Players buying in brings the change Western New England needed

A cursory glance at Western New England’s record (3-2-1 after a wild, 7-6 loss to No. 11 Manhattanville on Tuesday), supports the notion that WNEC isn’t the doormat of the ECAC Northeast anymore.

The three wins match the total from all of last season, and offer the program a chance of breaking the 10-win plateau, something Western New England hasn’t done since the 1999-2000 season.

But one moment from last Thursday’s thrilling upset win in overtime against conference powerhouse Curry offers tangible evidence to back the improved win-loss record.

That night’s starting goalie, T.J. Fatse, developed muscle cramps early in the third period and gave way to freshman Eric Sorenson. In and of itself, the change seems rather routine, but again, the background offers a glimpse at the changes in the program since second-year coach Greg Heffernan took over.

“That right there shows what we’ve been trying to build here,” Heffernan said after the 6-5 win over the Colonels. “I just talked to [Fatse] and I said to him is the thing I admire most is that you didn’t try to play through and give up a goal, you came in and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got another guy on the bench who’s a fantastic freshman goalie. I’m cramped up and I can’t go.'”

Sorenson is just one of 16 freshman on Western New England this year. That, coupled with reinforcing the program’s culture in the older players, has brought about a wave of changes.

“It’s a whole slew of things,” said forward Chris Beaudoin, the team’s lone senior who scored the winning goal versus Curry, when asked about the changes from last season to this. “We worked hard last year but we’re working harder this year. We don’t like losing and we want to win this year.”

Of course, an infusion of talent doesn’t hurt, either. Sorenson has appeared in all five games, with four starts. Freshman Chris Connors and John Kelly have six points each thus far, while classmates Brian Prost, Trent Krueger, and Dan Monahan check in with four.

Junior and captain Kory Grahl has upped his point a game pace from last season, checking in with nine thus far.

“They’re obviously a better skilled team then they had been in recent years,” said Curry coach Rob Davies, whose team trounced Western New England 13-2 in the opening round of the conference playoffs last year and hadn’t lost to WNEC since the last day of the 2001 season. “But more important then that, they played with a lot of enthusiasm and energy.”

While the early going of the season has been stressful for Heffernan at times (WNEC has gone into overtime in three of its first five games), he has already developed an affinity for his team.

“I love our guys. Absolutely love them,” he said. “I’d lay down in front of traffic for them. They’ve bought into what we want to do. [But] we’ve got a lot of work to do yet.”

There is still work to be done, evidenced by Sunday’s 7-2 loss to Wentworth, where the Leopards turned nine power plays into three goals. And the Golden Bears have several tough non-conference opponents down the road, highlighted by No. 9 Geneseo on Jan. 13.

But if the right attitude continues to permeate on the ice, then the results should follow.

“I’m really happy about more to the attitude of our guys and the team-first attitude that our guys have right now,” Heffernan said. “I’m sure we’ll hit some lower points in the season, but right now I’m really excited.”