After sneaking into the conference championship game as the sixth seed last year, Johnson and Wales isn’t surprising anyone this season.
With a wild 6-4 win at Becker Wednesday night, the Wildcats moved to 9-2 in conference play to jump ahead of Curry for the top spot in the ECAC Northeast, and could be in position to host a playoff game for the first time in coach Erik Noack’s time in Providence.
“Really, at this level, it’s all confidence,” Noack said following the win at Becker. “After beating Suffolk [in the quarterfinals] last year, we said ‘Hey, two more games to reach NCAA’s, why not?”
While five second period goals by Curry in last year’s conference championship game derailed any hopes of making the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats entered this season with a renewed sense of confidence.
“If this team thinks they can win, they probably can,” Noack said. “That was probably the only thing we had going for us last year was believing in ourselves.”
A little talent doesn’t hurt either. While Craig Houle, last year’s leading scorer, graduated and is currently an assistant on the staff, the Wildcats brought in defensive help and have seen more balance through the lineup.
“It’s night and day,” forward Jeremiah Ketts said of Johnson and Wales’ increased depth this season. “Up and down, the roster is deeper. Our fourth line can skate with most teams’ first lines.”
On the back end, sophomore Matt Cooper has a 2.24 goals-against-average and .923 save percentage in conference play, and has been aided by an improved defensive corps.
“We’re a little better defensively,” Noack said. “Matt Cooper has been doing great in net and we brought in some ‘D’ to help us out. In my mind, that’s the big thing.”
Ketts centers the Wildcats’ top line with sophomore Jason Pietrasiak on the wing. The pair are 1-2 in the conference in goals as of Thursday, while Ketts’ 19 goals overall place him in a tie for the top spot in the nation. However, the junior has been a key force outside the rink.
“Ketts has really stepped up and driven this team both in the locker room and on the ice to places I wasn’t sure we were going to be right now,” Noack said.
“Team unity in college is big,” Ketts said. “There’s 30 guys on the roster, and not all of them see the ice every nice, so it’s tough. There’s fights in practice, but as long as you come together at the end of the day, that’s all that matters,” he said, adding that the Wildcats often have team dinners or go to a movie together.
While off ice events can help with team chemistry, the ultimate measurement comes once the puck drops.
“We have a banner saying ‘If winning isn’t everything, why do we keep score?,’ Ketts said. “That’s something we try to abide by. The bottom line at the end of the day is to win.”
While the Wildcats are in a good spot, Noack is well aware that standings can mean little come the playoffs.
“If you’re a six seed playing the three seed, there’s probably only three points separating you,” he said. “We had a good matchup against Suffolk last season. It’s all about who you play against certain teams. Obviously, our goal is to get a bye and not even have to play in the quarterfinals.”
News and Notes
-Nichols’ Will Munson moved to fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list after posting his 123rd carer point Saturday. Munson’s 82 assists rank him second all time behind Zeke Costello, who concluded his career last season with 95 career assists. After winning four in a row, the Bisons dropped their second decision game Monday, losing to Becker, 3-2, in a makeup game from last week.
-Worcester State’s Nick Asterito became the 41st player in school history to hit the six-point mark in their careers. Asterito did it with a a goal and and assist in the Lancers’ 5-2 win over Assumption Wednesday night.
– Ketts leads the nation with 10 power-play goals, while JWU defenseman Domenic Recchia is seventh nationally in scoring among blueliners (2-20). Ketts is also tied for second in short-handed tallies with several players, including Fitchburg State’s Justin Quinn.
-After having a pair of games cancelled due to last week’s weather, Salve Regina rallied for their first win in just over two months Thursday at Stonehill. Joe Colaianni’s short-handed goal at 15:47 of the third period capped off a three goal outburst and helped the Seahawks end a 13-game pointless streak. Western New England ended a streak of its own against Salve, posting a 5-1 win Wednesday night to snap a five-game losing streak.
-Any predictions who will capture the top spot in the MASCAC? The top four teams are separated by three points. There might be a little more clarity at the end of the weekend, with first place Salem State taking on both Fitchburg and Plymouth State, and Massachusetts-Dartmouth hosting Plymouth State as well.
ECAC Northeast Weekly Honors
Player of the Week: Jeremiah Ketts, Johnson and Wales. Ketts scored a pair of power-play goals in the Wildcats 3-2 road win over Wentworth last Thursday. He followed that up with a pair of goals, including a short-handed tally, in JWU’s’ 5-4 win over Salve Regina on Saturday.
Goalie of the Week: Matt Cooper, Johnson and Wales. The sophomore recorded 32 saves in the Wildcats 3-2 win against Wentworth and had 19 stops in the 5-4 win against Salve
Rookie of the Week: John Kelly, Western New England. Kelly compiled five points on three goals and two assists for the Golden Bears. He had a goal and an assist against Curry, and two goals and an assist against Becker.
Happy belated Truck Day New Englanders. With spring training and college hockey playoffs right around the corner, it’s a sure sign of slowing inching towards spring.