The men’s hockey team traveled to Waterville, Maine, this past weekend to take on the favored Colby College Mules. With their season on the line, the team’s six seniors had their college athletic careers hanging in the balance. When the final whistle sounded on Saturday afternoon, the team’s mental fortitude meant they left the ice as victors, pulling off the road upset against their NESCAC foe and extending their season for at least one more game.
In what amounted to an extremely tight contest, marked by four different ties throughout the game, the duo of Dylan Holze ’18 and Spencer Fox ’20 each registered three points. The Cardinal third line, consisting of Holze and Fox along with linemate Tyler Wyatt ’20, proved to be significant in giving the Cards the upper hand. The victory means that the Cardinals will travel to take on the top-seeded Hamilton Colonials this coming Saturday, marking the first time that Wesleyan has reached the NESCAC semifinals since the 2010-11 season, when they defeated the same Colonial team 5-2 in the quarters.
The Cardinals knew all week that they would have to play to their strengths, and they came out in peak form. Captain James Kline ’17 set the tone for his squad early in the contest, scoring the first goal of the game just over three minutes after the action commenced. Kline’s wrist shot beat Colby goaltender Sean Lawrence and was set up by assists from Luke Babcock ’19 and Chad Malinowski ’19.
“Scoring the first goal early is definitely something that we aim to accomplish heading into each game,” said Kline. “We came into the Colby game ready to battle, and our first goal was a product of hard work by my line-mates. From the opening whistle, we wanted to play strong defensively and execute on our scoring chances.”
The teams battled for most of the remainder of the period until the Mules’ Kienan Scott notched the home team’s first goal of the game at the 17:48 mark of the first. Just over a minute later, Colby took their first lead of the game when J.P. Schuhlen scored, earning a 2-1 lead. After heading to the locker room down, the Cardinals knew they would have to play better. Holze—who was later named NESCAC Player of the Week—tied the score for the Red and Black just over five minutes into the second period, notching his eighth goal of the year with help from Fox and Vincent Lima ’19. The Mules then struck back at the 11:22 mark to regain a one goal lead, before Holze found twine once more at 16:52 to tie the game at three goals apiece.
Despite falling behind twice in the second period, the team didn’t lose faith on the bench.
“Coach Potter’s message has been clear all season: stay even keeled,” said Kline. “That is exactly what we did up at Colby and it allowed us to play our game. We will carry that same attitude up to Hamilton this weekend.”
The Cardinals then scored their second consecutive goal when Wyatt lit the lamp with just 50 seconds remaining in the second period, marking the first-year forward’s third goal of the year. Fox and Holze each set provided a helper on the play, and at this point, the Cardinals’ third line was proving to be too much for the Mules to handle. The teams headed into the locker room with Wesleyan leading by a score of 4-3, but the Mules managed to notch the first goal of the new period, as Colby’s Michael Rudolf beat Dawson Sprigings ’17 to tie the game. Before the teams could even process the goal, the Cardinals struck back when they won the ensuing face off and Kline set up Babcock to retake the lead a mere 12 seconds later.
The third period remained scoreless as the final minutes ticked off the clock, before Lawrence skated to the bench to give the Mules an extra attacker. A couple of great scoring chances were denied by Sprigings, and a superb block by Robby Harbison ’17 kept the puck from getting to the net, a gritty play from the captain determined to keep his senior season alive. Colby kept the puck in the Cardinal zone for much of the final minute, but the boys in black were able to clear the zone to ensure that the final seconds would tick off the clock, completing the upset victory. After the whistle, the team stormed Sprigings in celebration, while, on the other side of the ice, the Mules pondered what could have been.
Sprigings made 27 saves on the day, once again providing his team a with chance to win. Kline’s helper upped his point total to 25 on the season, leading the team, while Holze’s big day increased his point total to 20 on the season, trailing only Kline and Walker Harris ’20.
“We need to polish our game and play our best to win against Hamilton,” said Kline. “This week in practice we are going to continue to stress the importance of defense. We have the team to win the NESCAC; we just need to outwork other teams and execute.”
After a disappointing performance last weekend and losing out on a chance to open the playoffs at home, it was fair to wonder whether the Cardinals would play their best hockey this weekend. They certainly proved the doubters wrong, with the strong play of the third line providing a huge, if unexpected, boost in the game. Gritty plays throughout the game were apparent by the Cardinals, which has become a bit of a trademark of this Cardinal team. They will have to be at their best once again next weekend as they attempt to knock off the top-seeded Hamilton on the road.