Ice hockey: Tufts battles undefeated Williams, shut-out by Middlebury in frustrating losses

Senior forward/defender Matt Pugh, first-year defenseman Cory Gottfried, and senior goalkeeper Sean Kavanagh protect the Tufts goal during the game against Amherst College at the Malden Forum on Feb 11. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

This past weekend, the Tufts hockey team competed against two other NESCAC teams on its home ice. Tufts faced off against Williams College on Friday and then hosted Middlebury College on Saturday. Although the Jumbos lost both games, they still felt they improved as a team.

“Any time we have two NESCAC teams coming to play at Tufts, we know it’s going to be a hard weekend,” sophomore defenseman Cooper Stahl said. “Every single team we play in our league brings great competition and the games can go either way. We worked really hard during the second and third periods during both games. We didn’t get the results we wanted, but there were still some good things that came out of the weekend.”

Following its 4–2 loss to Williams, Tufts hosted Middlebury on Saturday afternoon. Middlebury came out strong in the first period with a quick goal at just 0:43 by senior forward Vincent Gisonti. The Panthers controlled the game during the majority of the first period, with a second goal at 12:30 by junior defenseman Jimmy McKee.

Although the Panthers brought more intensity, the Jumbos outshot them 8–4 in the first period, and the defense improved throughout the period. Sophomore forward Ross Delabruere nearly put the Jumbos on the board with a shot at the end of the first, but senior goalie Stephen Klein just barely saved it. The Jumbos’ first-year goalie Drew Hotte also made an impressive paddle save in the first period.

The game picked up in the second period and Tufts came out more aggressively. Once again, Tufts had twice as many shots on goal compared to Middlebury (14–7). However, the team found it very difficult to get the puck in the net with Klein in goal. Despite Tufts’ ability to turn the game around and take control and the advantage of two power plays for Tufts, neither Tufts nor Middlebury scored in the second period.

Similarly in the third period, Tufts outshot Middlebury 15–3 and dominated throughout the entire period, but neither team scored. Hotte saved all three shots on goal that he faced, while on the other end of the rink seven of Tufts’ players took shots during the third. In an attempt to get on the board, Tufts took Hotte out of goal for the last two minutes of play, but the final score remained at 2–0. This was Klein’s second straight shutout against Tufts, after the Panthers beat the Jumbos 1–0 in January on their home ice.  

“We have to figure out how to start well and come out strong,” Delabruere said. “Our coach has been telling us that if we believe we’re a good hockey team it will show on the ice. Things will start falling into place.”

Despite outshooting Middlebury 37–12 and maintaining control of the game throughout the second and third periods, Tufts could not find a way to get past Klein. The Jumbos still put forth a great effort and played with high energy after losing 4–2 the night before. Friday was also the Jumbos’ alumni game, so they had many of their old teammates in the stands cheering for them.

“It was great seeing some of the older guys back in town for the alumni game,” Stahl said. “They laid the groundwork and it’s nice for them to come back and see what they started and how it’s progressing.”

Friday night’s game had a similar outcome. Tufts played against the undefeated Williams College team that came out strong in the first period and took early control of the game. Williams recorded its first goal at 14:34 by junior defenseman Keanu Hilaire and, less than two minutes later, first-year defenseman Jack McCool scored a second goal on a power play following first-year forward Peter Hatton’s holding penalty.

Despite being two goals down after the first 20 minutes, the Jumbos were much more aggressive in the second period, recording 16 shots on goal compared to the Ephs’ four. However, Ephs senior goalie Stephen Morrissey saved every shot on goal, even on the sole power play opportunity for the Jumbos.  Tufts sophomore forward Anthony Farinacci nearly scored on a one-on-one with Morrissey in front of the goal at the end of the second, but Morrissey was able to make the stop. Unfortunately for the Jumbos, they conceded again with less than a minute remaining, putting the game nearly out of reach.  

Both teams battled it out in the third period. Williams junior forward Marcus Mollica scored early, at 1:28, bringing the score to 4–0. However, the Jumbos were not discouraged and launched a comeback attempt in the third to get within two goals of a victory. Sophomore defenseman Jordan Haney put the Jumbos on the board at 6:55 with his goal from outside. A few minutes later, at 14:02, senior captain defenseman Dan Kelly scored again for Tufts, assisted by Farinacci. It was both Haney and Kelly’s first goals of the season. Senior goalie Nik Nugnes was removed from goal for the last two minutes of play as the Jumbos desperately sought to equalize, but ultimately the team was unable to score again and the final score remained 4–2.

“We outshot our opponents in both games, we just couldn’t get past the goalies,” sophomore defenseman Jaret Koger said. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we dominated our opponents four out of six periods this weekend and there are a lot of positives to draw on.”

Being 1–5–1 so far this season, it would be easy for the Jumbos to lose morale, especially since their offense is generating a huge number of shots. However, the players are determined to prove themselves and the guidance from their new captains, Nugnes and Kelly, has really helped them stay focused.

“Nugnes is always getting us fired up before the game and giving high energy,” Koger said. “[Kelly] sets the tone on the ice and is always helping us focus. They both lead by example. Also, Nugnes doesn’t always play every game because he’s a goalie, but he always finds other ways to be a leader on the sidelines.”

The Jumbos are on the road this weekend, playing the Bowdoin Polar Bears on Friday, Dec. 8 and Colby the next day in Maine. The team is then off for winter break until Dec. 27, when it will return to training for its following game at Plattsburgh on Jan. 5. The Jumbos are hoping to make improvements in their play and come home with a few more wins for Tufts.

“We’re a young team and we’re slowly building our confidence,” first-year defenseman Tom Tresca said. “We know by the end of the season, our record will reflect our hard work. We’ll get there.”