After a somewhat disappointing showing last weekend with ties against both Amherst and Hamilton, the men’s hockey team looked to gain some ground in the NESCAC standings. While already in a postseason position, any points at all would boost the Cardinal’s seeding and potentially give them a shot at a home playoff game.
Traveling to Middlebury on Friday night, the Cardinals looked to finish the season sweep over the Panthers after beating their rivals at home on Dec. 6. The game started with some solid action in the form of a breakaway opportunity by Walker Harris ’20, but his excellent attempt was shutdown by Panther goalie Stephen Klein.
A scoreless first gave way to the second period, in which Cardinal goaltender Dawson Sprigings ’17 made an outstanding save on Middlebury’s Mark McLellan’s bid at breaking the scoreless game. Later on in the period, however, the Panthers’ Andrew Neary found twine, giving the home team a one-goal advantage.
In the third period, both Andy Espinoza ’19 and Luke Babcock ’19 had great scoring opportunities but ultimately came up short. Cardinal head coach Chris Potter pulled Sprigings at the 1:10 mark, and a good bid at a goal by Chad Malinowski ’19 nearly saw the Cardinals draw even, but the Panthers were able to hold on for the win.
Despite the 25-18 shot advantage for Wesleyan, Middlebury escaped with the one goal victory. Sprigings made 17 stops during the game.
“The most important thing to keep in mind when the league is so tight is that every single game matters,” said Quincy Oujevolk ’17. “Taking days or even shifts off isn’t an option because in one weekend you can either jump up or move down several spots in the standings. There will be times when you lose games you should’ve won and win games you probably should have lost, but no matter what it’s important to stay even-keeled and stick with what has gotten you to where you are. Hopefully we can have some big weekends to finish up the season and be firing on all cylinders come playoff time.”
The following afternoon, the team made their way to Williamstown, Mass. to take on another familiar foe: the Williams Ephs. The home team once again drew first blood against the Cardinals, as Tyler Young scored at the 9:03 mark in the first. Later on in the opening frame, Wesleyan’s Elliot Polur ’19 rifled a shot into the back of net off a feed from Malinowski.
A scoreless second period led to a suspenseful third. Williams’ Max Fuld beat Cardinal goalie George Blinick ’19 for a 2-1 advantage early in the frame before the Cardinals began to mount a rally. At the 14:20 mark, Cam McCusker ’18 set up Theo Tydingco ’18, who beat Williams’ goalie Michael Pinios for the score. A mere 24 seconds later, Chris White ’19 beat Pinios on the glove side for the go-ahead score. White’s goal, his first of the year, proved to be the game winner for the Red and Black.
“Now that we’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs, we are focusing on trying to win the league and at the very least, finish in the top-four so we can host a playoff game,” Oujevolk said. “Being three points out of first place, and having three out of our last four games at home, we are very pleased to be in the position that we are in. After beating Williams this past weekend, we have proved to ourselves that we can beat anyone in this league and are confident that if we stick with what we’ve been doing that has gotten us to this point, we will be successful down the home stretch and carry a ton of momentum going into the playoffs.”
Blinick earned his fifth win of the year in a game where he made 33 saves. The Cardinal penalty-killing unit, which has been a strength all year, once again shut down their opponent on all man-up opportunities, holding the Ephs scoreless on two power play chances. The group currently ranks as the best penalty killing unit in Division III hockey.
“Our coaches always stress the importance of discipline and staying out of the box, and being the least penalized team in the league has definitely played a huge part in our success on the penalty kill,” said Oujevolk. “With fewer penalties to kill, the players whose role it is to kill penalties are fresh for the entire course of the game. Some awesome goaltending and a dedication to block as many shots as possible while down a man have helped us rank first in the country in penalty kill percentage.”
The win vaulted the Cardinals up one spot in the standings, moving to fifth in the conference. With four NESCAC games to play, the Cardinals have the chance to further improve their chances at a playoff game in Spurrier-Snyder Rink before the regular season concludes; this would be a first for the team’s seniors.
The team returns to action this Friday at home against Bowdoin, before taking on No. 13 Colby, who currently sits in first place in the NESCAC. The team then will conclude the regular season with a home and home affair against Trinity, who is fourth in the conference.