Men's Hockey Trumps Conn. In Comeback Win
Issue   |   Tue, 03/04/2014 - 21:22

The second-seeded Amherst men’s ice hockey team started their NESCAC tournament off on the right foot with a win against seventh-seeded Conn. College on Saturday at Orr Rink. Despite trailing late in the third, the Jeffs rallied and put home three consecutive scores to come out triumphant with a 4-2 victory against the Camels.

Both teams were held scoreless to start the first period despite some potential opportunities on both sides. Amherst notched the first goal midway through the first when Mike Rowbotham ’15 shot the puck past the Camels goaltender off an assist by senior captain Andrew Kurlandksi. That point marked Rowbotham’s fifth score and Kurlanski’s seventh apple on the season. The remainder of the first was scoreless even though Amherst outshot the Camels 13-6.

Just under seven minutes into the second period, Conn. got on the board first thanks to a goal from captain Mike Sinsigali. The defense was on point for both sides for the remainder of the period, and Cunningham racked up six more saves before the buzzer rang.

“We felt pretty uneasy in the locker room after the second period because the game was tied up, and there was the possibility that Conn. could get the next goal, which would give them the lead at a critical moment in the game,” Elliot Bostrom ’14 said.

Although Amherst opened the third period with a power play, it was the Camels again who managed to score and take the 2-1 lead 1:08 into the frame. Amherst was unable to capitalize on their only two man-up opportunities of the night, while the Camels were 1-3 on power plays over the game.

“I personally never thought we could ever lose, but I was nervous that we wouldn’t be able to repsond if Conn. gained the lead in the third period. Conn. did gain the lead in the third period, and visions of our season ending started to creep into my head,” Bostrom added.

The Jeffs didn’t relent, however, and Bostrom let off a slap shot 3:34 into the third period that found the back of the Camels’ net to tie up the game. The unassisted goal was the senior defender’s third of the season.

With the game squared at two apiece, Amherst looked to their dominant netminder to keep them in the game, and Cunningham did just that by making a number of excellent saves. He finished the night with 23 saves, 11 coming in the critical third period. The sophomore has 538 saves on the season and a 92.3% save percentage.

After fifteen minutes of hotly contested play, including two penalties from both teams, Brendan Burke ’16 took the puck down the left side of the ice past the Camel’s last line of defense to score the game-winning goal with less than three minutes remaining. Burke has nine goals on the season, which makes him the second leading goal-scorer behind fellow sophomore Conor Brown, who has found the back of the night 10 times this season.

Senior captain Brian Safstrom wrapped up the scoring for the day when he scored an empty-netter with just under a minute left in regulation to seal the victory for Amherst. It was his eighth score on the season, and that play capped off the Jeffs’ come-from-behind-win to allow them to survive and advance to next weekend. Despite being seeded seventh in the tournament, Conn. still put up a tough fight, as Amherst only outshot the Camels 30-25.

“Conn. was probably the hottest NESCAC team heading into the playoffs, so we fully expected the game to be difficult and low scoring,” Coach Jack Area said. “I was pleased with the team and how they stayed focused and were committed to what we wanted to do. Conn.’s style is a bit different from a lot of NESCAC teams, and it forced us to change the focus of the way we play. The players didn’t panic when we fell behind and kept doing what we asked of them.”

Next Saturday, March 8, the Jeffs will face Williams in the NESCAC Semifinals, hosted at Trinity. It will be the third time these two teams have met on the season. The Ephs managed to take home the first game at Orr Rink with a 1-0 win in December, but Amherst won their second contest decisively to close out the regular season with a 4-1 victory in Williamstown.

Both teams finished 15-7-3 on the year, but the Jeffs had a better conference record (12-4-2) to take the second seed, while the Ephs are the third seed (10-5-3). In their quarterfinal contest last Saturday, Williams cruised past Colby for an easy 7-3 victory.

“Williams is a team that is very similar in style and composition to us. I think our two games have reflected that and I’m sure Saturday’s game will be very tight and probably come down to who makes the big play at the right time,” Arena said.

The winner of the Amherst-Williams will play the winner of Bowdoin-Trinity in the NESCAC Finals, to be held at Trinity on March 15.