There’s little doubt that Erik Noack has to be pleased by his team’s offensive prowess this season, but with less than a month remaining in the regular season, Noack, in his ninth season of coaching at Johnson and Wales, believes his team has a pressing issue to tend to: becoming one of six teams to qualify for the ECAC Northeast playoffs.
While the Wildcats boast two of the nation’s top scoring threats in Jeremiah Ketts (14 goals, 25 assists) and Danny Kauffman (17 goals, 16 assists), Noack knows that his team’s offense isn’t going to be the main factor in making the playoffs. In fact, there are certain areas to attend to, as evidenced in Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Nichols: buckling down when holding a lead, playing with discipline, and focusing on what the Wildcats can control in the final month of the regular season. Saturday’s loss at Nichols was a microcosm of that: Johnson and Wales led 3-1 less than six minutes into the second period before Nichols rallied for four goals, including three in the third.
“They got some timely goals in situations where they may not have, otherwise,” Noack said of the Bison. “Two short-handed goals, that’s never a good thing. Having said that, they probably outworked us a little bit. There were too many shifts off and too many shifts where we weren’t doing the right things.
“Nichols worked their butts off. They looked like a team that was confident playing at home.”
The Bison also scored two short-handed goals against Johnson and Wales — Greg Strootman’s goal at 12:51 of the second period and Zach Hendrickson’s goal at 11:09 of the third, which tied the game — and the Wildcats took 11 penalties for 30 minutes, including seven in the third period.
Johnson and Wales has taken 154 penalties for 423 minutes so far this season; the Wildcats are second in ECAC Northeast and second in the nation in that category, behind Suffolk (125 penalties for 412 minutes).
“As far as discipline, there’s different schools of thought on that,” Noack said. “Some programs yank guys out of the lineup and put them in the stands if they’re taking penalties. We don’t do it a lot, but we can start doing it, but there are some penalties that aren’t bad. Unintentional penalties aren’t bad. It’s the retaliation and misconducts that get under your skin and don’t help you. Take a 10-minute misconduct? You have to reshuffle lines, work on the fly, and it can wear your team down. And what I’m saying now is what I say to those guys, and I think they’ll catch on. I have confidence in them.”
After Wednesday’s game at Suffolk, Johnson and Wales has seven games remaining in its regular season: Saturday against Curry, February 1 at Salve Regina, February 4 against Wentworth, February 8 at Western New England, February 11 against Becker, February 15 against Nichols, and its regular-season finale, February 18 at Curry.
The Wildcats entered Wednesday’s game at Suffolk in second place in the ECAC Northeast, and with a potential playoff spot on the line, Noack knows exactly what the Wildcats need to do: focus on themselves and not be dependent upon other teams, because the window for making the playoffs is closing.
“Any mistake in any game could have an impact on the rest of your season,” Noack said. “I look back to the Buffalo State weekend (January 13-14) and going into the latter half of the third period, we’re up 4-1 and we lose the game 7-5. We gave up a 4-3 lead to Western New England (January 18 in a 6-4 win) but came back and won, then we gave up a 3-1 lead to Nichols.
“We need to learn how to play with a lead and recognize it. There’s no tomorrow. You’re looking at a very short season and any games that you lose, you’re giving two points to the other team, and depending on your record, two points to the rest of the league.
“We have to be focused on what we can do best.”