Wentworth team rallies from slow start

With the first semester rapidly coming to a close, college freshman are beginning to get a taste of the torturous process known as finals week.

However, for a young Wentworth Institute of Technology hockey team, the first test has already come and gone. The Leopards started the year 1-3-1, but have since rattled off a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) to jump atop the ECAC Northeast. They’re assured of being there to start the New Year, as only nonconference matchups exist throughout the league before the end of the semester.

With only seven upperclassman on the roster, it was only natural for the young Leopards to experience a bit of a learning curve to start the season.

“At any point, we had 13 or 14 fourteen kids that hadn’t played more then two or three college hockey games,” said Wentworth coach RJ Tolan. “When there’s that many new guys trying to figure out how to contribute and bring something to the team, it takes a little bit of time.”

With the short amount of practice time allowed by the NCAA prior to the season, many freshman and inexperienced players are forced to learn on the fly in the the early going. Wentworth only lost five seniors from last year’s team that went 20-5-1 overall and captured the ECAC Northeast regular season title, but two of them were leading goal scorer Jeff Olitch and the program’s all-time winningiest goalie Jeff Marriott

“It’s good for the new kids to to get the feel for what it takes to win a college hockey game,” Tolan said. “Really for us, it was a maturing process for the younger kids, [and] gelling with the older guys that have won a little bit here.”

Leading the 12-player freshman class has been goalie Chris Azzano and forward Cory Lillie, who were honored as conference goalie and rookie of the week, respectively, by the ECAC Northeast.

Lillie has played in seven of Wentworth’s first nine games, checking in with five goals and five assists, good for third on the team. Azzano, meanwhile, stepped in for injured starter Michael Jarboe in the midst of Wentworth’s 4-3 loss to Johnson and Wales on Nov. 17. Tolan said Jarboe has a torn groin, and the coaching staff is unsure when he will return.

However, Azzano’s play has more than compensated for the loss of the sophomore, as he has posted a 1.73 GAA and a .937 save percentage while not losing a single start in net.

“He’s given us a chance to win; he worked hard and kept himself prepared,” Tolan said of his freshman netminder. “When he got the chance, he took it and ran with it.”

With only a nonconference matchup with Stonehill Thursday night standing between an almost three-week break, Wentworth is in a good spot as the final games of 2010 come to a close.

“It’s been a great group of kids,” Tolan said. “It’s been one of the best locker rooms I’ve had. I think we’ll be OK. There will still be some bumps, but when it’s all said and done, I think we’ll be OK.”

A Third of the Way In
It’s hard to believe the season is already a third of the way over. As expected at the start of the year, the standings are tightly compacted in the both the ECAC Northeast and MASCAC. The top four teams in the ECAC Northeast will head into the New Year separated by only four points, while the MASCAC has an equally tight race as well. One team to note is Worcester State, who moved to 3-1-1 in conference play with a 4-1 win over Westfield State on Tuesday night. The conference has several games this weekend, so what the standings will look like prior to the break remains to be seen.

Loose Pucks
Some non-DIII hockey thoughts…The dink and dunk is back in New England and it’s a beautiful thing. Interesting weekend, but the Red Sox got their man in Adrian Gonzalez. Now, on to the bullpen…

National Leaders
With the season a third of the way complete and most teams winding down the first semester before the holiday break, here’s a look at some MASCAC and ECAC Northeast players among the Division III national leaders. Totals are of Wednesday afternoon, and reflect overall statistics. National ranks are in parentheses.

Points:Kory Grahl, WNEC (T-3), Chris Connors, Western New England (T-5), Rory Hansen, Western New England (T-10), Dennis Zak, Westfield (T-10), Zach Kohn, Nichols (T-18).

Goals: Matt Sayer, Nichols (T-5), Hansen, (T-8), Vince Perreault, Westfield State (T-8).

Assists: Kohn, Grahl, Connors, Rob Sorrenti (Nichols), and Nick Asterito (Worcester State) are all tied for fourth.

Power-play goals: Taylor Murhpy, Westfield State (T-3), Sayer (T-5), Christopher Atkinson, Curry, (T-5), Skylur Jameson, Wentworth (T-5).

Short-handed goals: Justin Quinn, Fitchburg State (T-1).

Save Percentage: Collin Tracy, Massachusetts-Dartmouth (T5), Bryan Kalczynski, Worcester State (9), Travis Owens, Curry (T-11), Chris Azzano (T-11), Robert Vorse, Fitchburg State (20).

Minutes: Jeff Rose, Suffolk (2), Tracy (16).

Shutouts: Rose, Azzano, Matt Cooper (Johnson and Wales), Jack Astedt (Plymouth State), and Eric Sorenson (Western New England) are all tied for seventh.

Team Scoring: Nichols (2), Salem State (T-6), Western New England (8).

Team Defense: Mass.-Dartmouth (6), Plymouth State (7).

Power Play: Nichols (2), Cury (5), Plymouth State (7), Westfield State (9).

Penalty Killing: Wentworth (4), Plymouth State (5), Mass.-Dartmouth (8).

Penalty Minutes: Johnson and Wales (3), Salve Regina (5), Framingham State (6), Westfield State (7), Fitchburg State (9).

Short-handed Goals: Fitchburg State and Nichols are tied for first nationally.