The men’s hockey team faced a do-or-die situation last weekend with two games remaining in the season – win out to extend their season, or lose, and see it come to a halt. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the team did not come particularly close to accomplishing the former. Facing back-to-back tilts against in-state and NESCAC rival Trinity, the Cards fell on Friday night in Hartford, ending any hope for the playoffs. With the chance to play spoiler on Saturday afternoon and end their season on a high note, the Redbirds fell once again to their familiar foe, this time at Spurrier-Snyder Rink.
Overall, it was a trying season for the team, which certainly had its shares of ups and downs. The squad finished the year with a record of 2-14-8, with a 2-9-7 mark in NESCAC play. Despite only tallying two wins, the team’s significant number of ties had them in playoff contention for most of the season. Wins against NESCAC opponents Amherst and Connecticut College marked the season’s high points on the ice, while the difficult final weekend would certainly be classified as one of the low points of the season.
Of course, no moment on the ice could be compared to the hardship the team endured off it, with the passing of longtime assistant coach Jim Langlois occurring after a game against in Tufts in January. Cardinal defenseman Marty Rubin ’18 described how the team will continue to honor Coach Langlois’ memory.
“The passing of Jim Langlois deeply saddened our program,” Rubin said. “He is an inspiration to our group because he came to the rink every day for 35 years to give back to a program that he deeply cared about and wanted to improve. His energy, especially on the ice, will be missed, but not forgotten. We wear ‘JL’ on our helmets to carry him with us on the ice every day. We have also dedicated a stall to him in [the player’s] locker room.”
In Hartford on Friday night, Captains Jay Matthews ’16 and Eric Casey ’16 led a valiant Cardinal effort on the road against Trinity, the eighth-ranked team in the country. The Bantams opened the scoring midway through the first period, when Ethan Holdaway beat Cardinal goaltender Danny Weiss ’17 at the 8:35 mark in the first period. Under a minute later, Trinity added a second score on a power play goal when the Bantams’ Anthony Sabitsky fired one past Weiss on the man advantage. Matthews, realizing the urgency, answered Sabitsky’s goal with one of his own two minutes later. Assists from Vincent Lima ’19 and James Kline ’17 paved the way for Matthews to hammer home his seventh goal of the season. The Redbirds looked to head into the locker room with a manageable one goal deficit, but Trinity’s Sean Orlando beat Weiss with nine seconds to go in the period, securing a two goal lead.
The score held at 3-1 for most of the second period before Casey, a defenseman, scored his first goal of the year on a power play with four minutes remaining in the period. Luke Babcock ’19 provided the assist on the play.
Trinity entered the third period clinging to a 3-2 lead before the Bantams’ Connor Hegarty beat Cardinal goalie Dawson Sprigings ’17, who had replaced Weiss earlier in the game. Trinity increased their lead to three with a power play goal at the 8:21 mark of the third period.
Facing a three-goal deficit with under five minutes to play and with playoff hopes on the line, Cardinal coach Chris Potter pulled his goalie with four minutes remaining in the game. Matthews once again answered the bell, cutting Wesleyan’s deficit to two goals. Despite constant pressure with the extra attacker, the Cardinals couldn’t muster any more offense, and Trinity edged out the 5-3 victory. With their year now effectively over, Rubin reflected on the season as a whole.
“I do not want to put the terms ‘success’ or ‘failure’ on this season because it was an opportunity for our program to grow,” said Rubin. “And we did. We took in 11 freshmen this year which is a large portion of our team. So to get those guys into their roles, to get them experience in the best DIII league in the country, is a step forward for the program regardless of our record.”
Trinity’s record improved to 17-5-1 with the victory, including a 13-4-0 mark in NESCAC play. Despite the score, this game showed that this year’s Cardinal squad could toe the line with any foe. The teams were essentially even on both shots on net and face-offs, with Wesleyan holding a 38-37 edge in shots, while Trinity held an identical 38-37 advantage in wins at the dot.
The following afternoon, the teams would square off once again just down the road from the previous night. Wesleyan, hosting its final game of the season, honored and bid farewell to its six seniors before the game began: Matthews, Casey, Terence Durkin, Jaren Taenaka, Alex Carlacci, and Nolan Daley.
The Bantams got off to a fast start in the game, scoring a mere 20 seconds in when Elie Vered beat Daley, who got the starting nod in his final game as a Redbird. Later in the period, already down one man, an additional Cardinal penalty led to a rare six-on-four goal score by the Bantams at the 8:15 mark in the first. Not finished yet, Trinity scored another power play goal with 13:05 gone in the period.
Trinity would extend their lead to five goals before Lima was finally able to crack the scorecard in the third period for the lone Wesleyan goal in the game. The game was chock full of penalties, with the teams combining for eleven overall. Daley made 27 saves for the Cardinals. Despite an undesirable finish, Rubin and the team view this season as an opportunity for growth as a unit.
“I know the young guys on the team learned about the commitment and passion necessary to be successful in the NESCAC,” Rubin said. “As a whole, I think our group learned that when we focus, dig in our heels, and play the game that shades towards our strengths, we can beat any team in the league. We paid the price in the games that we let the other team dictate the pace, instead of enforcing it on our own. Our resilience as a group has shown through much more this season than in years past that playing to our strengths will be key in the future.”
Despite the end of the season, the team is already looking forward to next year, with a chance to display that growth.
“I am most looking forward to being back with the same group of young players that we had this year,” said Rubin. “We have very talented rising sophomore and junior classes that are ready to be leaders and contributors to our program.”
Be wary, NESCAC foes; the 2016-17 Cardinals await you.