La Rose a thorn to all opponents

For goaltender Jonathan La Rose, this season must represent some unfinished business for the Amherst College senior. Four years ago, La Rose was half of the nation’s best goaltending duo at Amherst that saw he and Cole Anderson lead the Lord Jeffs to the top of the NESCAC standings. In what would have been his sophomore season, Amherst won its first ever NESCAC championship on the way to the NCAA tournament behind Anderson while La Rose was back home in his native Alberta, Canada.

Due to unforeseen financial issues, La Rose had to withdraw from school prior to his sophomore year and thus began a strange odyssey that saw his name frequently paired in recruiting conversations with Norwich, Plattsburgh, and eventually Neumann, which he attended and played sparingly for just a season. La Rose attended school at Neumann without playing to maintain his eligibility in his senior year, and found away to go back to where it all started, Amherst.

So just how good is La Rose?  This season he is 12-1-1 for the number four team in the country while posting a goals-against average of 1.80 and a save percentage of .931 in his 14 games this season. Those stats are amazing, and would be even better if you take out the seven goals he gave up against Bowdoin back in January in a 7-4 loss in Maine. For his career spanning 43 games, he is 35-4-3 with a goals-against average of 1.78 and a .940 save percentage and seven shutouts. In a word, he is outstanding.

“Absolutely, he is pretty good,” said coach Jack Arena. “Jonathan is a really competitive kid and can be very hard on himself.  He analyzes everything about his play with the goal of being the best he can be. I am not sure even a shutout is ever good enough, as he looks at things critically in how he can be better.”

Earlier this season, in a matchup against Williams and its star netminder Ryan Purdy, both goalies appeared nervous in the first period and surrendered what many in the stands thought were soft goals. The first period ended with Amherst leading 3-2 on the way to a 5-4 win that few thought would be more than the score on the board at the end of the first period. Immediately after the game, La Rose came up to the hockey office looking to review film and the goals surrendered.  Coach Arena had to send him back downstairs, telling his goaltender that his analysis could wait; there was a better time and place to go over what had just ended mere minutes beforehand.

“He is just such a true competitor overall,” said Arena. “The fact of the matter is that I know he would like one or two of the goals against Williams back, but if you watch the final 90 seconds of the game he came up with two or three game-saving saves that really made the difference in our getting the win. I am not sure many other goalies would have stopped those point blank chances, but that is just how he has played here, as a freshman and now as a senior.”

La Rose’s return has certainly made things difficult on Amherst’s opponents. Since his only loss of the season at Bowdoin on January 6, La Rose has started in five games, going 5-0-0 with two shutouts and surrendering only four goals in those games. Also during that stretch, Amherst has extended its lead at the top of the conference to seven points over Bowdoin with just four games remaining on the schedule in the regular season. This weekend, the Lord Jeffs host Tufts and Connecticut College with a chance to clinch the top seed in the NESCAC tournament just two weeks away.

For Amherst, the formula for success has always been a simple one. Play great team defense — check that box. Have superior special teams play — check that box with a power play clicking at almost 25 percent and a penalty kill at 88 percent. Get great goaltending — check that box for sure. Even backup Nathan Corey has numbers (.928 save percentage, 1.84 GAA; 4-2-0) most coaches would be drooling over in his six games this season. When you aren’t an offensive juggernaut, it’s the goaltending and defense that can make the biggest difference.

Amherst does not have a 10-goal scorer this season, or a 20-point player, yet. What it does have is pretty good balance among the players, as 17 have scored goals this season and 11 players have four or more. There are 11 players with double-digit points, including forwards Johnny Van Siclen and Eddie Effinger who have both missed games this season due to injury and have been playing well in the second half of the season. Effinger, a senior, has a big presence on the ice, despite his being just 5 feet 10 inches tall, as he is an integral part of the Amherst special teams and a key leader on and off the ice.

“Eddie, like Jonathan, is definitely a key player for us,” said Arena. “They bring that calming influence to the ice in any situation, and a real confidence about being successful each and every game. We will continue to just focus on the next opponent in front of us and try to go and play our game. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Right now, things are taking care of themselves quite nicely for the Lord Jeffs, who would like to win a second NESCAC title in three years and maybe provide their star goaltender a taste of what he missed the first time around in 2009, a chance to play on the big stage in the NCAA tournament. Whatever happens in these next two weeks, La Rose is focused on just one thing — stopping the puck and making life miserable for any and all opponents trying to score on Amherst.