Men’s Hockey Bruises Opponents to Grab No. 1 NESCAC Seed
Issue   |   Wed, 02/15/2012 - 00:36
Photo courtesy of Rob Mattson
Aaron Deutsch ’15 tallied three points this weekend in the Jeffs back-to-back wins against Tufts and Conn. College.

Bolstered by a dynamic power play and a balanced scoring attack, the men’s hockey team clinched the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC tournament with a pair of emphatic wins over Tufts (score 8-0) and Conn. College (5-2) last weekend. The Jeffs (18-3-1, 15-1-0 NESCAC) have now reeled off six straight victories, outscoring their opponents 30-5 in that span.

The recent surge has catapulted the Jeffs to No. 3 in the national polls — the highest such ranking in program history. In addition, Amherst has clinched home-ice advantage throughout the NESCAC tournament.

The juggernaut Jeffs steamrolled Tufts (8-7-1 NESCAC) by an 8-0 score on Saturday. Eight different players netted goals for Amherst, continuing a season-long trend of balanced scoring. To illustrate the Jeffs’ depth on offense, only one Amherst player (Mike Moher ’13) ranks among the top 15 point-scorers in the NESCAC; however, the Jeffs feature 11 players in the top 50. As a team, the Jeffs have scored 4.25 goals per NESCAC game, barely behind Bowdoin (4.31) for the conference lead.

“We have a very balanced team, unlike a lot of the other NESCAC squads that have only 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.”

Against Tufts, the Jeffs rode a hot power play to a 3-0 lead, then bagged five even-strength goals to humiliate the Jumbos. Brian Safstrom ’14 scored a power-play goal with 11 seconds remaining in the first period to give the Jeffs a 1-0 lead at the intermission.

Amherst’s top-ranked power play continued to torment Tufts in the second period, as the Jeffs scored two more goals with the man advantage. The Jumbos lost their discipline early on, committing a rash of penalties — including a ‘checking-from-behind’ game misconduct — that gave the Jeffs a five-on-three opportunity five minutes into the period. On the subsequent power play, Effinger scored 6:16 into the period to extend the Amherst lead to 2-0, and Jamie Hawkrigg ’13 lit the lamp less than a minute later to give the Jeffs a three-goal cushion.

The Jeffs lead the NESCAC with a 31.1 percent success rate on the power play this season, far ahead of second-place Bowdoin (23.8) and third-place Middlebury (19.7). In the two games this weekend, Amherst scored on five-of-10 opportunities with the man advantage.

“Our power play has been effective of late. I think it has to do with the guys being comfortable with what we try to do and what they should be looking for, and we’ve also gotten some good bounces,” head coach Jack Arena said.

Mark Colp ’12 extended the lead to 4-0 with a goal with 6:07 remaining in the second period, prompting Tufts to bench star goaltender Scott Barchard, who entered the weekend with a sterling .931 save percentage. The Jeffs bagged another four goals in the third period, and finished with a decisive 44-17 advantage in shots. Goaltender Jonathan La Rose ’12 turned aside all 17 shots to earn his fourth shutout of the season.

Having secured the NESCAC’s top seed in the 8-0 rout over Tufts, the Jeffs avoided a letdown the next day with a 5-2 win over Conn. College (4-10-2 NESCAC).

“We’ve been pretty good all year in the first game of the weekend, but not as sharp in the second,” Arena said. “I thought Sunday’s game against Conn might have been our best ‘second’ game yet.” In nine sets of back-to-back games this season, the Jeffs have outscored their opponents 46-17 in the first game, but just 26-18 in the second.

The Jeffs skated to a dominant start against Conn. College, ending the first period with a 1-0 lead and a 15-4 edge in shots. Once again, the Jeffs’ power play served a pivotal role, as Moher tallied his team-leading 10th goal of the season at the 9:32 mark to give Amherst the upper hand.

Similar to the Tufts game, Amherst opened the floodgates in the second period, racking up three goals to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Andrew Kurlandski ’14 scored 7:19 into the period, and Nick Brunette ’13 netted a power-play goal with 4:33 remaining. First-yea Andrew Fenwick’s first collegiate goal with 39 seconds left capped the second-period scoring.

Conn. College came out stronger in the third period, netting two goals to close the gap to 4-2. The Camels pulled their goaltender with four minutes remaining to catch the Jeffs by surprise; the daring move succeeded as Conn. College’s Julien Boutet scored with 3:21 left. The Amherst defense held on, however, and co-captain Mike Baran ’12 notched an empty-net goal to ice the result.

Entering the 2011-12 season, the Jeffs looked to rebound from a lackluster campaign (12-9-3 record) the previous year. Personnel additions such as La Rose and Aaron Deutsch ’15 — a rookie defenseman who now leads Amherst with 15 assists — have certainly enhanced the team’s skill level. Coach Arena, however, said that improvements in team chemistry, discipline and toughness have been the most powerful factors in the Jeffs’ remarkable 18-3-1 run (as opposed to differences in talent).
“Our leadership has been excellent and as a group they hold each other accountable,” Arena said. “They’ve worked hard beginning last spring and that has carried over until today. It’s a great group to work with.”

“Our success is predicated on our work ethic, balance and attention to the little details that make a big difference. We have to continue with those things and keep competing as hard as we’ve done all year,” he said.