After qualifying for the NESCAC tournament for three consecutive seasons, the men’s hockey team is still looking to improve. The team is coming off a bitter end to last year’s campaign; it fell to Trinity during the first round of playoffs in a 5-4 overtime stunner. The loss was heartbreaking, as the Cardinals had held a two-goal advantage up until halfway through the third period.
“It’s motivation for sure; we won’t forget what that felt like,” said Captain Keith Buehler ’14. “We won’t ignore what it was like to endure the pain of seeing another team move on.”
Before it can avenge its playoff loss to the Bantams, the team will have to take the season one game at a time in order to navigate through a tricky conference schedule. The Cardinals will not face their intrastate rival until the final week of the season, when they will play back-to-back games on Friday, Feb. 21 and Saturday, Feb. 22.
“It can be difficult with the time changes, where we play on a Friday night and then have to come back for a Saturday afternoon game,” said Head Coach Chris Potter. “The turnaround time is very quick, especially when we play on the road. I always preach to the guys how resting during the week, eating well, and taking care of your body are important for us to create a winning environment.”
Buehler, the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year, will push the Redbirds to a coveted conference championship. The sharpshooter is up for the challenge; he hopes to improve on his 20 goals and 20 assists from last season, when he led all NESCAC players in these categories.
“I think that Keith has to make sure he stays focused on what he’s good at,” Potter said. “We have a good supporting cast around him, with talented forwards, defensemen, and solid goaltending. As long as he works hard, does his job, and leads by example, Keith will have a great season.”
The Wesleyan power play will be essential to the team’s success. Last year, the Cardinals were third in the conference in power play goals, scoring approximately 25 percent of the time.
“When you score goals on the power play, it can take the pressure off and set the tone,” Potter said. “Also, it can put other teams on their heels, which forces them to play more conservatively in fear of committing another penalty. On the other hand, you can win games with a weak power play, but you have no shot at being successful if you can’t kill penalties.”
Another advantage for the Cardinals is that the goaltender, Nolan Daley ’16, will have another year under his belt. As a first-year player he was brought into action mid-season, which is no easy task, regardless of his talent.
“I’m hoping that Nolan is determined to follow up some of the success that he had last year,” Potter said. “Last season, it was easier for him because he didn’t have a lot of expectations. Now, how does he handle having expectations and success? Hopefully, Nolan rises to the occasion and plays with the assurance necessary to win.”
In order to make noise in the conference, the Cardinals will have to defeat rivals Amherst and Williams, as well as 2013 league champion Bowdoin. Wesleyan went 0-1-1 in the last year’s series with the Ephs, which included a thrilling 0-0 draw in Williamstown, but was swept by Amherst in two tightly contested matchups.
“It’s a great conference because you can be picked to finish first in the league and end up in the bottom half, or you could be selected to finish towards the bottom and then win the championship,” Potter said. “Top to bottom, it’s a great league, and every game is an exciting one. That’s the fun thing about this league: it’s tough to put my thumb on one team.”
The team will kick off the new season at home against Tufts on Friday, Nov. 15. After the opener, the players will have to rebound quickly with a game the next day at 3 p.m. against Conn. College.
“Concentration and constant effort are essential to work out two tough teams to get two wins this weekend,” Buehler said. “A fast start to the game will help, as well as a lot of rest in preparation for Friday.”
Wesleyan lost to Tufts by two goals last season in Medford, but was able to eke out a draw when the two played in Middletown. Last year’s team had no trouble with Conn., outscoring the Camels by eight goals in two games.
“I have high expectations for this team,” Potter said. “I think we are very talented, skilled, fast, and balanced. That’s going to be tough to handle. With Keith drawing a lot of attention to himself, it will open up the ice for some of the other guys. This Friday, we start the journey, and my hope is that we will be there at the end to give us a chance at the conference title.”