D-III East first-half surprises: tight conference races, large goal differentials

Senior Forward Josh Bowes (15), Senior Forward Tommy Besinger (33), Sophomore Forward Jake Simons (17), Junior Forward James Winkler (19) (David Le/Endicott Athletics)
Senior forward Josh Bowes (15), senior forward Tommy Besinger (33), sophomore forward Jake Simons (17), and junior forward James Winkler (19) are part of Endicott’s 61-32 goal differential at the break. (David Le/Endicott Athletics)

After cleaning up some wrapping paper and the other “joys” of the season after Dec. 25, I had the opportunity to reflect on what was a great first half of hockey and what surprised me the most across all the conferences and individual player efforts prior to the semester break. So here are three surprises that will bear future introspection when the teams get back at competitive hockey in the New Year.

The standings
While Plymouth State in the MASCAC and Massachusetts-Boston in the NEHC are unbeaten in conference play, all the races are projecting to be very competitive in the 2019 portion of the season. The CCC has five teams within five points of the top spot in the standings; MASCAC has four teams within five points; NEHC has four teams within six points; NESCAC has nine teams within five points; NE-10 has five teams within three points; SUNYAC has four teams within five points; and the UCHC has five teams within four points. So, no matter how good or maybe not so good the first half went for your respective team, the league leaders shouldn’t be too comfortable in their spots, and the chasing teams shouldn’t feel that they can’t make up some points in the second half. All this means great hockey to get going in January.

First-year success
Most first-year programs don’t exactly find a winning formula right out of the gate. Sure, there have been exceptions, like Endicott in recent years, but the odds are teams need to learn to play at the collegiate level, and the culture needs to evolve for new D-III programs. Perhaps a quick look at Wilkes and Anna Maria might define reasons why programs can be successful and win hockey games in their inaugural season, as the Colonels are 8-4-0 overall, and the Amcats finished the first half going 4-7-3 with just four games played on home ice.

Coach Brett Riley from Wilkes and coach Dave MacCauley from Anna Maria both recruited heavily, and each with varying degrees, from the junior ranks, with some prep school players and transfers in the mix. They focused on finding the right players to build the program at their schools. That approach has seemed to pay dividends for both programs, as they have battled the best in the region and been not only competitive, but have won games and will continue to do so in the second half of the season.

Revved-up goal differential
72-12 and 61-32 are almost ridiculous numbers for goal differential in 14 and 11 games played respectively for Geneseo and Endicott. The Knights have been dominant on both ends of the ice, with junior Conlan Keenan (12-16-28) leading an offense that already has 24 power-play goals. Goaltender Devin MacDonald has picked up seven shutouts in his 13 starts this season and is currently riding a three-game shutout streak that includes wins over Oswego and Brockport.

Endicott has built a 29-goal differential in just 11 games, with their current four-game win streak accounting for a 27-10 difference. Led by seniors Tommy Besinger, Josh Bowes, Daniel Kucerovy, and Carter Horwitz, the Gulls found their scoring touch, while freshman netminder Conor O’Brien has settled in between the pipes, winning his last three starts while surrendering just six goals against ranked teams like the University of New England and Plymouth State.

Of course there other surprises both at the team and individual player levels that will bear watching in the second half, so here is hoping for the New Year to bring favorable surprises for all of the teams in the East and interesting races that keep all fans on the edge of their seat come playoff time.