Happy New Year!
That’s definitely the case for a couple of teams coming out of some fun holiday hockey over the past several days.
At 8-2-0 overall, the Castleton Spartans are starting to get noticed. Ranked in the USCHO D-III poll, Alex Todd’s team continues to take care of business following a strong first half.
“These guys are really just having fun this season,” stated head coach Alex Todd. “Last year was not a great mix nor a lot of fun so we have a relatively new group and the dynamic is very different. We are identifying the flow of the game and learning the style and consistency of the refs early in games so we don’t make the same mistakes, get called for the same penalties or continue to get waved out of face-offs. These kids have learned from observing the tendencies of what is being called and don’t repeat thoise events. that has definitely helped us this year.”
Led by senior Stuart Stefan (6-14-20) and sophomore Josh Harris (6-14-20) the Spartans handily defeated Morrisville and Johnson & Wales to win the St. Michael’s Tournament. In the two games, Stefan recorded one goal and seven assists for eight points while Harris scored twice and added three helpers for five points. Sophomore Justin Alonzo benefited from both their play scoring four goals in the 9-2 win over Morrisville and finishing with seven points after the 5-0 win against J&W.
“Last season for the last half, Josh and Stuart really connected so we knew we had a good thing going with them,” said head coach Alex Todd. We tried a number of people at that third spot without a real connection before putting Justin with them. Justin really doesn’t appear to be the style to match with those two but something just clicks. I don’t know if Justin has ever scored four goals in a game and I am 99% sure it has never happened here at Castleton – that’s a pretty special event.”
Averaging 4.5 goals per game on offense, the Spartans have been deadly on the power play, scoring on a third of their chances. They have even turned their very aggressive and successful (90%) PK unit into opportunistic scorers as they already have three shorthanded goals this season.
The Spartans will want to carry that momentum into January as five of the next seven games are on the road including Wesleyan, Trinity and Potsdam coming up this weekend and early next week.
“We have our only two losses at home,” noted Todd. “We feel like we play pretty well away from home but we definitely want to make sure we take the time in warm-up and early in the game to identify those key areas in the rinks that can impact a game with bad bounces or other things with the puck so they don’t come back and hurt us late in a game. The freshmen here have done real well so far and we will continue to look to our upper classmen to give them that fundamental knowledge and help them past the learning curve in the new rinks as we play in them.”
UMass-Boston comes into the New Year at 7-3-0 but feels like it should have been 8-2-0 just like Castleton. Playing Fitchburg State in the final of their own Codfish Bowl Tournament, the Beacons had the lights turned out by goalie Bobby Leiser who made 58 saves in FSU’s 4-1 championship win.
“It would have been nice to win this thing,” noted head coach Peter Belisle. “That’s two years in a row we have had a goalie stand on his head and beat us – it must be the Curse of the Cod for us. He (Leiser) made the first stop on everything and I felt we didn’t go hard enough for second chances – it was a frustrating day.
The title game saw a lot of penalty calls and a Beacon power play that went 0-9 largely due to some aggressive penalty killing and Leiser’s efforts.
“I thought we got off to a good start in the first period,” said Belisle. “Then they tied it in the second and with all of the special teams it was really hard to get any rhythm going. i was rotating my top two lines on the power play and third and fourth lines on the PK to keep the guys fresh but we just couldn’t put the puck by their goalie.”
The Beacons are in a stretch of playing seven of nine games at home so they would like to get some key league points starting this weekend with NESCAC foes Tufts and Conn College.
“The silver lining in losing to Fitchburg is that it closes the book on 2010,” said Belisle. “We can put this one behind us in the first half and now focus on a new slate for 2011. It’s nice that we stay local and hopefully we can get it going again the next time out.”
For Brad Holt’s University of New England team, the holidays showed promise for what could be a much better second half in 2011. Playing in the Plymouth State University Invitational, the Nor’easters won their opening round game by a 4-1 score over Becker from the ECAC Northeast. That set up a match-up with the host school in the final on New Year’s Eve and a chance to ring in the New Year with some new hardware.
The final started out all PSU’s way as they quickly built a 4-1 lead just six minutes into the second period but then UNE got it going and tied the game at 4-4 to close out the second period. Junior Jack Nolin scored the first goal of the comeback which UNE had trouble sustaining in the third period. PSU scored twice to take a 6-5 lead but Nolin again scored to close the gap to 6-5 with an extra attacker on the ice. that goal came with just 11 seconds left and UNE ran out of time but not effort.
Overall, the Nor’easters scored nine goals in the tournament which nearly doubled their output for the season. If the scoring touch sticks around in 2011, Holt’s squad may just surprise some teams that take the second year varsity program lightly.
Finally, how about those Hamilton Continentals? Norm Bazin’s squad went into Oswego’s back yard and in their own tournament dismissed the hosts in the opening round game by a score of 5-1. Hamilton outshot the Lakers and killed off all off Oswego’s power play opportunities in building a 3-0 at the end of two periods. Oswego closed it to 3-1 early in the third but two goals in 28 seconds sealed the deal for Hamilton.
In the final, Hamilton once again outshot a tough opponent in Hobart by a 36-24 margin but a goal with seven minutes remaining ended title aspirations with a 2-1 loss to the Statesmen.
Bazin’s team has quietly been getting better every year since he arrived three seasons ago and this year a balanced top five in points includes 1 senior, 1 junior, 2 sophomores and a freshman. That bodes well for improving the offense in the second half where they open with always difficult opponents in Middlebury and Williams.
So we are back to league play this weekend and the run for the playoffs truly begins in earnest. Should continue to be a very fun roller coaster ride.
It’s 2011, drop the puck!
Happy New Year!