Hockey hammers non-conference opponents, struggles against NESCAC foes

Tufts forward, George Pantazopoulos (LA15), left, Tufts defender, Dominic Granato (E'16) center left, Tufts defender and tri-captain, Blake Edwards (LA'15), center right, and Tufts goalie, Mason Pulde (A'17) defend the goal during the Tufts Men's Ice Hockey 7-2 defeat against Trinity at the Malden Forum Ice Rink on Nov. 16, 2014. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily Archive

Tufts’ New Year hot streak came to an end last weekend with a 4-2 loss to Amherst on Friday, before the team bounced back with a hard-fought 1-1 tie against Hamilton on Saturday, one of the NESCAC’s toughest teams. Still, the Jumbos have struggled against NESCAC foes this season, sitting ninth in the conference (1-4-3), with a 5-5-4 record overall.

The team’s early run of results included wins against Daniel Webster (3-11-0), Endicott (9-5-2) and Suffolk (9-4-2). The three dominant wins – in which the Jumbos outscored their opponents 13-2 and earned their first home win of the season in their first game of 2016 against the Daniel Webster Eagles – continued a five-game undefeated streak (4-0-1) after a slow start to the season.

Saturday’s game against Hamilton featured an impressive performance from junior goalie Mason Pulde, who made a career-high 53 saves to preserve Tufts’ narrow lead until the visitors evened the score with 1:56 remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. Senior co-captain forward Stewart Bell was the lone goal scorer for the Jumbos.

The Jumbos saw their five-game unbeaten streak broken the day before with the loss to the Amherst Lord Jeffs at home. Though they struck early in the first period, capitalizing on a power play to take a 1-0 lead, the Jumbos could not hold off the Lord Jeff attack and went on to surrender two goals while down a man themselves. Junior forward Patrick Lackey picked up his third goal of the season while sophomore forward Chad Goldberg picked up his fourth assist of the week.

Tufts’ first three games after coming back from its winter break went much more favorably, as the team easily handled a series of non-conference opponents.

“The biggest difference [between the beginning of the season and the hot streak] is that we’ve done a better job executing the systems that we had in place at the beginning of the year,” coach Patrick Norton said. “It’s been especially good since we’ve come back from the holidays. Our [defensive] zone coverage, our penalty kill, both of those have been much improved.”

Tufts dominated Suffolk at home in the Malden Valley Forum in a 4-0 victory. The first period featured back-and-forth action as the opponents sized each other up. Lackey almost scored on a breakaway, but Suffolk first-year defenseman Dominic Rovero recovered and prevented the shot on goal.

Neither team would score in the first despite two power play opportunities for Tufts. Pulde finished the shutout with 23 saves as his defense did an excellent job keeping the Rams from breaking through.

“Overall everyone’s really stuck to the systems, which has allowed us to have a little success coming back [from the break] and it helps when you have some of the best goalies in the country,” senior co-captain and defenseman Brian Ouellette said. “We know if we make a mistake our goalies are going to bail us out, and we also have the ability to put up a lot of goals in a game.”

Sophomore Brian Brown scored just after a Tufts power play ended nine minutes into the second period, assisted by junior Matt Pugh and Goldberg.

Ouellette kept up the pressure despite being down a man, intercepting a pass at his blue line and streaking up the ice to slip the puck past junior goalie Kevin Venturoso in the bottom left corner. Ouellette’s score was the second shorthanded goal for Tufts in as many games.

Four minutes into the third period first-year Nicholas Abbene put the Jumbos up 3-0, scoring his first ever goal on Goldberg’s second assist of the night. Ten minutes later junior forward Conal Lynch put the nail in Suffolk’s coffin when he notched Tufts fourth goal and his first of the season. Bell and Goldberg assisted on the play.

“We’ve been getting outstanding contributions from our younger guys this year,” Bell said. “It’s great seeing guys step up and we’re confident in our entire roster.”

Tufts netted a season-high six goals against Endicott on Jan. 9 despite playing the game away at Raymond J. Bourque arena. The Gulls fell flat for their part, scoring only once in the first ever meeting between the two teams. Jumbo sophomore goalie Nik Nugnes saved 40 shots and allowed only the one through.

First-year forward David Lackner opened up the scoring just over five minutes into the first period on an assist from Pugh and senior forward Dom Granato. In a one-sided first quarter, Brown’s goal at 11:19 gave the Jumbos an early 2-0 lead. Sophomore forward Nick Flanagan and junior defenseman Sean Kavanagh assisted on the play.

While Goldberg served a slashing penalty, Tufts blitzed Endicott shorthanded as first-year defenseman Jefferson Martin served up an assist to junior forward Patrick Lackey, who knocked in a shot from right in front of the goal.

Endicott, which had received a vote in the U.S. College Hockey Online national poll that week, refused to be shut out. First-year defenseman Carter Horwitz put the Gulls on the board at 9:43 in the second period.

The Gulls’ comeback efforts proved futile, however, as Flanagan found string twice in the second period at 12:01 on a power play and then again two and a half minutes later. Goldberg assisted on the first goal and Brown assisted on both. Brown went on to notch a sixth goal for the Jumbos with just under five minutes left in the game. The sophomore duo of Brown and Flanagan combined for four goals and three assists in the contest. On the season, Brown leads Tufts with five goals and six assists.

“If you look at our scoring stats I think that, right now, even though Brian [Brown] is leading the team in points I don’t think he’s so far ahead of everybody else” Coach Norton said. “We’ve had goals from probably six or seven guys over the last few games that have made a difference. Chad Goldberg coming back from his concussion has helped us. He and Brian [Ouellette] are really good together, especially on power plays.”

To start off the new year, Tufts hosted Daniel Webster on Jan. 6th. The Jumbos managed a 3-1 victory to earn their first home win of the season.

“It was certainly nice to get one [at home]” Norton said. “I don’t know that it felt any different from any of the previous couple [wins] that we’ve had. I think the first win you get as a head coach, the win against Brockport, probably had a little more emotion for me.”

After a back-and-forth first period, first-year forward Nick Balboa slapped a shot into the top left corner of the net 15 minutes into the second period on an assist from Brown and sophomore defenseman Dan Kelly. In the third, Pugh extended Tufts lead to two just under seven minutes into the period. Granato and Ouellette assisted.

Sophomore forward Ryan Murray cut the lead to one a minute and a half later on an unassisted score. Bell’s shot was blocked at 14:37, and Goldberg fired the rebound into the goal to all but ensure a Jumbo victory. Pulde finished with 26 saves and one goal allowed.

“Guys just came back and were playing with more confidence with the puck possession, and the [number] of goals we were scoring – you could just tell that we were much more confident with the puck and making better plays,” said Ouellette.

The Jumbos are back it this weekend on their home ice, facing off against the national No. 9 Trinity Bantams tomorrow night and against the Wesleyan Cardinals Saturday afternoon.