Despite allowing Hamilton (8-8-6) to force a 3-3 tie on Military Appreciation Night and then losing 3-1 to No. 10 Amherst (16-4-2) on Senior Night, Tufts (7-13-2) played stretches of its best hockey this weekend. The Jumbos were up a goal on the Continentals and had led all game before junior defenseman Marko Brelih snuck one past sophomore goaltender Mason Pulde. The goal came with just 27 seconds left in regulation. Overdue for a win after suffering three straight losses, the resulting tie was crushing for the Jumbos.
Tufts’ game against Amherst on Saturday was representative of its season as a whole, as it played well but could not finish its chances.
“There were just a couple breakdowns that Amherst [was] able to finish their goals on,”junior defenseman Brian Ouellette said. “I thought we actually just outplayed them and they just buried their chances.”
The Jumbos held the Lord Jeffs, the second ranked team in the NESCAC, to only two first period shots. For their part, the Jumbos shot six and controlled the period, as they consistently stopped the Lord Jeffs from breaking out of their defensive zone.
In the second period, Amherst senior forward Andrew Fenwick broke the stalemate at 13:05. The Lord Jeffs quickly built their lead when senior defenseman Aaron Deutsch scored a power play goal at 15:37 to go up 2-0.
“We’ve talked a lot about goal-setting and what our identity is and what everybody’s role is and doing their job,” coach Brian Murphy said. “You watch Amherst and they’re a team that plays with a lot of skill. You know, we’re not like that. We want to get pucks deep and make teams work to go 200 feet … that’s how we are going to be successful.”
A penalty for too many players on the ice towards the end of the second forced the Jumbos back on the defensive but they were able to kill.
“We took some penalties and that affected a little bit of the flow of the game,” Murphy said. “They played a little more puck possession and we chased them around and we got a little bit away from our identity as being a blue collar team. All in all I thought we came out of [the second] period with a little bit of momentum and carried [it] into the third but unfortunately we couldn’t get it done.”
First-year forward Brian Brown was able to open a window for Tufts with a power play goal early in the third period — his team leading 12th of the season — off assists from sophomore defenseman Sean Kavanagh and Ouellette. The Lord Jeffs scored again, however, with just under seven minutes to play to seal the win.
First-year goaltender Ryan McConnell got his first start of the season against Amherst.
“It wasn’t any sort of replacement or change of plan,” Murphy said. “The plan was for Mason [Pulde] to play Friday and Ryan to play Saturday. Ryan has had some great practices and we’ve felt for a while that he’s deserved the chance to get a start.”
Murphy thought the loss was more of a result of several mental lapses than of any systemic issues.
“I thought yesterday we got a little loosey-goosey at times, made a couple of big mistakes at the end of the game that allowed them to get a tie with us,” Murphy said. “We should have won the game, no question about it.”
In its game against Hamilton, Tufts got off to a hot start, scoring the first goal of the game only 38 seconds in on a fast break. Kavanagh found the back of the net on an assist from junior forward Stewart Bell and sophomore forward Conal Lynch. Just under nine minutes later, Continentals senior forward Nick Vassos broke out and scored on a pass from first-year forward T.J. Daigler.
True to their gritty mentality, the Jumbos again blitzed the Continentals and scored only 16 seconds into the second period. Tufts sophomore forward Matt Pugh won the face-off against junior forward Kenny Matheson, then passed to Brown who shot, but was blocked. First-year forward Scott Majkowsky scored off the rebound to earn his third goal of the season.
Tufts scored again at the 5:09 mark in the second when Lynch won a face-off in the offensive zone, ripped a shot at first-year goalie Tim Nowacki who saved the shot but lost control of the puck. Senior forward Tyler Voigt reacted quickly and put the Jumbos ahead 3-1.
Hamilton answered back as first-year forward Tyler Bruneteau redirected a rebounding shot by sophomore forward Brad Smelstor past Pulde 11 minutes into the second period. Sophomore forward Truman Landowski also had an assist.
Despite leading for the entirety of the game and taking a timeout at 18:26, the Jumbos were unable to preserve their lead and Brelih’s late goal forced overtime.
“We have a lot of young guys in the lineup right now, a lot of freshmen and a lot of sophomores, so these things are going to happen but you just have to learn from it,” Ouellette said. “The seniors and the juniors on the team have been great leaders and when we get to the playoffs that will help us a lot.”