Things went from bad to worse for the men's hockey team this past weekend. The Jumbos trekked to Vermont and then to Western Massachusetts on a brutal road trip during which they dropped two more contests to Middlebury and Williams. Now, head coach Brian Murphy's squad, which has not seen a conference victory since Dec. 6, sits in the NESCAC cellar with a dismal 1-11 conference record.
After falling to host school Middlebury by a score of 3-0 on Friday evening, Tufts faced NESCAC leader and national No. 8 Williams the following day. Despite staying within one goal of the Ephs for almost two periods, the Jumbos struggled to take advantage of several power plays, instead allowing Williams to pull away with a devastating 6-2 result.
As always for the Jumbos, things started out manageably. For much of the first period, Williams and Tufts traded possessions with each contesting in the offensive zone, but neither managing to find the back of the net. Midway through the opening stanza, junior defenseman Shawn Power was whistled for roughing, but the Jumbos' defense was able to kill the resulting two-minute power play.
After roughly 15 minutes of play, things started to unravel for Tufts. At the 15:37 mark, junior co-captain defenseman Blake Edwards was called for hitting from behind. The referees, declaring it not only a five-minute major but also game misconduct, sent Edwards straight past the sin-bin and into the locker room, leaving Tufts' defense to kill the penalty without its back-line leader.
Williams did not hesitate to take advantage of the ensuing power play. Freshman forward Tyler Young beat Tufts senior goalie Greg Jenkins with a close-range shot to put Williams on the board going into the first intermission.
The Jumbos killed the remainder of the penalty, allowing no further damage as the first period drew to a close. At the start of the second period, Tufts earned its own power play opportunity when Williams' sophomore defenseman Greg Johnson was sent to the box for interference. The Jumbos wasted no time: sophomore forward Luke Griffin worked with linemates Power and freshman Conal Lynch to tie the game up at the 1:02 mark.
Just as Tufts looked ready to overcome Edwards' early exit and jump back in the game, Williams climbed on top again with a wrist-shot from sophomore forward Matt Werner coming just nine seconds after Griffin's strike.
"The shift immediately after a goal is one of the most important parts of the game because it can dictate the momentum," junior forward Andrew White said. "The quick goal by Williams after we tied the game up was due to a temporary mental lapse, and, unfortunately, they were able to capitalize."
In the 13th minute of play, the Ephs struck twice more, this time notching goals off the sticks of rookie forward George Hunkele, who beat Jenkins on his blocker side, and sophomore defenseman Zander Masucci, who finished an unassisted hook past the keeper.
Trailing 4-1 as the period wound down, Tufts freshman defenseman Sean Kavanagh found the back of the net for his first collegiate score, pulling his team within two at the close of the second period.
Tufts entered the final period with the game within reach, and hoped to challenge the conference leaders down the stretch. The Jumbos pressured, but their defense ultimately broke down in the fifth minute. Freshman defenseman Frankie Mork ripped a slap shot from the left point, sending it in front of Jenkins' cage where junior forward Alex DeBaere was able to tip the puck past him for the Ephs' fifth goal of the contest.
Down the stretch, Williams keeper junior Sean Dougherty made a series of stops to keep Tufts from pulling closer.
"Dougherty did play well, but Williams' [defense] did a good job keeping our forwards on the perimeter," White said. "They were physical and aggressive on our forwards and limited opportunities ... around the net."
With the game growing increasingly out of reach, Williams capped things off in the 12th minute when senior forward co-captain Paul Steinig took advantage of a two-minute hooking penalty on Tufts sophomore forward Dom Granato, completing the six-goal rout.
"Williams did a good job playing within their systems," White said. "They dumped the puck and forechecked hard against our defense. Anytime you play against a team that forechecks hard it can wear on the defense, and with the absence of Blake [Edwards], we struggled to get the puck out of our zone."
In the closing seven minutes, the two teams were whistled for a combined five penalties, bringing the game total to 10 in an intensely emotional matchup. Although the Jumbos' own frustrations certainly contributed to their physical play down the stretch, the Ephs matched the intensity with plenty of chippy play of their own.
"We usually see the most success when we are playing physical and outworking other teams," Edwards said. "After I got kicked out, [the] guys may have held back a little bit, but I don't really think it affected the physicality of the game. It probably hurt the most that we had to play with only five [defensemen] after I was gone. As I said earlier, we try to be physical every game, but unfortunately frustration is high at this point of the season, and it can affect how you play sometimes."12