This week in D-III East college hockey: Bison have come through the storm

Nichols senior forward JB Baker and his classmates are a big part of the team’s bouncing back from an 0-9 start to their current 11-game unbeaten streak (Photo by © Brian Foley for Nichols College Athletics).

Bison are unique animals in their ability to take on storms head on where other animals run away. Their time in the storm is shorter as they face it head on, but that doesn’t make things easier when they are in the maelstrom. Like their animal mascot, the Nichols hockey team has faced a major storm head on and right now seem to be coming out into some very clear and favorable weather. After starts of 0-9-0 and 1-11-0, Nichols is unbeaten in their last eleven games and focused on finishing their season on a high note in the very competitive CCC.

“It has definitely been a challenge and nothing I would ever want to go through again,” said head coach Parker Burgess. “It can take you to some dark places as a team, a coaching staff and spill over to your family when things are going so badly, but we never lost sight of what the goal was – we stayed together and got through it as a group. I am very proud of my coaching staff, the players, our administration and our alumni that never lost focus or belief in this group. We knew we had a good team here and it was great to see that group re-affirm our process and fight their way out of a very tough start.”

After ending the pre-season with a big road win at Norwich that saw many of the Cadet starters playing, there was much optimism to start the regular season with the Buffalo State Invitational and games with Adrian and the host school. Two losses there snowballed into seven more in conference play against quality teams in the CCC like Salve Regina, Endicott and Curry. At 0-9-0 things couldn’t get worse but they did with two more losses in the Boston Invitational tournament against Bryn Athyn and St. John’s.

“We hit our low point at 1-11-0 after the Boston Landing tournament where we played pretty well but still found ways to lose,” noted Burgess. “There wasn’t just one thing we needed to do to turn it around. We weren’t scoring first, the power play was ineffective, the penalty kill was bad, our goaltending struggled – against good teams those are things that are hard to overcome but the captains kept the group together and we never lost the group. We all collectively worked our way out of this and credit to the senior group that has won a championship, we played them a lot and worked our way out of this.”

Since the low point of the season, the Bison have gone unbeaten in their last eleven games and have moved into fifth place in the CCC standings with two games remaining in the regular season schedule. They sit just one point behind a struggling Salve Regina team and could move into fourth place and host a playoff game if they continue to finish the season on their current run.

“We aren’t looking at anything beyond Western New England on Thursday,” stated Burgess. “The goal is to go 1-0 on Thursday and then move on to the next game. It is hard to believe that we could move to .500 on the season after the start we had but that is what we are looking at and I think the staff has learned to let the guys enjoy the wins a little more after what we went through to start the season. Collectively we all learned a lot and I know I learned a lot about how everything matters from your demeanor to what you say and how you say it that can send a team one way or the other. We probably never have had some many meetings as a staff or with captains and players but we all worked our way through finding the way back and now are the better for it.”

A game with Curry closes out the regular season on Friday before the CCC tournament next week. There is much reason for optimism with this Nichols team whose seniors remember winning a title not so long ago coming from the No. 5 seed to win the title as the road team in every game.

“There are some great teams in this league,” said Burgess. “UNE, Endicott, Curry and Salve Regina have all had success in the conference but ironically no team has won the CCC from one of the two top seeds with the bye. When we won it was as the No. 5 seed, so anything can happen once you are in the playoff field. I told our guys we are writing a book and the start wasn’t so great. The middle has picked up and we get to choose how we write the ending. They say it’s not about how you start; it’s how you finish. We want to continue with the positive finish and write a great end to this year’s story.”