Fueled by aggressive forechecking, balanced scoring production and stingy defense, the men’s hockey team pounded and pummeled its opponents last weekend, as the Jeffs earned shutout victories over Wesleyan (6-0) and Trinity (3-0).
With the two wins, the Jeffs (14-3-1, 11-1-0 NESCAC) moved four points ahead of second-place Bowdoin (8-2-2 NESCAC) for the conference’s top spot. In a battle of league heavyweights, Amherst and Bowdoin will square off at Orr Rink this Friday night, at 7 pm.
The Jeffs thrashed Wesleyan 6-0 on Saturday, sustaining a physical, high-tempo pace to overwhelm the Cardinals (5-6-1 NESCAC). Six different players scored for Amherst, and a total of 13 Jeffs registered at least one point.
“We have a very balanced team, unlike a lot of the other NESCAC squads that have one or two scoring lines,” co-captain Eddie Effinger ’12 said. “We can roll all four lines and wear teams down. Our success comes from the collective effort and team speed.”
“Because we don’t have just one line or a few guys that are explosive offensively, we need to generate and sustain pressure on the other teams,” head coach Jack Arena said. “We get our chances from the pressure, and when we play physically and skate, we’ve been able to make teams uncomfortable.”
Brian Safstrom ’14 opened the scoring with a goal 3:17 into the first period, elevating a rebound past Wesleyan goaltender Glenn Stowell for his seventh goal of the season.
The Jeffs broke the game open in the second period, bagging three goals to capture a 4-0 lead. Puck-moving defenseman Aaron Deutsch ’15 scored his first career goal 4:01 into the period, slipping a low shot past Stowell from the top of the circle. Twelve minutes later, Mike Moher ’13 tallied a power-play goal off the crossbar, and Dylan Trumble added a score at 18:30.
Amherst extended the lead to 6-0 with two goals early in the second period, with Jamie Hawkrigg ’13 and Effinger finding the net. The Jeffs finished the game with a 34-23 advantage in shots. Jonathan La Rose ’12 recorded 23 saves for his second shutout of the season.
The Jeffs continued their Connecticut road trip with a 3-0 victory over Trinity (4-6-2 NESCAC) on Sunday afternoon. Amherst quickly took the upper hand, as Erik Hansen ’14 netted a rebound 3:31 into the first period.
Similar to the Wesleyan game, the Jeffs’ scoring attack exploded in the second period, as Amherst bagged a pair of goals less than three minutes apart to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Nick Brunette ’13 scored 5:28 into the middle stanza, and Ryan Edwards ’14 netted an insurance goal at 7:52.
La Rose (28 saves) and the defense stymied the Bantams en route to a second straight shutout. La Rose has been phenomenal in recent weeks, stopping 92 of 93 shots in his last four starts. The hot streak has lifted his save percentage to .931, topping in the NESCAC.
“Rosie is starting to really get it going in the net. He is seeing the puck well, and our defense is limiting teams second and third scoring chances making his job easier,” Effinger said.
Consecutive blowouts over Wesleyan and Trinity this weekend could suggest that the Jeffs are widening the gap between themselves and their NESCAC opponents. When Amherst played the Cardinals and Bantams in early December, the Jeffs eked out a pair of one-goal victories (3-2 and 2-1).
Considering that Amherst went 8-1-0 in the first rotation of NESCAC matchups, the Jeffs’ recent improvement is a scary development for the rest of the league. In its first three NESCAC games this season – Hamilton, Wesleyan and Trinity – the Jeffs outscored their opponents 7-3. Against those same schools in late January, Amherst romped to a 14-1 aggregate score.
“Playing these teams for a second time enables us to judge how our team has grown and what areas we need to continue to improve,” Effinger said. “I think we have obviously made larger gains than a lot of NESCAC teams since the beginning of the season, but we aren’t satisfied and know that there is a lot of regular season hockey to be played.”
Having just completed a nine-game stretch of road games, the Jeffs begin February with a crucial home-ice tilt against Bowdoin on Friday. The Polar Bears, who lead the NESCAC in scoring offense (4.67 goals per game), pulverized the Jeffs’ defense in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 6, a 7-4 Bowdoin win. The Amherst defense has tightened up since that defeat, surrendering just 1.29 goals per game in the following seven contests.
“Bowdoin is by far the most talented team in NESCAC,” Arena said. “We’ll need to have all five players on the ice committed to playing defense and we’ll need excellent goaltending.”
If the Jeffs defeat Bowdoin, Amherst would take a commanding six-point lead in the standings with five games to play.