Ill-fated penalties, unexpected absences, and tired legs each hindered the men’s hockey team in its goal of staying in the NESCAC playoff race. Last weekend, the Cards (2-18, 1-13 NESCAC) traveled around the northeast, first stopping in Williamstown, Mass. for a duel against their Little Three rival, the nationally ranked Ephs (13-5-2, 9-4-1 NESCAC).
“Under the circumstances that we’ve been in and not being able to get over the hump and win games, it’s definitely hard enough to win games in this league, so I thought we came out and played pretty good,” said Head Coach Chris Potter. “We gave them a short-handed goal on our power play, which is never a good start. We competed pretty hard, and obviously they are a very good team that has good goaltending, and I thought both goalies played well. We had a couple of chances there to make it a different hockey game and we didn’t capitalize on our scoring chances, while they did. At times, they played very well, and at times, we controlled the pace of the game, but we did some things that we’ve been doing all year that have put us in the situation that we’re in.”
After going down two goals early against Williams last time the two played, Wes wanted to control the pace of play and get on the board early. The first period didn’t involve much action at Lansing Chapman Rink, with one failed power play for the Purple and Gold and another four-on-four opportunity.
The Cardinals caught a break early in the second frame when Williams got called for a boarding penalty on an illegal hit to Quincy Oujevolk ’17. A man down, the Ephs broke out of their defensive zone and found themselves in a two-on-one situation. A cross-ice pass from Craig Kitto landed on the stick of Alex DeBaere, and the puck was sent behind Wesleyan net-minder Dawson Sprigings ’17 for the one score advantage.
If fans were not paying close attention to the game, they would have thought that the Ephs second goal was just a replay of the initial score. Kitto received the puck from a teammate and fed it cross-ice once again to an open DeBaere in the slot, who rifled the puck into the net for a 2-0 lead. After two periods, the Ephs led the Cardinals 30-9 in total shots.
Wes would find its first glimpse of hope in the third with only 95 seconds remaining in the contest. Opting for an extra-skater, Sprigings was pulled from the net, and Alex Carlacci ’16 took advantage of the scenario, scoring off assists from Terence Durkin ’16 and Cam McCusker ’18. The Cards pulled Sprigings again, hoping for an equalizer, but could not put the puck past Williams goaltender Sean Dougherty, who sports .917 save percentage on the season. Wesleyan was outshot 41-17 on the game, as Sprigings had 39 total saves. The Cards were 0-2 on the extra-man advantage, although stopping all three Ephs power play chances.
“Personnel [is our biggest issue], and I don’t mean our players, but we had a few things that beyond our control have happened, mostly the defensive core,” Potter said. “Right now, we have two or three forwards at times playing defense. When it gets late in the game, we’ve been up in some games like Middlebury, Bowdoin, Hamilton, but when teams start to shorten their bench in the third period, we get some mismatch problems in our own defensive zone because of these issues. There have been times where we are stuck with five forwards on the ice. That’s been frustrating for the guys and I’ll take the blame on that with not having the right personnel in the aspects of recruiting and other things. No matter what, we have to deal with it, and the guys are competing well enough to win, but there are some situations that we haven’t been able to handle.”
The next day brought more of the same offensive struggles for the Cardinals as they traveled to Middlebury (8-9-3, 5-6-3 NESCAC) to skate in Chip Kenyon Arena. After Sprigings faced a barrage of shots in the opening period, the Panthers finally struck at the end of the frame with Evan Neugold finding the puck off a rebound and sending a wrist shot over the shoulder of Sprigings. After one period, Middlebury held a commanding 17-5 shot difference.
The Panthers would capitalize again, this time on a power play after Alternate Captain Jay Matthews ’16 was called for a high-sticking infraction. The Cardinals held strong throughout the majority of the man-down situation, but with approximately 20 seconds left, Middlebury’s Derek Pimentel tapped in another rebound after teammate Jake Charles fired a shot to the net that Wesleyan was unable to clear.
Middlebury would make it a three-goal lead before the second period expired, as Midd skater Ronald Fishman gave a drop-pass to fellow Panther Mike Najjar in the slot, and he whipped it into the back of the net for the definitive lead. Wesleyan’s best chance of the game came when James Kline ’17 skated into a one-on-one situation and fired the puck right into the chest of Panther goalie Stephen Klein.
The third period proved unexciting and yielded no more goals, as the game ended in a 3-0 win for the skaters from Vermont. Middlebury coach Bill Beaney became just the 12th coach in NCAA history to accumulate 600 career wins.
The Cardinals currently sit last in the conference with just two points. Eighth place Tufts currently has nine points and each team has four games remaining. Each win counts as two points, so Wesleyan is not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, although their odds are extremely slim. Despite the low chance, the team will continue to lace up their skates and fight this upcoming weekend at Spurrier-Snyder Rink against Colby on Friday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. and then on Valentine’s Day versus Bowdoin at 3 p.m.
“They’ve competed and it’s a very long, long shot that we can get into the playoffs, but we’re still not mathematically eliminated,” Potter said. “We’ve played well enough to win games, but to think that we’re going to go and win the next four games at this point would be unrealistic. Obviously, I want to win, but we can’t continue to make the mistakes that we’re making, fail to finish off games, commit penalties on the power play, among other issues. Those things don’t go into the equation of winning. They have fought and they haven’t quit, so we can win any game.”