This week in D-III college hockey: Penmen seeking consistency in NE-10 play

Defenseman Joe Fiorino is second in scoring for SNHU entering a big weekend series with Assumption (Photo by SNHU Athletics/Jim Stankiewicz)

The landscape of the NE-10 conference so far this season has been one where literally, anyone can win on any given night. With just eight points separating first from sixth and two points separating third place from sixth place, there is ample opportunity for a team like last year’s champions from Southern New Hampshire to find their best hockey at the time where it will have the most value – looking for playoff position and playoff success.

“It has been a roller coaster this season,” said head coach Sean Walsh. “At one point we won six in a row and were playing some pretty good hockey and then it went away pretty quick as we lost seven in a row. Then we win one lose one, win two, lose two. We haven’t been consistent enough in the league and played enough 60-minute efforts to be much better than where we are right now. You expect some of this when you have a young roster and we routinely are playing 10-15 freshmen or sophomores on any given night. There is a learning curve but we need to move beyond some of that now and play some more consistent hockey and clean up some of our problem areas that have contributed to our results.”

Like most in the coaching ranks today, Walsh is among many that view statistics and trends as indicative of key areas of performance. While there are several positive indicators like the power play success rate (25.3%) and record away from home (6-2-0), there are several that cause some concern and attention from the coaching staff on improving for better outcomes.

“It is great to see the power play success rate,” noted Walsh. “Getting a goal, a game with the man advantage is a very good thing but hoping or waiting for the referees to blow the whistle to give you those chances is not helping us overall. We need more production in our 5-on-5 game. Last year we had a significant number of goals off the rush and off face-offs. This year those numbers are way down and to make matters worse we are giving up about eight more shots per game and in good scoring locations for the opposition. That isn’t helping our goaltenders much so there are definite areas I think we can be better and there is a small window for us to find those adjustments in our play. I think we have been home maybe a little too long [nine of last ten] and maybe the change in scenery will help us re-focus as a group.”

There is good reason for optimism as several of the young players are becoming very productive. Forwards George Thurston, Travis Quigley and James Nash have combined for 23 goals and 46 points so far this season. They have been big contributors on the power play as well. Add in versatile defenseman Joe Fiorino (6-12-18) and the young nucleus of Walsh’s team have the potential to contend for and defend their NE-10 crown with some contributions from others in the line-up.

“The young guys are learning on the fly,” said Walsh. “It is going to take a total team effort to get our game to where we are competing for the full sixty minutes. This past weekend I thought we played pretty well on Friday night. It was a one-goal game until the final two minutes of play. Then on Saturday we played a good first and third period but gave up five goals in the second period which was just too big a hurdle to overcome. I was happy to see us fight back and score a couple in the last 20 minutes but those two games are a microcosm of our season. We need three periods and 20-minute efforts.”

This weekend, the Penmen face a stern challenge with a home-and-home series with Assumption. The Greyhounds sit just one point behind league leading St, Michael’s and have a talented line-up. With just five games remaining in the regular season there is no time like the present to start a new win streak.

“We have them here on Friday and then go to there place on Saturday,” stated Walsh. “Their home rink may be one of the toughest places to play in the conference so we have our work cut out for us. We are going to have to match their effort and intensity and hopefully we get our game going to finish out the remainder of the schedule playing our best hockey of the season.”