The men’s hockey team continues to experience growing pains as they learn on the fly this season. They struggled in their contests at the end of the fall semester and over winter break, finishing 0-10 in that stretch, putting them at 2-14 overall and 0-9 in the conference since winning their opening tilt against Tufts.
In 6 of the 10 games, the Cardinals stayed close, losing by one or two goals, including one overtime defeat.
“Most of our games, especially from the time we returned from winter break, have been hard-fought and competitive,” wrote Robby Harbison ’17 in an email to The Argus. “Our biggest challenge this year is stringing together a full, 60-minute game. For one period at a time or two periods at a time, we will dominate our opponent and determine the pace of the game, and those are the moments in which we, as a group, see our full potential. Our challenge is maintaining that intensity and focus, with a short bench, to finish the game on top.”
Wes started the unfortunate losing streak against Hobart College, falling in a 4-1 decision. Cole Morrissette ’17 scored the lone tally for the Cardinals, evening the game at one midway through the middle period. The Statesmen had the last laugh, however, lighting the lamp twice more in the second period and another in the third. The Cardinals were outshot 43-24, although netminder Dawson Sprigings ’17 stopped 39 of 43 shots that came his direction.
The Cards faced Elmira College the next day in what would become a wild shootout. The Cards lost to the Soaring Eagles 7-6, skating from behind most of the game, as the only lead they held was at 1-0. The Cardinals penalty-killing unit got picked apart, allowing three goals on four opportunities. Despite the loss, Wes outshot Elmira 51-26 and James Kline ’17 beat the opposing goaltender twice. Terence Durkin ’16 added two assists and the other scores came from Elliott Vorel ’17, Jordan Jancze ’18, Jaren Taenaka ’16, and Morrissette.
After the semester concluded, the team played two games at the Salem State Tournament against Wentworth Institute of Technology and Suffolk University. Against WIT, the Cardinals lost 4-3, but a good performance came from Dylan Holze ’18, who had a goal and an assist. Jancze and Alternate Captain Jay Matthews ’16 also added scores. The Birds held two leads throughout the contest, but after allowing a fourth goal with just 15 minutes remaining, they could not recover.
In the consolation match against Suffolk, the Cards lost again, 5-2. Cam McCusker ’18 gave the Cardinals an early lead just over two minutes into the game, but then Suffolk scored five unanswered goals, including three in the second period. Captain James Albrecht ’15 would help the Cardinals on the scoreboard, finding the back of net late in third period to cut the deficit to three.
Wesleyan then returned home and headed into its conference games, starting with Little Three rival Williams. The Ephs jumped out to a two-goal lead after one period, but the Cardinals responded when Holze cut the lead in half off an assist from Kline. Wes could not muster up any more offense after the goal, allowing another score in the third period for a 3-1 verdict. Williams outshot the home team 39-26.
Middlebury was the next roadblock in the Cardinals path, with the Birds desperately needing a win. Wes started strong with McCusker opening up the scoring off assists from Alex Carlacci ’16 and Jancze, and Alternate Captain Eric Casey ’16 doubling the lead off passes from Captain Connor Ryan ’15 and Jancze. The Panthers retaliated, scoring twice in the final period, including one off of a power play. Middlebury made three goals in a row to take the win, beating Sprigings with 4:36 elapsed in the extra frame.
Next, traveling to Maine would prove to be a challenge for the Cardinals, first losing 5-2 to Colby. The Cardinals took a first period lead on a goal from Kline, and after allowing two scores, Carlacci’s power play tally tied it back up at two. The Mules went on to score three straight goals, including an empty-netter with eight seconds left.
Bowdoin would prove to be Wesleyan’s toughest loss of the break. The Cardinals pounced on the Polar Bears early, taking a 3-0 lead after one period. Taenaka lit the lamp off a pass from Harbison and Quincy Oujevolk ’17 followed with two goals of his own. Bowdoin clawed away, scoring once before the horn sounded for the second period. The Polar Bears cut the lead to one at the beginning of the final period and tied it up with 11:10 gone by in the session. 19 seconds later, they converted again, taking a 4-3 lead and the victory.
“In the first half of our game against Bowdoin, a nationally ranked powerhouse, we were undoubtedly the better team, taking a 3-0 lead and punishing them in every aspect of the game,” Harbison wrote. “However, late in the second period, the momentum shifted, and Bowdoin made a late push to come out on top. This was definitely a low point of our season, but I think it speaks volumes to our ability as a team, but also to our weaknesses as a team. When we are playing at our potential, we are capable of beating every team in the NESCAC, and for that matter, the nation. At this point, it is simply a matter of believing it and performing for 60 full minutes every Friday and Saturday night for the rest of the season.”
During the first weekend of the spring semester, the Cardinals faced off against Tufts and Conn College at home, losing both. Tufts was victorious 3-1, taking a 2-0 lead before Harbison scored to make it a one-goal game. Tufts got its third goal on an empty-net and gave the Cardinals nine straight losses.
“We moved the puck well in the neutral zone to fire into our offensive zone, and we maintained puck possession in the corner,” Harbison wrote. “As a defenseman, I have to carefully pick and choose my moments to join the offense, and as I saw the puck squirt out into the high slot, I tried to handle it and throw it on net as quickly as I could. I was hoping for a solid rebound to bounce off the goalie’s pad for a teammate of mine to shoot into the net, but our net front presence screened the goalie, allowing for the puck to squeak by him.”
Harbison wrote in further detail about how he balances trying to help the offense while attending to his defensive duties.
“As a defenseman, my mentality is defense, defense, defense,” Harbison wrote. “Before games, I do not envision myself scoring goals or stick handling around the other team’s defensemen. I envision myself winning one-on-one battles in the corner, blocking shots, and moving the puck to our capable forwards. With that being said, hockey is a two-way game, and I have to carefully decide when to pinch on the blue line to keep a puck in, when to join the rush with our forwards, or when to take a shot on goal when I see the opportunity. The key is to exploit offensive opportunities when they arise, while prioritizing defense and keeping the puck out of our own net.”
The Camels were no easier, and after Albrecht tied the game at 1-1 off an assist from Carlacci, Conn College scored the final three goals of the game, including another empty-net score to make it 4-1.
At 1-9, the Cardinals are currently last in the conference but still not eliminated from playoff contention. They are 2.5 games behind eighth-seeded Tufts in the standings and will have to immensely improve their play in order to qualify for the postseason.
“Our attitude and approach to the game is our biggest strength this year,” Harbison wrote. “With our record, it is easy to dread coming to the rink each day with minimal intensity and focus. However, that is not at all the case with the group of guys we have. Each and every one of our players comes to the rink each day with a smile and an eagerness to step onto the ice. We all love the game and are excited to turn this season around and to make a late-season playoff push.”