With two wins last weekend, the men’s hockey team would have had a stellar chance to take control of the fourth and final spot for a playoff game on home ice. Instead, after a weekend of tough, hard-fought hockey, the Cardinals are still in need of a win (or a Hamilton loss) in their final two games in order to lock up the final overall playoff seed. The team started the weekend off strong, defeating the Mules in Waterville by a score of 5-2.
“I thought we played well,” said Head Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Chris Potter. “We came out at Colby and had a great first period on the road.”
After the opening period, the Cardinals were leading 1-0 on a rebound that was put in by Brad Improta ’14 off a wraparound attempt by Captain Keith Buehler ’14. Despite trailing in the game, the Mules dominated play for the first half of the second period and eventually scored an equalizer. Colby’s control faltered after the team failed to convert on a power play midway through the period.
“We had to kill a five-on-three in the second period, and after that, we had the three goals in under a minute,” Potter said. “That flurry of goals really started with our line of Vorel [’17], Oujevolk [’17], and Collins [’14], who had a great shift prior to the three goals. Four to one to start the period and we scored a power play goal, which took the wind out of their sails.”
Each of the three goals was scored by different lines, as Buehler, James Kline ’17, and Terence Durkin ’16 all scored within a minute of each other. After Durkin put in a one-timer from the right wing circle off assists from Jaren Taenaka ’16 and Cole Morrissette ’17, the Colby goalie was pulled. Buehler would later add a second goal on the evening, going short side over the right blocker on the power play.
“I think we have always had confidence that we can score,” Potter said. “Having the balance of a good offense and being able to play defense is the trick for us. Good structure will create offense, and our skill will take over.”
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they failed in phase two of their road trip to Maine, losing to Bowdoin in overtime by a score of 4-3. It’s the second time this season that Wesleyan has held a two-goal advantage over the Polar Bears, but still managed to lose the game.
“That is my one concern with a young team,” Potter said. “I want to let them play, but there needs to be a better understanding of what it takes to win and how to play in the key moments of the game. We are getting better, but there is room for improvement.”
After allowing a goal in the opening minutes of the game, Wesleyan came back with two goals of its own, scored by Buehler and Robby Harbison ’17, the first of his career. Just four minutes into the second period, Wesleyan would take a commanding 3-1 lead after Taenaka scored off an assist from Durkin. After this goal, Bowdoin would have the last laugh, scoring the final three times in the game. The deciding goal came with just 15 seconds left in overtime, when Matt Sullivan put the puck past Dawson Sprigings ’17 to give Bowdoin the victory.
When asked about possible future playoff games, Potter declined to look past next week’s matchups against Trinity.
“Well, we are not in the playoffs today, and there is still lots of work to do,” Potter said. “Right now, we are focused on Trinity and improving on our last weekend.”
Despite the potentially demoralizing loss to Bowdoin, the Cardinals will have to have a short-term memory, because if they don’t take care of business against Trinity, they could be sitting on the sidelines come playoff time.
“I think our confidence is good,” Potter said. “Two points on the Maine trip is always good. We had a goal to improve on our record the first time through the league (2-6) and we went 4-3-1 with two overtime losses with only our travel partner games left.”
Fighting for its playoff spot, the team will be back in action in Hartford on Friday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. against Trinity. Both teams will travel back to Middletown for a 3 p.m. game the next day. The Redbirds will have to stay levelheaded and play to their strengths if they want to come out victorious against the conference’s top team.
“First, we want to play with the confidence we have developed over the past two weeks and try to improve on our play in a tight game whether we are behind or we are up,” Potter said. “Secondly, we have to be aware of some of their guys. I am not sure if they are all on one line, but they have a few guys who are having monster years offensively, and it’s no surprise that they are in first going into the last weekend. I think both teams have a lot to play for. They are playing for league championship, and we still need another win to control our playoff spot.”