This weekend, the men’s hockey team will wrap up its regular season road schedule with two NESCAC games at Amherst and Hamilton on Saturday and Sunday. The Jumbos are currently tied with Middlebury for third place in the conference — a position that would guarantee them a first-round home game in the conference tournament just a year after they missed the postseason altogether.
The doubleheader comes on the heels of a two-game sweep of Conn. College last weekend, and in the midst of a six-game undefeated streak that includes four NESCAC victories as well as two wins and a tie in overtime contests. Last year, the Jumbos went 5-14 in conference play, but this season coach Brian Murphy’s squad already boasts eight NESCAC wins and a tie against Middlebury.
This weekend’s contests will be rematches of Jan. 13 and 14 showdowns with the Lord Jeffs and Continentals, a series that the Jumbos split. Amherst embarrassed Tufts at home, defeating the Jumbos 7-1, but Tufts rebounded the following day with a 4-3 win over Hamilton.
So far, the Jumbos have been road warriors. They are 6-2-1 away from Malden Forum, and they hope to build on their recent road success when they travel to Amherst on Saturday. In the two teams’ prior meeting, seven Lord Jeffs players had multi-point games, and goalkeeper Jonathan LaRose had to make just 15 saves to secure his team’s six goal margin of victory. Tufts senior tri-captain keeper Scott Barchard, on the other hand, made an uncharacteristically low 20 saves and could not contain the potent Lord Jeffs attack.
On Saturday, the Jumbos will look to slow Amherst’s offensive pace. Last time, the Lord Jeffs’ balanced scoring attack overwhelmed and overpowered the Jumbos’ defensemen with its speed and depth, but Tufts must capitalize on mistakes and create opportunities of its own if it hopes to keep the rematch close.
Against Hamilton, on the other hand, the Jumbos hope to replicate their Jan. 14 performance and to exploit the Continentals’ weaknesses to build an even larger margin of victory the second time around. When Tufts hosted Hamilton last month, sophomore Kyle Gallegos, the Jumbos’ leading scorer, knocked in the game-winning goal with less than three minutes remaining.
The game featured a fast-paced first period with a combined six goals in a seven-minute span and 28 total shots. As the tempo settled down, though, neither team could find the back of the net until Gallegos’ late tally.
The Jumbos will try to maintain the same disciplined style that brought them a win over the Continentals last month.
“We beat Hamilton last time by working hard and sticking to our systems,” freshman forward Tyler Voigt said. “No one tried to do too much and we kept things simple. [This weekend] we need to do more of the same to beat them again.”
Because the Jumbos are playing a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader and must travel five hours to their 3 p.m. showdown with Hamilton, they have both a physically and mentally grueling weekend ahead of them. In the past, the Jumbos have persevered in their Sunday games, including a 5-4 overtime win against Wesleyan and an overtime championship win in UMass Boston’s Codfish Bowl.
“As far as the drive, we’re used to it so it will be just like any other trip,” junior defenseman Nick Metcalfe, a tri-captain, said. “We will get to the rink, warm up, and play our game. This will be an exciting weekend and it’s a big step in our push towards the playoffs.”
“A good warmup will be key against Hamilton to shake our bus legs off,” Voigt added. “I don’t see too big of a difference in playing Saturday and Sunday [versus Friday and Saturday] but we just need to stay focused on the task at hand.”
Lately, the Jumbos have been firing on all cylinders. They are receiving huge contributions from veterans and newcomers alike, and Murphy’s eight freshmen have been coming up with both crucial defensive stops and much of the team’s offensive production.
“We just have to keep playing our game,” Metcalfe said. “We have to stay focused on our tasks ahead and play one game at a time. Amherst and Hamilton are both great teams but we are confident in our play and know we can come out with two wins.