Men's Hockey Picks Up Two Big Wins
Issue   |   Tue, 02/12/2013 - 21:49
Niahlah Hope '15, Public Affairs Office
The Jeffs are 14-5-3, which ties them for third in the NESCAC.

Bolstered by tenacious forechecking and surging offensive production, the men’s hockey team cruised to a pair of easy victories last weekend, defeating NESCAC bottom-feeders Conn. College 4-2 and Tufts 6-1.

The Jeffs (14-5-3, 10-4-2 NESCAC) are now preparing for the most pivotal regular season weekend of the year — a home doubleheader against Williams and Middlebury, two of Amherst’s most competitive rivals in hockey.

While the match-ups are inherently compelling given the storied history between these traditional NESCAC heavyweights, the contests at Orr Rink this weekend have serious playoff seeding implications as well.

With two regular season games left on the calendar, Amherst, Williams (10-4-2) and Middlebury (10-4-2) are knotted in a three-way tie for third place in the NESCAC standings.

The top four teams in the conference will receive home-ice advantage in the NESCAC tournament, which begins next weekend.

“With all three of us tied in the standings, each team will be looking to secure a home playoff game. So they should be some intense, pressure-filled games,” co-captain Brandon Hew ’13 said.

Focusing at the task at hand, the Jeffs avoided a letdown in two ‘trap games’ last weekend, taking care of business against Conn. College (3-10-3 NESCAC) and Tufts (2-12-2).

After Blizzard Nemo dumped two to three feet of snow throughout New England, the games (originally scheduled for Friday/Saturday) were postponed to Sunday and Monday. The Jeffs, however, hardly missed a beat while outscoring their opponents by a 10-3 margin.

Committing few mistakes in a solid, disciplined performance, Amherst grinded out a 4-2 victory over Conn. College on Sunday, exacting revenge for a disappointing 2-2 draw back in January.

The Jeffs skated to a strong start against the Camels, jumping out to a 3-0 lead by the midway point of the second period. Defenseman James Hawkrigg ’13 opened the scoring with a power-play goal 11:56 into the first period, assisted by Mike Rowbotham ’15 and Andrew Kurlandski ’14, giving the Jeffs a 1-0 lead at intermission. Just 1:27 into the second period, Brian Safstrom ’14 doubled the Jeffs’ lead, forcing his way to the crease before stuffing a rebound from junior Eliot Bostrom’s slap shot.

Only a little more than five minutes later, Johnny Van Siclen ’13 scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season, re-directing a shot from Kevin Ryder ’16 to give the Jeffs a 3-0 edge.

While the Camels struck back with a goal at 14:01 into the period, the Jeffs restored their three-goal cushion just over two minutes later, as Rowbotham ripped a one-timer off a pass from Safstrom.

Conn. College scored a consolation goal with 5:10 remaining in the third period, but the Jeffs held on to secure the 4-2 victory. Goaltender Nathan Corey ’13 turned in another steady performance, stopping 22 of 24 shots.

“I thought we played well against Conn. We weren’t at our very best, but we did a lot of good things,” Hew said. “Our forwards got their legs going on the forecheck, and once we gained possession in the offensive zone, I thought we did a pretty good job at using our speed to create separation and opportunities.”

“We were consistent against Conn. and although not spectacular, we were able to maintain our energy and focus throughout the entire game,” head coach Jack Arena added.

The next day, the Jeffs pounded last-place Tufts by a 6-1 score, scoring six unanswered goals after falling behind 1-0 in the opening 20 minutes.

The Jumbos — who had defeated Hamilton 6-4 the previous day for just their second NESCAC win of the season — came out confident and surprised the slow-starting Jeffs in the first period.

“We didn’t have a great first period against Tufts. Our intensity and competitiveness just wasn’t there for the first 20 minutes,” Hew said.

The Jeffs, however, opened the scoring floodgates in the middle period, netting three goals in a nine-minute span. Safstrom continued his productive weekend with an unassisted goal 4:39 into the period, then set up Kurlandski for the go-ahead tally at 7:39. Six minutes later, Andrew Fenwick ’15 extended the Jeffs’ lead to 3-1 with a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle.

“Once we started attacking them and really using our speed, we were able to take control of the game,” Hew said.

Taking a 3-1 lead into the final period, the Jeffs dashed any hopes of a Tufts comeback when Kurlandski scored a power-play goal 1:27 into the stanza.

“Scoring that power-play goal quickly in the third to go up 4-1 was huge. It was probably what ultimately broke their will to play and compete,” Hew said.

Dylan Trumble ’13 and Ryder capped the scoring onslaught with a pair of goals just 21 seconds apart (at 9:39 and 10:00). The Jeffs finished the game with a 40-26 shots advantage and went 2-for-4 on the power play in a dominating performance.

“Against Tufts, we had the type of first period that has plagued us recently. We didn’t play with the attacking, aggressive mentality we need to be successful,” Arena said. “We were able to establish that in the second and third periods and force the game to be played at a pace where we’re most effective.”

In what is sure to be an electric atmosphere at Orr Rink this weekend, the Jeffs can clinch at least the No. 3 seed with wins over Williams and Middlebury.

Given the steep drop-off in the NESCAC standings below the top five (Wesleyan is in sixth place at 5-6-4), the Jeffs have extra incentive to secure a top-three finish before the playoffs begin.

In previous meetings this season, the Jeffs lost to Williams 2-1 but defeated Middlebury 4-2. The 2-1 setback to the Ephs was Amherst’s first loss to Williams since the 2006-2007 season, ending a seven-game win streak in the rivalry.

Williams and Amherst not only have identical league records, but have also posted very similar numbers on offense and defense. During NESCAC play, the Jeffs have scored 49 goals (3.06 per game) and allowed 31 (1.94 per game). Likewise, the Ephs have outscored opponents 46-30 (2.88 – 1.88 per game).

“Williams is an outstanding defensive team with excellent balance,” Arena said. “I think the game will be hard-fought and close and come down to one play or one mistake.”

Middlebury, by contrast, features a high-octane scoring attack but less reliable defense, sporting a goal differential of 61-47 (3.81 – 2.94 per game).

“If we skate, compete, and play with a high level of intensity, we should put ourselves in a pretty good position to win,” Hew said. “We are pretty much in playoff mode from here on out. In each game going forward, anything short of a win simply won’t do.”