Finally ending a four-game losing streak, the Jumbos swept the Conn. College Camels with back-to-back victories, winning 3-0 and 2-1 on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and clinched a spot in the playoffs. While the team’s playoff ranking will be determined by the results of the last four games in the regular season, the team currently ranks seventh in the NESCAC with a 7-6-1 conference record.
Conn. College gained an early lead on Saturday 4:09 minutes into the first period, after senior Ryan Mowery roofed the puck from the left circle into the net. Just six minutes later, Tufts’ senior tri-captain Sean Kavanagh powered through the neutral zone and scored an equalizer from the right circle with 9:45 left in the period.
After Conn. College committed a tripping penalty 16:08 into the first period, which granted Tufts a power play, first-year forward Machlan Sawden scored what turned out to be the winning goal with the man advantage just seven seconds later, finalizing the score at 2-1. The next two periods remained scoreless on both sides. Tufts junior goaltender Nik Nugnes made 27 saves in the contest.
“I think we played hungry in both games which really helped,” coach Pat Norton said. “Nik Nugnes really stepped up and played great in both games, in particular on Friday night. He played great when we needed him to, and he made a couple of big saves at the end for us on Saturday as well, so I think those two things combined were really good for us.”
Nugnes had an outstanding showing on Friday night, as he made 31 total saves and had his first career shutout. At 11:27 in the first, first-year defender Jordan Haney hit a slap shot from the left point, converting Kavanagh’s assist to give Tufts a 1-0 lead. After killing a penalty early in the second period, Haney found the back of the net once again after the puck was slotted from behind the net to out front as Haney hit a slap shot to the right upper corner, assisted by Kavanagh.
Just a few minutes later at 6:20, Kavanagh came straight through the middle of the offensive zone and snuck the puck past the goaltender’s legs, scoring the winning goal and solidifying the 3-0 victory. After the final goal, the Jumbos had many more scoring opportunities and dominated the ice offensively, as first-year Cooper Stahl nearly scored a fourth goal after ripping a shot from the blue line and hitting the left post in the middle of the third period.
Kavanagh attributes the wins over the weekend to the team’s consistent energy.
“We really focused in practice on bringing intensity to all three periods,” Kavanagh said. “Our intensity has not been as high as it needed to be, so we worked on battling hard every day, and that showed this weekend. We finally started winning puck battles and winning races again, and because we outworked [Conn. College] and stuck with our systems, we were able to pull out the win.”
With junior forward Oliver Takacsi-Nagy back on the ice this weekend and junior forward Chad Goldberg back in practice after suffering concussions, the team is significantly healthier entering the end of the season and the playoffs.
The team is now in the final stretch of the season, with four crucial regular season games remaining. While the team has clinched a playoff spot, the results of these games will determine the official playoff seeding. Next weekend, Tufts will host Amherst. The Jumbos have not managed to topple the Purple and White since the 2004-2005 season.
“We tend to play on our heels against Amherst,” Norton said. “They are a quick team, but we’ve been in every game we’ve played against them over the last couple of years. We’ve just made some plays during the game or at the end of games that have come back to bite us on the scoreboard. I think if we go after them and stay on the offensive the whole game, it will give us the best chance to win.”
The team will host Amherst on Feb. 10 and Hamilton on Feb. 11 for its final two home games of the season.