Men's Hockey to Play in First-Ever Frozen Four
Issue   |   Tue, 03/13/2012 - 23:09
Photo courtesy of Rob Mattson
Brian Safstrom ’14 fights for the puck in the NESCAC final victory against Middlebury.

Propelled by a three-goal outburst in the second period, the men’s hockey team advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four with an impressive 3-1 win over Plattsburgh State at Orr Rink this past Saturday. The victory catapults Amherst (24-3-1) into its first Frozen Four appearance in program history.

The No. 2-ranked Jeffs will travel to Lake Placid, NY this weekend to take on No. 3 SUNY Oswego (23-3-2) in the national semifinals. Top-seeded Norwich takes on No. 5 St. Norbert’s in the other semifinal.

On the heels of a thrilling NESCAC Championship win over Middlebury the previous weekend, the Jeffs started slow against Plattsburgh (19-5-4). The Cardinals grabbed a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game when first-year Alex Jensen netted a loose puck from a goal-crease scramble.

Having shifted the momentum with a strong finish to the first stanza, the Jeffs came out firing on all cylinders in the second period. Pounding the Cardinals with a tenacious forecheck and airtight defense, the Jeffs stunned Plattsburgh with three unanswered goals in the period.

“We started to win one-on-one battles and races for the puck,” head coach Jack Arena said. “When we’re doing that, we’ve had our best success.”

Co-captain Eddie Effinger ’12 ignited the Jeffs’ surge with a goal 6:28 into the period. Mark Colp ’12 skated the puck into the left corner of the Plattsburgh zone before sending a backhand pass into the high slot. Effinger — trailing behind Colp — snapped a quick shot that appeared to knuckle over the left shoulder of the Plattsburgh goaltender.

Continuing to apply pressure in the offensive zone, the Jeffs seized a 2-1 lead with 5:32 remaining in the second period. Puck-moving defenseman Aaron Deutsch ’15 gathered a weak clearing attempt at the left point, before floating a high wrist shot that navigated through traffic and into the upper right corner of the net. Plattsburgh called a timeout immediately after Deutsch’s goal, but the respite did not quell Amherst’s momentum. The Cardinals committed a careless penalty 32 seconds after the timeout, and the Jeffs capitalized on the ensuing power play to extend the lead to 3-1. Deutsch found a passing lane, sliding the puck to Mike Moher ’13, who was standing at the doorstep of the right post. Moher then tried to jam the puck into the cage; the puck squirted out to the far post, where Effinger buried the rebound.

In the third period, the Jeffs continued to frustrate Plattsburgh with suffocating defense, persistently clogging passing lanes and sacrificing the body to block shots. On the rare occasions when the Cardinals found space in the Amherst zone, star goaltender Jonathan La Rose ’12 smothered the attempts. Plattsburgh created some scoring chances on its two power plays, but La Rose and the dogged penalty-killers stymied the Cardinals to preserve the 3-1 lead.

“Defensively, I thought we did a good job, but when we forecheck well like we did Saturday, we spend a lot of time in the offensive end,” Arena said.

With the victory, the Jeffs surpassed Amherst’s 2008-09 team — also NESCAC champs — for the deepest NCAA run in program history. In 2009, the Jeffs advanced to the national quarterfinals but suffered a gut-wrenching 2-1 overtime loss to Hobart.

Amherst’s remarkable success this year represents a dramatic turnaround from last season’s campaign, in which the Jeffs stumbled to a 12-9-3 record and a first-round exit in the NESCAC tournament. While the re-emergence of La Rose — arguably the nation’s best goaltender (his .943 save percentage leads the nation) — has certainly contributed to the squad’s improvement, Arena stressed the influence of better team chemistry and overall work ethic.

“This year’s team has worked hard beginning last spring. Their attitude is phenomenal, and the consistency of their effort is unmatched,” Arena said. “Our leadership is what has driven the success and the guys hold each other accountable. No one is afraid of holding someone else accountable; no one is offended by being held accountable. That combination is rare.”

Amherst’s road to the NCAA title only becomes more difficult this weekend, as the Jeffs will battle perennial powerhouse SUNY Oswego. The 2007 NCAA champions thrashed Elmira 5-0 in the quarterfinals last weekend to advance to their third straight Frozen Four. The explosive Lakers rank second in the country in scoring offense (4.68 goals per game).

“Oswego is a supremely talented team,” Arena said. “They have as much skill as any team we’ll face, and we need to be at our best against them.”