Coming off impressive wins over Amherst and Hamilton, the Tufts men’s hockey team rode a wave of momentum into one of its toughest NESCAC back-to-backs all year. On Friday, the Jumbos faced off against the Trinity Bantams (10–3–2), before taking on the Wesleyan Cardinals (9–4–3) the following day. Despite strong showings from the Jumbos early in both games, they weren’t able to seal the victories, losing 4–1 to the Bantams and 2–1 to the Cardinals.
On Saturday against Wesleyan, both teams were firing on all cylinders — Tufts put 28 shots on goal to Wesleyan’s 32. Neither team could find a breakthrough, though, and the first period sailed by scoreless.
Things started to pick up in the second period when power plays for both sides led to their swapping goals, which left the contest tied 1–1 around the halfway point of the period. Sophomore forward Tyler Scroggins put the puck in the net for the Jumbos, while sophomore forward Walker Harris scored for the Cardinals. It was Scroggins’ second goal of the weekend and fourth on the year.
The final period was a relatively defensive battle compared to previous action, with the Cardinals and Jumbos only getting off eight and six shots on goal, respectively. Tufts senior goalie and co-captain Nik Nugnes (30 saves) and Wesleyan sophomore goalie Tim Sestak (27 saves) both had excellent games in net.
In heartbreaking fashion for the hosts, Wesleyan senior forward Cam McCusker scored the deciding goal with 1:07 left on the clock, putting the score at 2–1. The Jumbos then pulled Nugnes for the final minute in an attempt to scrounge together a last-second goal and force overtime, but the final buzzer sounded before the team could equalize.
“We just couldn’t get the puck to fall our way,” Nugnes said.
The game wrapped up Tufts’ two-game series with Wesleyan, the first of which ended in a 3–3 tie on Nov. 18. The win made the Cardinals 5–3–2 in NESCAC play, while the Jumbos fell to 2–7–1.
One day prior, the Jumbos took on the NESCAC-leading Trinity Bantams with revenge on the table — the Jumbos fell 5–1 to Trinity earlier in the season. Though the final score of Friday’s match ended up looking similar to that from November, the two games were anything but.
As opposed to earlier in the season, when Trinity dominated on both sides of the puck, Tufts held strong through the first two periods. Even though the Bantams put up more shots on goal (25–11 through two periods), Nugnes didn’t let anything past him, and Scroggins’ goal late in the second period gave Tufts an unlikely advantage going into the final 20 minutes of action.
From there, things fell apart for the Jumbos. Trinity’s offense broke free in the third period, scoring four times on 11 shots, while Tufts only mustered three shots on goal.
“We weren’t consistent playing in the third and we didn’t bury our scoring chances,” Tufts senior forward Brian Brown said. “I think that’s something we’re definitely working on — trying to fix that going into this weekend. We can’t hope for Nik to make every save.”
Such a late offensive barrage came as a surprise considering the first two periods, but it was nothing new for this Trinity team. The Bantams have scored only nine goals in the first period this season, tied for second-fewest in the NESCAC. In the third period, though, they’ve scored 28, which outpaces the rest of the conference by a wide margin. The team often comes alive late, and unfortunately for the Jumbos, that narrative rang true on Friday.
“With how tight the NESCAC is, you have to play a full 60 minutes each night,” Nugnes said. “I thought we put together a great two periods, but we couldn’t stop Trinity in the third.”
The Jumbos are starting to come together as the season goes on, proving that they can compete with teams that have better records than their own. Despite the two losses, Tufts competed admirably for long stretches against two of the best teams in the NESCAC. The next step is being able to close out those games.
Looking ahead, the Jumbos take on the Williams Ephs (10–6–0) and the Middlebury Panthers (4–12–0) this weekend, giving them another chance to seek revenge from earlier in the season: Tufts fell 4–2 against Williams on Dec. 1, before losing 2–0 to Middlebury the following day.
“On any given night, one mistake can hurt you, and [in the NESCAC], teams show up every single night,” Nugnes said. “That said, I think we’re getting better and trying to build on the process. We felt great coming off of [those] Amherst and Hamilton win[s], and we’re gonna take that into Williamstown on Friday.”
Tufts’ January performances against top teams like Amherst and Endicott prove that the team can compete at a higher level than its 3–11–2 record may indicate. As the season enters its final stretch, the Jumbos have an opportunity to further prove their talent.
“We feel like we can play with anyone,” Brown said. “It really doesn’t depend on other teams — it depends on how we play. So if we come and execute our systems and play hard, we know we have a chance to win any night.”