A Fresh Slate
The start of the new year not only brings heaps of unfilled resolutions, but also signals the rebirth of Division III college hockey after a three week slumber. With most of the MASCAC idle last weekend and the ECAC Northeast and NESCAC engaging in mostly non-conference games, the true grind has yet to begin. But before that starts, let’s take a look at four teams that certainly enjoyed the latter part of 2009.
With all but one team boasting a .500 overall record, the NESCAC has been tightly packed for the opening months of the season, nicely evidenced by Williams and Bowdoin currently tied for first with eight points a piece.
Williams (4-0-1 in conference play, 6-0-1 overall) is ranked No. 10 in the latest USCHO.com Division III poll, but things are just getting started for head coach Bill Kangas.
“We just got together Saturday night after being off for a while,” Kangas said. “We’re excited about getting back intro practice and playing again. We realize there’s a lot coming up.”
The Ephs have ridden the strong goaltending duo of sophomore Ryan Purdy (1.74 goals against average) and senior Marc Pulde (0.74) thus far. With each netminder playing well, it’s led to a timeshare situation for Kangas, something he didn’t seem to mind.
“It goes day to day,” he said of making a decision on who to start. “We make sure they are healthy and just communicate with them. It’s worked out pretty well to this point.”
With each goalie playing so well, it’s no surprise that Williams boasts the top ranked defense in the conference, along with the second ranked penalty kill. While there’s still a lot of games left, Kangas isn’t in any rush to look too far ahead.
“Honestly, we’re just focusing on tomorrow’s practice,” he said. “We don’t get to high or too low. Even the practices coming back from break, the first was OK, and during the double session [Sunday] we were better at the end of the day.”
Bowdoin starts the new year tied with Williams after finishing sixth with an 8-9-2 conference mark (11-12-2 overall) last season.
The Polar Bears have gotten a boost offensively from freshman Daniel Weiniger, who leads the team in scoring and is the second leading scorer (seven goals, three assists, 10 points) in NESCAC play. Four of those tallies have come on Bowdoin’s fourth ranked power play, which places the freshman second in the conference. Junior Kyle Shearer-Hardy leads all NESCAC defenseman with a 4-6-10 line.
Like their counterparts atop the NESCAC standings, the Polar Bears have enjoyed solid goaltending up to this point. Sophomore Richard Nerland (2.49 GAA) has seen the majority of the time in net.
A short drive across New England reveals another tightly contested conference race in the MASCAC, where Salem State holds a one point lead over Westfield State.
The Vikings jumped out to a 5-1-1 start, its best in six years, highlighted by a strong showing at the College of St. Scholastica Tournament on Nov. 27 and 28.
In the opening game, Salem State took then-eighth ranked St. Scholastica to overtime before falling, 4-3. However, they closed the tournament with a 3-0 whitewashing over the 2008 national champions and previously top ranked St. Norbert Green Knights.
“We were strong in both games,” Salem State coach Bill O’Neill said. “[In the] overtime loss we played really and well and the second night it was a solid game all over.”
The Vikings play in the tournament earned praise from Green Knights head coach Tim Coghlin.
â€œThey blocked a ton of shots and they are a good team,â€ Coghlin told USCHO.com after the game. â€œ[Oâ€™Neill] has been doing this for a long time and there some things that are very unique to the way they play. They were playing with a real level of enthusiasm and that showed today. I thought they were the better team.â€
When describing his team’s style, O’Neill called it “up tempo.”
“We try to pressure the puck really hard and play good defense,” he said. “We pressure the puck in all the zone with a good forecheck and good pursuit. If there’s an opportunity to stretch the ice, we’re looking to take that.”
But Salem State has gotten solid goaltending from Ryan Lacour as well.
After spending two seasons as a backup behind All-Conference goalie Ryan Hatch, Lacour has provided the Vikings with a more then adequate replacement for the leagueâ€™s top goaltender a year ago. The junior turned away all 31 shots in the win over St. Norbert and his 2.82 GAA ranks second in the conference.
“James is a hard worker and a solid competitor,” O’Neill said. “He’s come in and taken the job over and played virtually every game, until getting hurt a few games ago.”
While he isn’t sure how long Lacour will be out, O’Neill said the Viking are trying to solidify the goaltending spot.
“We’re looking for a goalie, so if someone is interested, call me,” he said laughing.
Westfield State is in second year in existence as a varsity program after a 20 year hiatus.
They posted a more than respectable 11-9-4 overall record a year ago, but first year head coach Bob Miele has the Owls in the thick of things this season.
“Guys are really buying in, it’s kind of a continuation of last year,” Miele said of the groundwork laid by last season’s coach Jerry Keefe, who helped bring the program back to varsity level before joining Brown as an assistant coach last fall.
Balanced scoring and solid goaltending have been the keys to success for the Owls.
“We’re very well balanced,” Miele said, pointing to the fact that the Owls’ top three lines have scorers ranging between six and 13 points. “It’s a team effort and guys understand that. That’s why we’re so successful. You have to look out for the whole team or the other line is going to hurt you.”
Keeping with the theme of teamwork, the Owls have had a virtual split in net time between sophomore Ian Wilson (50.6 percent) and junior Ray Monroe (49.4).
“It’s been unreal,” Miele said. “It’s been a good problem to have, having to great goaltenders. It’s a friendly competition but on the same note, they are team guys.”
The Owls, who Miele described as playing a puck possession type of game, are looking to avoid a repeat to the conclusion of last season.
“Last year, we had a great start as well,” Miele said. “We didn’t finish like we would have like too. We’re well aware of that and we know we have to keep working harder to hit our peak at the end of the season.”
While the MASCAC has another week until conference play starts up, the tightly bunched NESCAC gets back at it this weekend.
Bowdoin will host St. Michael’s and Norwich, while third place Tufts hosts Babson and UMass-Boston. Williams will host rival Amherst and then Hamilton to close out the weekend.
“Amherst beat us last year, so this is kind of a payback game,” Kangas said. “Every game becomes big,” he said. “Head-to-head is factor, so it almost becomes an eight point weekend.”
As for his schedule next weekend, Kangas is sticking to his day by day approach. Literally.
“I know we have two away games, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you who we are playing.”
Time to wrap it up with some non-Division III thoughts. Feel bad for Wes Welker — it’s got to kill him to sit the playoffs out … Bill Hall will be a sneaky good addition for the Red Sox. Good week for Northeastern, my alma mater. Men’s hockey knocked off Dartmouth and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell to capture a tournament trophy (No, not that one.) And men’s basketball has won five straight, including knocking off VCU at home for the second straight year. The Rams might want to consider shipping up to Boston a bit more, as the Huskies are the only team to win at Richmond in VCU’s last 23 games. NU hosts George Mason Thursday, who was Bemijdii State before anyone knew who Bemijdii State was. And don’t forget women’s hockey, who shutout Princeton Tuesday and is ranked ninth in the country heading into Friday’s outdoor showdown at Fenway Park with UNH.
Finally, any suggestions, comments, or “Where’s your Beanpot?” chants can be directed to [email protected].