While most Wesleyan students were enjoying their time home with family and friends, the men’s hockey team traveled on a fast-paced roller coaster, going 4-5 in their last nine outings. Over this span, there were many tightly contested games, some of which landed in the favor of the Cardinals, while other opportunities fell through the cracks.
“We have played okay,” said Head Coach Chris Potter. “We had some success in our non-league games and played well. We have not played to our potential as of late, but we continue to work to improve our game.”
The team started the break off on a hot streak, defeating non-conference opponents Hobart, New England College, and SUNY Canton by a total of seven goals. Goalies Nolan Daley ’16 and Dawson Sprigings ’17 combined for a .922 save percentage through the three games.
“I think we were playing with a swagger and a lot of energy,” Potter said. “Our execution was better and our special teams were better.”
After dominating the non-conference schedule, the Redbirds hit a roadblock, losing their next four games, three of them by a one-goal margin. Wesleyan first lost to Little Three rival Williams 3-2, and then followed up that performance with a rough 5-0 defeat at the hands of Middlebury.
After recuperating from the blowout, the team played host in a contest against Colby in which they held a two-goal lead after scoring with just five minutes remaining. The Mules bounced back, though, scoring two goals in the final two minutes. The second goal, which was scored with only 10 seconds remaining, put the game into overtime. There, the Mules rode their momentum to victory, netting the winning goal three minutes into the period.
“Our confidence has taken a few shots, but the challenge is to keep working through the adversity,” Potter said. The next day against Bowdoin, things were looking good after goals by Jackson Brandstetter ’14 and Assistant Captain Tommy Hartnett ’14 put the Cardinals up by two. Unfortunately, the Polar Bears froze the Cardinals, scoring three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 victory.
“We are always disappointed when we lose, but I am not frustrated with the group,” Potter said. “They are learning to play in tight games. I think if I had an area of concern, it would be finishing games and playing with the confidence and execution that we start games with.”
With the Cardinals slipping in the standings, Captain Keith Buehler ’14 led the team to a much-needed victory over Tufts to halt the losing streak. Buehler scored twice, including the empty-net goal that clinched the game with three seconds remaining.
Needing another big victory to start a win streak and climb past Conn College in the standings, Wesleyan put up a valiant effort against the Camels. Sadly, the Camels held on to the last playoff spot and edged the Cardinals in overtime by a score of 2-1. Conn was aided by a power play during the overtime period, which was awarded to them after Cole Morrissette ’17 was assessed a two-minute tripping penalty at the end of the third period. Sprigings played well in the game with a .941 save percentage, stopping 32 of 34 shots fired at him.
The team will need to improve their play in the latter stages of the season if they want to make a push into the playoffs. For a team that had championship hopes at the start of the season, they certainly have the talent to get hot heading into the playoffs.
“Our focus is on practice habits that we can take into games,” Potter said. “We also want to focus on maturing as a group. Whether it is the leaders of the team leading by example or the younger guys taking another step, we all have jobs to do.”
The Cardinals’ next game will be played at Spurrier-Snyder Rink against Hamilton on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. Then, the team will come back to the rink the next day and face off against Amherst at 3 p.m. Wesleyan will be looking to avenge its early season defeats, having lost by three to both teams.
“I think that one important quality that the team will have to improve on in order to make a run for the playoffs is confidence,” Potter said. “We need to improve on finishing games and playing in the important moments of games.”