Men’s Hockey Wins, Ties in Two Maine Match-ups. After Stunning Bowdoin, Jeffs Collapse at Colby
Issue   |   Tue, 02/05/2013 - 21:20
Niahlah Hope '15
Despite entering the third period at Colby up 3-0, the Jeffs conceded three straight to tie, 3-3.

Propelled by an early four-goal outburst and a virtuoso 37-save performance from goaltender Nathan Corey ’13, the men’s hockey team skated to an impressive 6-3 win at Bowdoin last Friday. The Jeffs (12-5-3, 8-4-2 NESCAC, No. 11 in the country) matched a season-high by scoring six goals against the No. 2 Polar Bears (17-2-1, 11-2-1 NESCAC).

In an extreme turn of events, however, the Jeffs followed the statement win at Bowdoin with a disappointing 3-3 tie at Colby (4-13-3, 2-10-2 NESCAC). The Jeffs squandered a 3-0 lead in the third period, blowing an opportunity to grab two points in the tight race for NESCAC playoff positioning.

Despite the collapse at Colby, players and coaches were optimistic heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. Although the talent-laden Jeffs have struggled with erratic play this season, the road victory over top-seeded Bowdoin has strengthened the team’s confidence in its quest to recapture the NESCAC trophy.

“We’ve won some nice road games (Bowdoin, Plattsburgh, Middlebury) in rinks where it isn’t easy to win,” head coach Jack Arena said. “I like the fact that we are comfortable in and competitively tough enough to succeed in those situations.”

“We continue to work on improving every day and have shown we have much to work with,” Arena said. “Different teams gel at different times and I think we’re getting close.”

“It’s certainly frustrating, but we’re not that far off from being where we want to be going into playoffs,” co-captain Brandon Hew ’13 said.

The Jeffs skated to a flying start at Bowdoin, netting four goals in the first period to silence the raucous crowd of 1,750. Amherst took a 1-0 lead 3:30 into the game, as co-captain Mike Moher ’13 flipped the puck over the goaltender’s shoulder just outside the crease. Less than five minutes later, the Jeffs doubled their advantage to 2-0 on their first power-play opportunity. Mike Rowbotham ’15 slid a pass across to slot to Elliot Bostrom, who buried the one-timer against the left post.

After the Polar Bears scored a power-play tally of their own (off a deflection), the Jeffs restored their two-goal cushion after a fantastic individual effort from Conor Brown ’16. The first-year forward sped past a Bowdoin defender on the left side before cutting into the slot and ripping a wrist shot into the upper-left corner with 2:40 remaining in the first period. Amherst capped the first-period scoring barrage with a Nick Brunette ’13 rebound goal with 55 seconds on the clock. Bowdoin goaltender Steve Messina was yanked after allowing four goals on just seven shots.

On the other end of the ice, Amherst goaltender Nathan Corey delivered a spectacular performance between the pipes, stopping 37 of 40 shots to anchor the Jeffs to victory.

“Corey played probably his best game of the year on Friday. There were some highlight-reel saves made at crucial times,” Hew said. “If one of those goes in, it could have been a completely different game.”

“I’d say without a doubt that Corey was our best player. Not only did he make a lot of great saves, but he made big saves at key moments and Bowdoin couldn’t seem to solve him,” Moher said.

After Bowdoin cut the lead to 4-2 in the second period, the Jeffs wasted no time in the third period, as Brown scored his second goal just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff to put Amherst ahead 5-2. The Polar Bears closed the gap to 5-3 with 2:50 remaining, but Rowbotham iced the result with an empty-net goal.

The Polar Bears outshot Amherst by a 40-24 margin, as Bowdoin’s dangerous attack forced the Jeffs to adopt a defensive mindset in the later stages of the contest.

“We played very disciplined defensively and capitalized on our opportunities offensively,” Hew said. “They generated a lot of shots, but Nate stood on his head and made numerous clutch saves.”

After a resounding win over Bowdoin, the Jeffs stumbled to a 3-3 tie at Colby. Amherst opened a 3-0 lead after two periods — despite mustering only 13 shots — but the Mules exploded for three goals in a 3:15 span to stun the Jeffs.

For most of the afternoon, the Jeffs appeared to be cruising to a comfortable — if uninspiring — victory. Brown continued his torrid scoring streak, netting two more goals to give the Jeffs a 2-0 lead by the 4:30 mark of the second period. Amherst’s top line of Brown, Moher and Johnny Van Siclen ’13 factored into four of the team’s six even-strength goals this weekend.

“He’s an easy guy to play with because he’s a big kid that skates very well,” Moher said about Brown. “His goals came in variety, beating guys with speed or going to the high traffic areas to score; he’s a versatile player.”

“Getting four goals is obviously a good weekend statistically, but I thought he along with his line mates really created some quality, sustained offensive pressure throughout the weekend,” Hew said.

Brian Safstrom ’14 stretched the lead to 3-0 off an assist from Rowbotham at the 5:50 mark of the second period, as the Jeffs seemed to have full control over proceedings.

The Mules, however, rallied in stunning fashion in the third period, scoring two goals in a span of five seconds (at 6:22 and 6:27) to wrestle control of momentum. Three minutes later, Colby’s Spike Smigelski scored his second deflection goal of the game to knot the contest at 3-3, forcing Arena to use his lone timeout to stem the bleeding.

“We weren’t playing that well in the first or second against Colby but managed to finish some opportunities and grab a three goal lead,” Moher said. “To let a three goal lead slip away, especially on the road, should never happen.”

“To say the third period was a disappointment is an understatement. They got a lucky bounce on their first goal, and then gained some momentum scoring the second right after that,” Hew said. “But either way, we should have been able to weather the storm and get the game going back in our favor.”

The third-period meltdown at Colby underscored several disturbing trends plaguing Amherst this season. Since coming back from interterm, the Jeffs have played considerably worse in the second leg of weekend doubleheaders. Over the past three NESCAC weekends, the Jeffs have outscored opponents 15-6 in Friday contests, but have a negative goal differential (9-12) in Saturday games.

“Our lackluster Saturdays are definitely not coincidence. It is worrisome, but it’s not a talent issue,” Hew said. “We just need to work on being more consistent in our energy, compete level and sense of urgency.”

The Jeffs have also struggled tremendously in the third period this season. While Amherst has excelled in first and second periods (outscoring NESCAC foes 18-6 and 14-9), the Jeffs have generally floundered in the final 20 minutes, getting outscored 13-7 in the third period.

“We need to be better in the third no doubt,” Hew said. “But we have a lot of guys who have experience playing in important situations in big games. So it’s nothing new to us. It just comes back to the consistency issue: bearing down, making good, smart plays, and having the sense of urgency to bury teams when we have them down.

Looking ahead, the Jeffs will hit the road again this weekend, facing Tufts (1-11-2) on Friday and Conn. College (3-8-3) on Saturday. While the games look like easy wins on paper, the Jeffs realize — particularly after last weekend — that they cannot afford to underestimate any NESCAC opponent.

With four regular season games left on the calendar, the Jeffs currently sit in fifth place in the NESCAC standings, sniping at the heels of Trinity (8-3-3), Williams (9-3-2) and Middlebury (9-3-2). The top four teams receive home-ice advantage in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Given the steep drop-off in the NESCAC standings below the top five (Wesleyan is in sixth place at 5-6-3), the Jeffs have extra incentive to secure a top-three finish before the playoffs begin.