Rejuvenated Men’s Hockey Bursts into NESCAC Lead
Issue   |   Wed, 01/25/2012 - 01:08
Rob Mattson
Aaron Deutsch ’15 has had an impressive rookie season for the Jeffs. He is currently tied for fourth in points.

The men’s hockey team has skated to an impressive start to the season, compiling a 12-3-1 record (9-1-0 NESCAC) to surge to the top of the conference standings. The Jeffs are currently tied with Bowdoin (8-2-2 NESCAC) in the race for the No. 1 seed, but Amherst holds two games in hand.

Before a 3-0 loss to Utica on Saturday, the Jeffs collected a 12-2-1 record in their first 15 games. The 25 points accumulated in that span marked the program’s highest point total through 15 games since the 1998-99 season.

After a lackluster 12-9-4 campaign in 2010-2011, the Jeffs have rebounded to become one of the best teams in Division III hockey, rising to No. 6 in the national polls last week.

“Overall I’ve been very pleased with our team’s progress as the season has gone on,” head coach Jack Arena said. “We’ve competed hard and consistently throughout.”

“I would guess that our improvement over last year is primarily due to team chemistry. That comes from good leadership from the captains and seniors and accountability throughout,” Arena said.

On offense, the Jeffs have gotten scoring contributions from a wide range of players. While Amherst has no skaters who rank inside the NESCAC’s top 15 point-scorers, the Jeffs boast nine players in the top 50.

Amherst sits third in the NESCAC in scoring offense, averaging 3.80 goals per league game. The shutout loss at Utica snapped a nine-game streak in which the Jeffs had scored at least three goals in each contest.

“We are very balanced with our attack and that has been a huge advantage,” Arena said. “Teams can’t concentrate on stopping a single guy or line to slow us down.”

In particular, Mark Colp ’12 and Johnny Van Siclen ’13 have helped fuel the Amherst scoring barrage, leading the roster with 15 points apiece. Van Siclen’s production has surprised many observers around the league, as the injury-plagued forward recorded just four assists in 17 games in his first two seasons.

“Johnny Van Siclen has gotten off to a great start,” Arena said. “He’s always possessed a lot of talent and it looks like things are falling into place for him.”

Five other Jeffs have posted double-digit point totals, including Mike Moher ’13, Dylan Trumble ’13, Andrew Kurlandski ’14, Aaron Deutsch ’15 and Eddie Effinger ’12.

The Jeffs have also been stingy on the defensive end, allowing a league-low 2.3 goals per game. Excluding an ugly 7-4 loss to an explosive Bowdoin team on Jan. 6, Amherst has conceded just 1.77 goals per game in its nine NESCAC victories.
Goaltenders Jonathan La Rose ’12 and Nathan Corey ’13 have posted a cumulative save percentage of .916, a strong improvement over last year’s .903 mark.

Highlights from the first half of the season include a pair of dramatic victories over rivals Williams (7-2-1 NESCAC) and Middlebury (6-4-0) at Orr Rink on the weekend of Dec. 9-10.

In the contest against Williams, Amherst built a 5-2 lead through the first 45 minutes of action. Just as the Jeffs appeared to be cruising to an easy victory, the Ephs mounted a furious comeback to make the game interesting. After conceding two power play goals in the final five minutes, the Jeffs needed La Rose to make a spectacular diving save in the dying seconds to preserve the victory, much to the delight of a raucous home crowd.

The Jeffs avoided a letdown against Middlebury the next day, scraping out a 4-3 overtime victory. Brian Safstrom ’14 notched the game-winning goal just 32 seconds into the extra session, fighting his way to a loose rebound before jamming the puck just inside the left post.

After a 3-0 home win against Lake Forest, the Jeffs embarked on a stretch of nine consecutive road games. Amherst went 3-1-1 in the first five games, tying Manhattanville and enduring a blowout loss to Bowdoin before securing wins over Colby, Tufts and Conn. College. Last weekend, the Jeffs traveled to upstate New York to take on Hamilton and Utica.

Bolstered by Van Siclen’s hat-trick performance — his second three-goal outing of the season — the Jeffs trounced the Continentals (3-7-0 NESCAC) by a 5-1 score on Friday, continuing their dominance over league opponents.

Amherst opened the scoring with a power-play goal 9:27 into the first period, as Van Siclen one-timed a cross-ice feed from Jamie Hawkrigg ’13.

The two teams exchanged goals early in the second period — Kurlandski at 5:05 and Hamilton’s Anthony Ruberto at 7:45 — but the Jeffs iced the result with two goals later in the period. Kurlandski netted his second score with a big slap shot from the left point at 13:08. Five minutes later, Van Siclen extended the Amherst lead to 4-1, rifling a loose puck immediately after a faceoff in the right circle.

Van Siclen capped the hat-trick with a goal 18 seconds before the final buzzer of the third period. La Rose stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced, and the Jeffs outshot Hamilton by a 37-27 margin.

“We played very well at Hamilton,” Arena said. “We played with energy and passion and did so for a full game.”
Amherst’s four-game winning streak skidded to a halt, however, in a 3-0 loss at No. 11 Utica on Saturday. Playing in a hostile road environment — attendance was 2,873 (larger than Utica’s entire student population of 2,505) — the Jeffs struggled to sustain consistent pressure, managing just 12 shots in the entire contest.

Utica held a 25-12 edge in shots — including 12-2 in the opening period — and scored a goal in each period.
“Against Utica, we didn’t handle their style very well and allowed them to do to us what we usually do to other teams,” Arena said. “They pressured us all over the ice and we never got ourselves going.”

The Jeffs will end a stretch of nine consecutive road games by traveling to Wesleyan (4-5-1 NESCAC) and Trinity (4-5-1) this weekend. Amherst eked out one-goal wins against both of these teams in early December, 3-2 over Wesleyan and 2-1 over Trinity.