Hawks looking to make statement in ECAC East

 (Tim Brule)

Ah, the rumor mill continues to circulate. With the impending departure of Connecticut to Hockey East next season, there are rumors abounding as to possible replacements for the Huskies in Atlantic Hockey. One of the schools rumored to be in the mix is St. Anselm College, a D-II school currently playing in the ECAC East at the D-III level. While the school, facility, and team would all be interesting additions to the D-I level, that is not the focus of the team under the direction of coach Ed Seney.

“We are challenged every year being a D-II school,” noted Seney. “We recruit, practice, and play in accordance with our league and all of the D-III rules, which do not include scholarships, even though our athletic program is at the D-II level and provides scholarship monies for other varsity sports here on campus. We know that we can’t compete in the ECAC East playoffs, which are restricted to inclusion of D-III schools only, and understand that just a handful of games will determine the seeding for the NE-10 conference tournament, which we can compete in with all of the other D-II schools. That makes our goals pretty easy really. We focus on winning the NE-10 conference every year and winning the ECAC East regular season title. Those goals make every game important on our schedule.”

The Hawks have made a reasonable start toward both of those goals this season in opening with a 3-2-1 mark, which includes a split last weekend against perennial league power Norwich and fellow D-II opponent St. Michael’s. After Friday’s night’s loss at Norwich by a score of 4-0, the Hawks rebounded quickly to post a 5-0 shutout of their own against the Purple Knights in a game that had double meaning.

“The St. Mike’s game counts twice for us,” noted Seney. “It first counts in the ECAC East conference standings, and then it also counts as the single game against the other D-II schools in the NE-10 that determines the playoff seeding among the six schools in that tournament at the end of the year. So it really is a four-point game, since the result counts in two different conferences.”

Nick Dries posted the shutout for the Hawks in his first game action of the season last Saturday. Dries hadn’t been able to crack the lineup, largely because of the strong play of teammate Robert Kang, who had played in the opening five games for the Hawks, posting a .901 save percentage and 3.18 goals-against average in recording a 2-2-1 record, including a first team win at Babson and a tie with then nationally-ranked Castleton on the road.

“Robert has played very well for us,” noted Seney. “It was hard to get Nick in there early based on how Robert was playing, but we want to get him some playing time too. We have confidence in both Robert and Nick based on what they did for us last year. They are going to be a key to our success this year, and we are going to need both guys to play well when they get their opportunity in goal.”

While the loss at Norwich was disappointing, the Hawks do get another shot at the defending champs in early February. As part of their goal to exceed during the league’s regular season, this group of players is looking to accomplish things no other Hawks team has been able to do.

“This is a really good group of players,” stated Seney. “Yeah, it is a little different with the whole D-II thing, but we really don’t think about it anymore. We really do want to succeed in the conference and get some milestone wins on the way. This group has never beaten Norwich in their four years here, so there is a sense of urgency around the season and achieving our goals. Guys like Mike Richard, Tim King, and Tucker Mullin are all great kids on and off the ice, and really enjoy coming to the rink every day to play, be it practice or a game. That just makes everything fun, when the kids work hard but have smiles on their faces. That is what this group has been all about. I don’t like to lose. They don’t like to lose. I will accept losses when the effort is there and the other team is just better that night. This team has always put out the effort, so as long as that continues, we will certainly have a chance to win our fair share of hockey games.”

Richard, King, and Mullin are all among the top four scorers for the Hawks this season, with Richard and King combining for a total of nine goals and 21 points in just the first six games of the season. The offense has been heavily reliant on the seniors, with only sophomore Liam McKillop among the team leaders in points. In fact, Richard, King, and McKillop have accounted for 14 of the team’s total of 20 goals so far this season.

The Hawks are already winding down the first half of the season, and have just three games remaining before the semester break, including a match-up with travel partner New England College on Dec. 1. Two other NE-10 match-ups with Assumption and Franklin Pierce sandwich the NEC game, and will provide the impetus for the Hawks to end the first half of the season among the league leaders in the NE-10 and the ECAC East.

Unlike many teams, St. Anselm does not have any tournaments on the schedule this season. The NE-10 games and full ECAC East schedule don’t leave much room for any holiday tournament action.

“We don’t have a tournament this year,” noted Seney. “We have played up at Middlebury in their New Year’s tournament the past few years, but don’t have that on the schedule this season. We will be traveling up to upstate New York to take on Fredonia and Buffalo State right after the New Year. They are very competitive teams in the SUNYAC, so that will test us right after the holidays and get us ready for the rest of the league schedule that follows that next weekend in Maine. I like the way we have competed early in the season, and hope that we can continue to bring that effort every night. There isn’t that much difference in the talent among the teams at this level, so it really is about who comes to play for 60 minutes every night. This group likes to play hard all the time, so we’ll see how that translates into points and wins the rest of the way.”

D-II or D-III really doesn’t matter; when the Hawks take the ice, they are playing for keeps, regardless of the opponent, and if you are an ECAC East team, know that their goal is to see you looking up at them in the standings.