After a historic 2018-19 campaign that saw a program record for wins, the men’s hockey team is looking to continue that success this season as they return to action tonight. The Cards have been working hard for the last few weeks during their preseason practices, and now they finally get to kick off their season at home this weekend with two NESCAC games.
The Red and Black are looking to build upon a sensational season that saw them win the Little Three title for the second time in three years, while boasting a superb in-conference record of 13–3–2 and 16–8–2 overall. Last year’s record was good enough to be the second seed in the NESCAC tournament, in which they made it to the semifinals, falling in a double-overtime heartbreaker to Amherst by the score of 1–0.
Despite losing many key players from last year including Chad Malinowski ’19, Andy Espinoza ’19, and Vincent Lima ’19, there are a lot of returning talents. One of the key returners to the team is goalie Tim Sestak ’20, who is the defending NESCAC Player of the Year. Last year, Sestak had a .946 save percentage, leading the NESCAC, and a 1.65 goals-against average, which was good enough for second in the conference. His save percentage was also the third-best save percentage in DII and DIII combined. In addition, Sestak set a NESCAC tournament record with 65 saves in the double OT loss to Amherst.
On the offensive side of the puck, the Cards see the return of leading goal scorer Walker Harris ’20, who scored 19 goals last year and had 31 points, which was also a team-high. Other returning key players include Tyler Levine ’22 and Spencer Fox ’20. On defense, the team returns many defensemen including Matthew Zandi ’21 who tallied one goal and seven assists last year.
In addition to all returning players, the team welcomes 10 new first-years to the team this year, adding a ton of depth to an already talented roster.
Fox believes that so far the team looks good in practice, and that this new depth brings excitement and anticipation for the season to begin.
“The team has looked sharp straight from the get-go in early September,” Fox said. “Our depth has been evident from day one, which has created a buzz within the locker room about the promises that lay ahead this season. As far as personnel, we have a nice mix of returners and newcomers who are all poised to contribute to the team’s success this year. I think the excitement that’s been generated because of this has created lofty and realistic expectations amongst ourselves, which can apply unwarranted pressure is ignored. We have been curbing this enthusiasm by preaching a strong work ethic and not allowing complacency to creep in, focal points that have served us well thus far.”
Fox thinks the key to getting off to a good start is to remain focused on each game and continuing to play to the team’s strengths.
“Staying in the moment and not looking ahead is crucial,” Fox said. “Taking everything game by game, shift by shift, and focusing on winning the next 50/50 battle. It’s no secret that one of our team’s strengths is our speed, so sticking to that by zipping the puck around and winning foot races will be key to starting the season off on the right note.”
The Cards start their season with four straight NESCAC battles. This weekend, they open their home slate by facing off against Tufts on Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a matchup with Connecticut College on Saturday at 3 p.m.
After these two games, they will head out on the road next weekend to take on Hamilton and Little Three rival Amherst.
The team is optimistic, but they understand that success will come with focus and work rather than expectations and momentum.
“It’s difficult to repeat a successful season such as the one we had last year, even if it didn’t end up the way we wanted it to,” Fox said. “There’s enough talent on the team to rewrite the script, but we can’t do that without an extremely high compete level to glue all the pieces together. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, so it’s imperative that we constantly work to improve our game so we can peak at the end of the season. There will be hills and valleys like there are in any season, so it will be important for us to keep an even keel in the face of adversity when it strikes.”
David Gottlieb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.