The 2014-15 men’s hockey team is not satisfied with four consecutive post-season appearances and three straight first-round exits. The Cardinals ended the previous season at 11-12-2 overall, posting a 6-11-1 NESCAC record, and finishing 5-1-1 out of conference. Ignited by a strong pre-season on the ice and depth at all four lines, the Cardinals see themselves playing into the second weekend of March, hopefully at Spurrier-Snyder Rink.
“Our team expects to win a NESCAC championship this year,” wrote Captain Jim Albrecht ’15 in an email to the Argus. “We are looking to take the season one weekend at a time and make sure we are getting the job done every game. Clinching home ice for the playoffs is another one of our goals on our journey to the NESCAC tournament.”
Also wearing the “C” on his chest this season for the Red and Black will be forward Connor Ryan ’15. The senior believes that this is the team’s time to skate past its foes.
“We have high hopes for the squad this year, and for us, it’s extremely realistic to see ourselves earning home-ice advantage in the playoffs and winning a NESCAC Championship,” Ryan wrote in an email to The Argus.
Wes will have to overcome the loss of last year’s senior class, which includes Keith Buehler ’14, who tallied 55 goals and 57 assists, eclipsing the 100-point mark in his time as a Cardinal. The team also lost another leader and 67 career points in Tom Hartnett ’14.
“We had some special leaders last year, one of which was the best player in the NESCAC for the past three years (Buehler),” Ryan wrote. “In years past, we have really looked to him to carry a massive weight on his shoulders. This year, I feel like we have a lot of guys in the locker room who are leaders and who will be stepping up to share that weight. When you have a room full of guys who can all contribute like we do this year, that interdependence can bring a team closer together.”
Despite these loses, the team hopes that the maturing senior class, the gelling talent of the junior and sophomore classes, and the first-years’ fresh legs will mesh into wins.
“This season, we lost a lot of good hockey players and teammates with the graduation of our last year’s senior class,” Albrecht wrote. “They were important members of our team and will be missed. However, this year we are a very deep team, all four lines can skate with anybody and we are not reliant so much on one or two lines. We have been focused on having a great work ethic in practice and executing the game plan and systems that our coaches put together for us. Everyone is buying in to what needs to be done to help us achieve our goal of a conference championship.”
Of the first-year players, six hope to create the same impact that the sophomore class created last year. Elliot Vorel ’17 was tied for first on the team in points with 26, while James Kline ’17 was not far behind with 23. In addition, Robby Harbison ’17 and Nick Malone ’17 provided crucial minutes for the Cardinals on defense.
“We have a great group of freshmen this year,” Albrecht wrote. “They are all very skilled players and will have an immediate impact on the program. We have several guys who will have an impact on the special teams units and will be playing some big minutes for us this year.”
Last season, Wesleyan was great at grabbing a lead, with a plus-eight scoring differential in the first period, but couldn’t produce the same offense in the final period, as it had a minus-seven scoring differential in the third period.
“Last year, one of our biggest weaknesses was closing out games,” Albrecht wrote. “We let three or four games slip away in the last couple of minutes of the game and that of course hurt us in the standings. Every game is important in this league with only a couple of points separating teams in the standings.”
The Cardinals will try to to ameliorate this issue with team speed throughout the entire roster, tiring out teams by the end of games. Defense has been a major point of emphasis for the Cards in the pre-season, especially trying to force opponents into creating turnovers in their own zone and then utilizing quickness to generate solid scoring chances.
“We are a very fast team this year and will be looking to use that to our advantage,” Albrecht wrote. “In the defensive zone, we need to be committed to playing solid team defense by using the body and staying in sound position. In the offensive zone, we will be turning to our speed and puck possession to create scoring chances for us and making sure that we are scoring on second and third chance opportunities around the net.”
Ryan echoed Albrecht’s comments on how to increase the team’s chances of winning close games.
“Our speed up front will be dangerous for opponents, so a style of game where we control the pace with our speed can give us the ability to buzz around the rink and win battles for pucks,” Ryan wrote.
The Cardinals will open up the season away from Middletown on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. against Tufts. The team will follow up this matchup the following day with a contest versus Connecticut College at 3 p.m. Wesleyan started off last year’s campaign with 5-4 and 5-2 wins against these two teams, but both games were at home. When on the road, Wes bested the Jumbos 3-1, but lost a disappointing game in overtime to Conn, 2-1.
“Everything we have done in the offseason leading up to this weekend has been the key to that success,” Ryan wrote. “This team is prepared mentally and physically, and now we just need to go have fun playing hockey.”
The Cardinals will need to work on their woes away from home if they are to find success down the road. In last season’s conference games, they were 4-4-1 in Middletown, but just 2-7 when traveling. If they can figure out how to light the lamp and play solid team defense no matter what rink they’re skating in, their NESCAC opponents are in for a tough battle.
“Our forward group is one of, if not the best in the NESCAC, and I think we have the ability to put up big goal numbers this year, which will make for some exciting hockey and give us a good chance to win,” Ryan wrote.