Ice hockey looks to build on .500 season in coach Norton’s third year

Senior forward Brian Brown is chased by opponents during the men's ice hockey game against Amherst College at the Malden Forum on Feb 11. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts men’s ice hockey had an up and down season last year, averaging a .500 win percentage and going 11–11–3 overall on the season. The Jumbos finished sixth in the NESCAC with a conference record of 9–8–1 and advanced to the NESCAC quarterfinals, but look to improve upon their 2016–2017 performance.

“The team’s goals are pretty simple,” coach Pat Norton said. “[They are the] same as they have been the previous two seasons. We want to host a playoff game, win a NESCAC Championship and compete for an NCAA title.”

Norton also explained that the team’s biggest focus is on improving offensively.

“Three goals wins a lot of games in the NESCAC,” Norton said. “We need to find a way to get three or more goals every game to give ourselves the best chance of winning every night. Overall, I know there are going to be mistakes in the game. I want us to compete and play. If we make a mistake, I want us to make it because we were being aggressive. Trinity and Wesleyan will be great tests for us on the road, and we will definitely learn about our team from playing both.”

This season marks Norton’s third at the helm. Under Norton, the team has consistently maintained a .500 winning average, a significant improvement on years prior. Tufts had not posted a winning record from 2011–12 through Norton’s first year in 2015–16. Recruitment has been key to Norton’s success, as the current sophomore and first-year classes exhibit great potential.

The Jumbos’ record was solid overall, but they suffered some inconsistency over the course of the 2016–17 season. Tufts defeated rival Trinity 3–1 at home in its season opener, but fell 7–1 to Trinity in Connecticut during a later conference matchup. The Bantams also thwarted the Jumbos 4–1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Senior forward Brian Brown believes that consistency is the key to success this season.

“We need to keep doing the little things right and trust the process,” Brown said. “It’s a long season, so there are bound to be ups and downs. We need to stay focused throughout its entirety.

Going into the 2017–18 season, Tufts has graduated a number of its best players. Goaltender Mason Pulde (LA ’17) played a pivotal role for the past couple of seasons before tearing his ACL in the middle of last season. Pulde registered almost 1,300 saves during his tenure with the team and maintained a career .932 save percentage, the second best in program history.

Although the loss of Pulde to injury and graduation hurts the Jumbos, they do not lack for capable play in goal. Senior goalkeeper Nik Nugnes received All-NESCAC Second Team Honors last season and recorded 380 saves in the 14 games that he played. Nugnes’ career .939 save percentage is the highest in Tufts history, just barely beating out Pulde. Together, the two goalies boast four of Tufts’ five highest save percentages over the course of a season, highlighting their contributions to Tufts’ golden age of goalie play.

Also departing the team are tri-captain forwards Mike Leary, Chad Goldberg and tri-captain defenseman Sean Kavanagh (LA ’17). Kavanagh was a rock on the Jumbo defensive line, and Leary and Goldberg were forces to be reckoned with on the attack. Leary registered 26 points over the course of his career, including two game-winning goals, and Goldberg recorded 17 points in just over one full season. Goldberg is unable to play his senior season as a result of concussion-related concerns, according to Brown. The trio’s leadership ability will be missed this season. With six seniors and a slew of underclassmen, the upperclassmen will need to share their experience.

“With a huge group of younger guys, I just want to lead by example and chime in wherever I can,”  Brown said. “We have had outstanding leaders the past three years, so the upperclassmen have big shoes to fill.”

Even though the team graduated a lot of its best players, it still has some of its best returning for the 2017–2018 season. Brown, the team’s top point scorer for three straight seasons returns for his final year as a Tufts hockey player. Brown registered nine goals and 11 assists last season for a total of 20 points and looks to repeat his that form as a senior.

“I am just going to try to continue to bring the same effort, work ethic and keep consistent focus from practice to games,” Brown said.

Sophomore forwards Anthony Farinacci and Tyler Scroggins also contributed a large share of Tufts’ points last season. Farinacci scored seven goals and assisted on eight for a total of 15 points and Scroggins scored five and assisted on nine for a total of 14 points. With a year of college hockey under their belts, their classmates will also hope to build on their rookie seasons.

For its season opener, Tufts faces off against NESCAC rival Trinity College at Trinity on Nov. 17 before taking on Wesleyan at 3:00 p.m. the next day.

“The strategy against Trinity is to attack the net and get pucks to the front,” Norton said. “Give ourselves a chance to score. On the defensive side, we need to backcheck hard. Trinity is very clever offensively, and we need to make sure that we are making every rush they have difficult.”