Pilgrims come home

It may seem like a year or maybe even longer than the crossing their namesake Pilgrims made in the 17th century to the New World.

For the New England College Pilgrims, this Friday night’s home game is the first time they have played in their own rink since Nov. 17, 2012, a period that spans 69 days and 10 road games, including two very long bus trips to upstate New York, where the Pilgrims played Fredonia, Buffalo State, and Cortland twice. A chance to play in their own rink is probably a most welcome event, regardless of the opponent but not having to get on a bus and being able to sleep in their own beds that may be the most welcome aspect of the upcoming weekend with the students now arriving back on campus from their winter break.

“Yeah, it will be nice to be at home,” said coach Tom Carroll. “It really has been a difficult schedule since the middle of November and our last home game against Norwich. We have definitely put some miles on with the trips in January to play Cortland and the other western SUNYAC schools. Ten games is a long stretch, but now we have six of our final eight games at home, and it really is all about what we do with those games here and taking advantage of playing at home, where we hope to gain some momentum at the most important part of the season.”

For the record, the 10-game road trip that spanned both semesters saw the Pilgrims go 1-8-1 overall and 1-4-0 in the conference. Five of the remaining six home games are against league opponents, so in a tight race there is still great opportunity for the Pilgrims to make some noise and move up in the conference standings.

“It is always so tight in our conference,” noted Carroll. “What are we, four points out of second? Have a good weekend and you could go from seventh to second or a bad weekend and do the reverse. All of these games are going to be difficult, but if we can get our offense and special teams going we do have a chance to reach for one of those home ice playoff berths. If you are winning, someone else who needs those points is losing and while there may be a couple of ties, there are enough games left for us to make up some ground and start playing our best hockey at the most opportune time.”

Having gone around the conference once already, Carroll’s team isn’t tweaking anything in their game for specific opponents, but is more concerned with correcting their own areas of need and trying to execute better on the ice as a team.

“This weekend, we see two good teams in Skidmore and Castleton,” said Carroll. “There really isn’t much I think I can take away from the game films going back to the second weekend in November at the very beginning of the season. Yes, we won those games, but I am sure they have evolved over the course of the season as we have and we really just need to focus on doing what we do better and really getting some consistency from our special teams.”

The special teams should be of particular focus, and maybe some “home-cooking” will help the Pilgrims put themselves in a better position to win. The power play is clicking on just over a 15 percent success rate, while opponents are scoring at a 26 percent rate when the Pilgrims are down a man. Those numbers make every game a challenge, and certainly have the coach’s attention during the all-important weekday practice sessions.

“I think it really is about repetitions,” said Carroll. “We work on this stuff a lot and it is a function of doing it over and over again and getting comfortable as a group on the ice. We are challenged a bit offensively to score goals, so the power play becomes that much more important. We aren’t a team that has that go-to line or select group of players that carry the load. We skate four lines and really need production from all four for us to be successful as a team. It’s a balanced approach that we take to our team, and the expectations are high that when you are out there you are working hard to make something happen, regardless of the manpower situation on the ice. We do practice and spend a lot of time on our special teams, so hopefully we can see some real improvement there that will help with our overall game and get us moving up the standings.”

Just four players on the roster have double-digit points to date this season, led by seniors Johan Qvarfordt (5-11-16) and Jonathan Boxill (5-6-11). While 13 different players on the roster have chipped in with goals this season, only five players have scored three or more for the Pilgrims, who could really benefit from some more balance and secondary scoring as they literally head down the home stretch in the final month of the regular season.

“The kids are working hard,” noted Carroll. “I like our group across the board. We have confidence in our goaltenders on out. and they all believe in each other. We could use a little luck or benefit from some friendly bounces. but you have to go out and make your chances and your own luck and this team knows and understands the need to do just that. Maybe playing at home for the first time in awhile will help get that going for us.”

The good news, coach. is there are no bus trip for you this weekend, so hopefully all can get a good night’s sleep this week and be refreshed for the stretch run. Yes, the Pilgrims are finally home, and now they need to take advantage of that fact.