After opening the season with two blowout wins over Wentworth and Curry, the Massachusetts-Boston Beacons started league play on the road against the defending national champions from Norwich. The Beacons lost 5-0, but found their game in the losing effort and since have reeled off seven straight wins to go 9-1-0 in their first 10 games.
“I thought we outplayed Norwich in the first period,” noted coach Peter Belisle. “We outshot them 13-4 and had several good scoring chances, but ended up having nothing to show for it. Ostepchuk made some big saves for them, and they came out ready in the second period. When Jackson scored that goal right at the start of the period, you could see all the kids’ heads go down on the bench, and I knew we were in trouble. We didn’t play badly, but there was an immediate learning opportunity about hanging in there and working hard despite any setbacks or what may be on the scoreboard. We have some young kids that clearly needed that lesson, and I think it has paid off for us since the Norwich game.”
The Beacons were always going to be good up front with Nolan Redler and NEHC player of the year Colin Larkin returning, but the supporting cast and particularly the secondary scoring, defense, and goaltending were all areas of focus for the coaching staff starting with the very first practices.
“We knew we had the line with Nolan and Colin,” said Belisle. “What the other three lines were going to do was a bit of a mystery, but we have seen a number of guys chip in nicely for us. Zack Bross is just a freshman, but has fit in as a great playmaker and goal scorer, and sophomores Daniel Nachbaur, Cody Wickline, and Tyler Sifferlen already have combined for several goals. The secondary scoring has been there for us and other guys, like Garrison Sanipass, chipping in as well.”
The other guys include a few defensemen like freshman Nick Albano, sophomore Bryan Carter, and junior Gabe Chuckran. While they have been joining the flow of the offense for the Beacons, the coach is more impressed with their defensive zone play and depth at the blue line that clearly helps the Beacons be much more than just an offensive juggernaut.
“I really like the group of defensemen we have,” said Belisle just prior to a key home-ice matchup with new conference member Hobart back on Nov. 17. “I believe we can win a close, playoff-style game with this group, and Hobart will be a good indicator for us.”
The coach was spot on as the Beacons won 2-1 behind goals from Carter and Larkin in the second period. They held on in the third period despite being outshot 15-8 behind the stellar play of sophomore goalie Bailey MacBurnie, who stopped 34 of 35 shots and picked up his fifth win of the season. MacBurnie didn’t open the season as the starter, but has assumed the role his coach expected him to have following the Norwich game and remains unbeaten at 8-0-0 on the season with a .950 save percentage and 1.25 goals-against average.
“We had an exhibition game against the EHL All-Stars to open the season,” noted Belisle. “At the time, I thought Anthony D’Urso played better than Bailey and gave him the start against Wentworth to open the season. I don’t know if that helped to fire Bailey up, but he just picked up his game and he is playing at the level we thought he could play at when he came here. Having that confidence in the goaltending just makes it easier for everyone to focus on their job and playing our game as a team. Our schedule and this conference are very tough, so we need to have depth and consistency in the crease, which I think we have. Playing Norwich, Hobart, Babson, and don’t forget New England College and Castleton who are very good teams that don’t get the same level of recognition, means there are no nights off. It is great to see our complete game, including special teams, this early in the season.”
Following their win in the Bowdoin/Colby Face-off Tournament in Waterville, Maine, over the weekend, the Beacons close out the first half with a home-and-home series with travel partner Babson this weekend before the semester finale against nonconference foe and long-time rival Massachusetts-Dartmouth. The series with Babson is always a battle where both teams have proven that home-ice is not necessarily an advantage.
“The league is just so good,” stated Belisle. “Playing Babson back-to-back always means you have to play great for 120 minutes and probably a bit better on the second night than the first if you expect a good result.”
The Beacons don’t get much rest for the holidays and host one of the premier fields in one of the nation’s oldest D-III holiday tournaments in the Codfish Bowl on December 29 and 30. This year’s field includes past-participant Salve Regina, along with NESCAC power Williams and Adrian, a Frozen Four participant last season. The hosts have always struggled to win their own tournament, and achieving that with this year’s field would set the Beacons up for a great second half run.
“It is probably the best field we have had since I have been here,” said Belisle. “But that is long way off and we have some work to do between now and then before the holidays. We want to go into the break on a high note, so finishing strong will be important for the team over the final games before the semester ends.”
The Beacons will need their complete game against Babson this weekend if they want to stay atop the NEHC standings.