The men’s hockey season started off with a bang, and by the winter break, it possessed a 4-2 record through six games, already besting its win total from the 2015-16 season. Now, with the Cardinals’ holiday in the rearview mirror, their record currently sits at 10-4-4, with a 5-3-4 conference record. Since its hot start, the team has won games against Stonehill College, Castleton University, Middlebury, Bowdoin, Tufts, and Assumption College.
“The keys to our success are pretty simple,” said Jordan Jancze ’18. “We don’t look past any opponent and our commitment to playing team defense is paying dividends. We are a difficult team to score on because of our goaltending and desire to sacrifice our bodies to keep pucks out of scoring areas. It’s an honor to play with a group that comes to the rink everyday with an enthusiasm to get better, to make our teammates better, and to play hard.”
Back on Dec. 10, before students left for the winter hiatus, the team traveled to Foxborough, Mass. to take on the Stonehill College Skyhawks. Despite the tilt being a non-conference game, the team still came out firing on all cylinders. Sean Ross ’19 opened the scoring with his first goal of the season when he found the back of the net with just over five minutes remaining in the opening period. Dylan Holze ’18 and Tyler Wyatt ’20 provided assists on the goal. Team captain James Kline ’17 then capitalized on a power play opportunity by notching his third goal of the campaign at the 3:42 mark in the second, with assists provided by Andy Espinoza ’19 and Walker Harris ’20. Just a few moments later, Matt Horton ’20 beat the Stonehill goaltender for his first goal as a Cardinal, with seniors Cole Morrissette ’17 and Quincy Oujevolk ’17 helping set up the play.
Stonehill would later cut into the three-goal deficit with just under a minute remaining in the second period, narrowing the Cardinals’ advantage to 3-1. The score remained 3-1 until Holze found the back of the net with under five minutes remaining in the game, which was quickly aided by Cam McCusker ’18’s strike on the same power play. The Cardinals held on for a 5-1 victory, with goalie Dawson Sprigings ’17 saving 28 of 29 shots during the evening. The Cardinal penalty kill continued its strong start to the season by shutting down all three Skyhawk power play opportunities. After the game, the team enjoyed nearly three weeks off on a brief holiday break.
Returning to action on Dec. 30 for the W.B. Mason Winter Classic, the team fell by a score of 5-3 in its first round matchup against SUNY Plattsburgh, before defeating Castleton 3-0 in the third-place game. The out-of-conference tournament provided the team a tune-up opportunity before jumping back into league play.
Traveling to Middlebury on Friday, Jan. 6, Harris put the Cardinals up early with a power play goal at the 11:14 mark of the first period. Chad Malinowski ’19 and Espinoza helped set up the goal. Holze added his sixth goal of the year to extend Wesleyan’s lead, before defenseman Theo Tydingco ’18 scored from the point to up the Cardinal advantage to 3-0. Middlebury would go on to score two late goals in the third period, but the Cardinal defense and Sprigings held on for the victory. The win marked Sprigings’ fifth of the season, which he earned by turning back 22 of the 24 shots that he faced.
The following day, the team hosted Little Three rival Williams at Spurrier-Snyder Rink. George Blinick ’19 got the start in net, spelling Sprigings for the afternoon. The Eph snuck one past the Wesleyan netminder early on, scoring two goals in the first period. However, Wyatt cut into the deficit with a goal assisted by Mikey Yablong ’19 at the 18:16 mark of the first. The Cardinals would not score again in the game, while Williams added two more goals for good measure to walk away with the 4-1 win. Blinick stopped 23 shots in the game, but the Cardinals only mustered 16 shots on net compared to Williams’ 27, representative of the game’s lopsided battle for momentum.
Resuming their season after the holiday break, the Cardinals showed some rust, only managing a 2-2 record following the loss to Williams. A trip to Brunswick, ME, for a NESCAC showdown with Bowdoin set the stage for the Cardinals to pick up some momentum.
Holze found Wyatt early on in the game to draw first blood for the Cardinals, before the Polar Bears answered back by scoring two goals in just a few minutes, to take a 2-1 lead. Following Bowdoin’s second goal at the 12:31 mark of the first, the game remained scoreless until the 6:02 mark of the third period, when captain Robby Harbison ’17 deflected Oujevolk’s shot into the net to tie the game at two goals apiece. Just a minute later, McCusker found twine to give the Cardinals a one-goal advantage, before Sean Ross ’19 scored off a pass from Wyatt at the 11:02 mark to extend the Cardinal advantage to 4-2. A shorthanded goal by Bowdoin late in the third cut the lead to one, but Spencer Fox ’20 scored an empty-netter in the final minute to ensure the Cardinal victory and set the final score at 5-3. Sprigings made 26 saves in net for the Cardinals, but the story of the game was the come from behind, three-goal third period effort by the team to win on the road.
“The ultimate goal never changes,” Jancze said. “We always have our eye on a NESCAC Championship but we are completely focused on the task at hand. Every game we know we have to get points in order to be in the hunt for a championship at the end of February. We know that winning only invites more hard work and we have a group that is poised to put in that work every week.”
Following two four-goal ties against NESCAC rivals Colby and Conn College, the team looked to avenge an early season loss to another NESCAC opponent: the Tufts Jumbos. Espinoza got the Redbirds on the board early when he buried a rebound off the boards into the back of the net. Vincent Lima ’19 added to the Cardinal lead in the second period when he found the back of the net with assists from Harbison and Tyler Kobryn ’20. McCusker added a third goal for Wesleyan when he scored in the final minute of the second period, before Tufts struck back in the third to cut the margin to two goals. An empty-net goal late in the third by Lima secured the victory for the Cardinals, during which Blinick made 26 saves to earn his third win of the year.
Following an out-of-conference victory over Assumption College, the team traveled to No. 12 Amherst for a rivalry showdown with the Purple and White. A scoreless first period gave way to a high-scoring second. Amherst scored two tallies early, before Kline set up Harris for a power play goal. Later on in the period, with 30 seconds remaining, Harris scored again to knot the score at two goals apiece. Despite the fireworks displayed by each offense in the second, the third period remained scoreless, and a goal-less overtime concluded a 2-2 tie for the NESCAC foes.
Another tough matchup awaited the Cardinals the following night, when they hit the road once more to take on No. 8 Hamilton. The team scored three first period goals, including scores by Yablong, Malinowski, and Holze. However, a goal late in the second by Hamilton, followed by two goals early in the third resulted in a 3-3 affair. Despite some opportunities the rest of the way for each team, the score held until the final whistle. Blinick made 36 saves in net, while the Cardinal penalty kill held the Colonials scoreless in three opportunities. For the weekend, the unit held the No. 8 and No. 12 teams in the country to scoreless games on seven power play opportunities.
A 10-4-4 record has the Cardinals sitting in sixth place in the conference with six games remaining. The team travels to Middlebury and Williams this weekend with a chance to gain some ground in the standings.