesday night â€¦ Despite Curryâ€™s woes on the power play, they have the best penalty killing in the league, with an 89.5% kill rate â€¦ The Colonels also lead the way with eight shorthanded goals â€¦Wentworth has the most effective power play, scoring 28.2% of the time while a man up â€¦ Suffolkâ€™s Kyle Cook has 11 points in his last five games. For his efforts, he has been the ECAC NE Player of the Week the last two weeks â€¦Curryâ€™s Hazelwood has a shot at the league scoring title, but he remains three points behind Dennis Zak of Westfield State. Both have one game to play â€¦ Freshman forward Joe Sullivan of Johnson & Wales will end up leading the league in game-winning goals. He currently has six, and has three mores chance to add to his impressive total.