Sometimes it is easy to forget why you play this game — it is fun. It can be grueling going through the daily practices and physical aspects of a very demanding sport like ice hockey, but that is why kids start to play the game in the first place –- because it is fun! That is a fact that is not lost on the Connecticut College Camels, who enter the final two weeks of the regular season in second place in the NESCAC standings with a solid chance for home ice in the playoffs and maybe more.”This is a lot of fun,” exclaimed coach Jim Ward. “These guys are young and excited to play, and our winning results continue to increase the fun factor for this team. We certainly aren’t used to being in this position at this point of the season, but this team has learned and continues to learn more about what it takes to win, and did I mention they are having fun?”The first half ended with the Camels owning a 3-4-0 record overall and a very respectable 3-3-0 record in conference play. Four nonconference games against very good competition of Hobart, Manhattanville, Elmira, and St. Thomas left them at 3-8-0 in early January, but since then, the Camels are 6-1-2, including an overtime win over Worcester State and a solid road win over Williams. Ward’s team now sits at 9-9-2 overall and a solid 8-4-2 in NESCAC play with just four league games remaining. So, what, or more importantly, when, did things change for the Camels?”It is hard to pinpoint when exactly we started figuring it out,” noted Ward. “I think I can go back to the Colby-Bowdoin weekend in December that really was a turning point for us this season. I thought we had played our best game of the season at that time against Colby in a 2-0 loss. The very next day against Bowdoin it was clear we had put the disappointment of the Colby loss behind us, and we did some very good things on the ice in a 7-1 win. I keep reminding myself about how young a team we are, and those two games really showed our starting to mature as a team and learning to be in the present as a group. I think that is where we started to put things together.”So, what have been the keys to success for the “fun-bunch” in a conference that has historically been very difficult from top to bottom?”Our youthful enthusiasm really has gone a long way with this team,” said Ward. “They don’t know what they don’t know but are learning quickly, and every night someone else has stepped up to help us find a way to win, rather than trying not to lose a close hockey game.”During their recent run of good play, the Camels have won five one-goal games and held their opponents to two goals or less in seven of the last nine games. While that speaks to a strong commitment from the team to the defensive end of the ice, the coach is happy to point out the stellar play of the guys in the crease as a big part of their success.”We have really good goaltending,” stated Ward. “The team has a lot of confidence in both Connor [Rodericks] and Avery [Gobbo] and their ability to shut teams down. Connor has been really effective in the second half, and that has just increased our confidence as a team overall. That ability to go find a win in a close hockey game is something we have been doing a lot of over the last month, and it becomes contagious with different guys stepping up with big plays and goals.”Rodericks is 8-4-2 on the season with three shutouts and an outstanding save percentage (.940) and goals-against average (1.95) entering the final four games in conference play. This past weekend, the Camels picked up three points in a home-and home series with travel partner Tufts. Friday night, Rodericks needed to stop everything he saw just to keep pace with Nik Nugnes in the other goal for the Jumbos as the game ended in a 0-0 overtime tie. On Saturday, Rodericks had to support the Camels comeback from a two-goal third-period deficit on their way to a 4-3 overtime win behind three unanswered goals from Ryan Glantz, Brenden Russ, and William White in the extra session. The points kept them in second place, but there are several teams hot after a home-ice berth, so the team is not chalking up any accomplishments just yet.”This league is just so competitive every night,” said Ward. “Parity really isn’t a fair term with how good all the teams are in our league, so we can’t take anything for granted on the ice. We need to stay focused starting this weekend on the road against Hamilton and Amherst and try to get as many points as we can. There are only four points separating second from sixth in the league, so a good weekend might keep you where you are but a bad one could find you dropping a long way down. It’s great to be in the thick of the playoff picture, and we would love to be as high up as we can get and hopefully get a home-ice spot for the playoffs. There is a lot of hockey in front of us, and we need to keep playing our game with the fun and excitement these guys have shown in the second half.”Saturday night, the Camels face a resurgent Hamilton squad that currently sits in fifth place, just three points back. The fun continues for one more road trip before the Camels return home to close the regular season and hopefully stay there for some fun playoff hockey.
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