The men’s ice hockey team commenced its season earlier this month, and through six games, this year’s squad has already surpassed the 2015-16 team’s win total. At 4-2, and with a 2-2 record in NESCAC play, the team has had a strong start to the season.
“We are happy with the way that the season has started,” said captain James Kline ’17. “We have a lot of young talent and everyone has played an important role in our wins. The losses are tough to swallow, but can be productive if we learn from our mistakes. The NESCAC is extremely competitive and every point matters down the line.”
On Friday, Nov. 18, the team traveled to New London, Conn. to take on Conn College in their season opener. Andy Espinoza ’19 scored the Cardinals’ first goal of the year when he buried a first-period shot into the back of the net, with assists provided by captains Robby Harbison ’17 and Kline. Later in the first, Dylan Holze ’18 found Walker Harris ’20, who scored his first career goal to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 2-0. A goal by Chris White ’19 midway through the second period upped the Cardinals edge to 3-0, before Conn answered back with a goal of their own less than 60 seconds later. The teams remained scoreless the rest of the way and Wesleyan held on for a 3-1 victory. Netminder Dawson Sprigings ’17 earned the win in net for the visitors, stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced on the day. Though Conn edged out Wesleyan in the face-off circle, winning 22 of 42 draws, the Cardinals held a 31-29 advantage in shots at the conclusion of the match.
The next day, the team traveled to Tufts to take on their NESCAC rival Jumbos. In a hard-fought contest, the Cardinals fell 4-2 despite mustering good offensive numbers. Tufts opened the scoring in the game when Patrick Lackey found mesh a mere 47 seconds into the contest. Lackey would score again at the 13:20 mark of the period to extend the Jumbos’ lead to two goals. Kline then found Vincent Lima ’19 for a goal just over a minute later to cut the deficit to one. A Jumbo penalty led to a power play opportunity for the Cardinals, and Cam McCusker ’18 took advantage when he found the back of the net off a pass from Harris. However, two Jumbo goals in the third period proved to be the difference in the game, and the Jumbos escaped with a 4-2 win. Sprigings made 21 saves in the game, and the Cardinals outshot the Jumbos 30-25. Wesleyan also won a significantly higher number of face-offs, taking 38 of 63 in the game.
The following weekend, when most students were away from campus for Thanksgiving break, the Cardinals hosted the University of Southern Maine for their home opener. In a fine defensive performance, the Cardinals shut out the Huskies 2-0. After a scoreless first period, Lima set up Espinoza on a pass down the side boards, and the latter beat the Husky defense to draw first blood in the game. Later in the period, the Cardinals would commit two successive penalties, giving the opposition a five-on-three opportunity. However, netminder George Blinick ’19 stood his ground and kept the Huskies off the board. In the third period, Espinoza scored shorthanded to extend the Cardinal lead to two goals at 14:02, marking his second goal of the game. Blinick and the rest of the Cardinal defense held strong the rest of the game, securing a 2-0 victory for the Cardinals. Wesleyan outshot the visitors by a 34-26 margin, and their penalty kill unit was perfect in five opportunities. Blinick earned his first career victory in a game in which he stopped all 34 shots he faced.
Looking to continue their hot start to the season the following day, the Cardinals hosted Franklin Pierce University for another out-of-conference matchup. Kline tallied four points, and eight different Cardinals scored goals en route to an 8-1 Wesleyan victory. Espinoza opened the scoring in the game when he buried a rebound into the back of the net off a shot from Lima at 13:07 in the first. The Cardinals squandered their 1-0 lead in the second when Franklin Pierce scored on a power play opportunity. However, Wesleyan would go on to score four goals in the second period, the first by McCusker at 3:52 with assists from Holze and Chad Malinowski ’19. Theo Tydingco ’18 later scored on a power play when he sniped a shot past the Franklin Pierce goalie to extend the Cardinal lead with an assist on the play from Kline. Holze then scored himself with help from Mikey Yablong ’19 at 18:05 in the second, followed by a score from Hunter Vannier ’20 at 19:42. Goals by Luke Babcock ’19 and Tyler Kobryn ’20 extended the lead to 7-1 before Kline found the back of the net himself for good measure to cap off the Cardinal scoring spree. Sprigings earned his second victory of the season, making 21 saves in the blowout win. The Cardinals outshot their opponents 35-22 on the day.
This past Friday, the Cardinals hosted NESCAC and Little Three Rival Amherst, a team ranked 13th in the nation, and promptly sent a message to the rest of the NESCAC with a 3-0 victory. In front of their home crowd, the Cardinals took advantage of a five-on-three opportunity in the second period; Kline found twine for his second goal in as many games with Harris and Malinowski setting up the score. Carrying their 1-0 lead into the third, the teams battled physically as the Cardinals looked to pull off the upset. Despite some good scoring chances by Amherst, Sprigings held his own in net, and the Cardinal defense stymied Amherst’s attack. Late in the period, Holze dished the puck off to Harris, who scored an insurance goal for the Cardinals with three minutes remaining in the game. Amherst proceeded to pull their goalie, and Quincy Oujevolk ’17 ended the visitors’ hopes of a comeback with an empty-net goal. Sprigings made 25 saves during the night, and the Cardinal defense once again shut down their opponent on all five power play opportunities.
“Our team has had some big wins over strong conference opponents and look to build off those successes,” Kline said. “We have showed signs of maturity and I am confident that we will continue to develop a team identity. In order to improve as a team, we will need to continue to grind in practice and become well-rounded.”
On Saturday, another familiar foe journeyed to Middletown to take on the red-hot Cardinals. This time, it was the Hamilton Continentals, who entered the day unbeaten with a 5-0-1 record. The visitors got on the board first when Rory Gagnon scored off a rebound opportunity to give Hamilton an early lead. Another goal midway through the second expanded the Continentals’ lead to two goals. Despite good scoring chances by Harris and Jordan Jancze ’18, the Cardinals could not get on the board in the second period. Wesleyan successfully killed off a five-on-three opportunity in the third period to maintain the deficit at two goals. Kline and Babcock provided excellent scoring chances once again for the Cardinals, only to be denied by Hamilton goalie Evan Buitenhuis. The teams remained scoreless the rest of the way, and Hamilton walked away with the 2-0 victory. For the day, the teams were even in shot attempts, each mustering 28 on net. The Cardinals’ penalty-killing unit continued its outstanding start to the season, once again killing off all five Continental power plays that it faced.
The squad returns to action Saturday evening when they take on Stonehill College in the W.B. Mason Winter Classic.