Men’s hockey set to take on Amherst, Hamilton this weekend

First-year forward Brendan Ryan brings the puck forward in the men's ice hockey home game at Valley Forum against Wesleyan University on Jan 20. (Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily)

On Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, the Tufts men’s ice hockey team played Conn. College (9–9–2, 8–4–2 NESCAC) in back-to-back fixtures, with the first at home and the second on the road in New London, Conn. The Jumbos came away with a tie and a loss against the Camels, bringing their record to 3–8–3 in the conference and 4–12–4 overall. Now, the team is looking ahead to the weekend, when they will face off against a pair of conference opponents: Amherst on Saturday and Hamilton on Sunday.

While the Jumbos were disappointed with the results against the Camels, they are staying optimistic about the future.

“Any loss in this league hurts, but the season is incredibly short,” senior goaltender and co-captain Nik Nugnes said. “So we need to have short term memories and keep moving forward.”

Tufts Head Coach Pat Norton echoed the sentiments of his starting goalie, who registered his fourth career shutout in the scoreless draw against Conn. College.

“I think we were disappointed with the outcome of the Connecticut College weekend,” Norton said. “I believe we felt as though we had played strong hockey for most of two games, and to come out of it with only a point was disappointing. We could have made better decisions at the lines in the third period. We had too many turnovers, and we got ourselves back on our heels. Games are usually won or lost on turnovers at the lines. For two periods we were very good, [and] in the third, we got a little sloppy.”

The first game between Tufts and Conn. College was a defensive deadlock, as neither team was able to score a game-winner. The match ended 0–0, Tufts’ first scoreless draw in program history. In their second meeting, the two teams were level in scoring at the end of the game once more, and the game went into overtime tied 3–3. Unfortunately for the Jumbos, junior forward William White scored less than a minute into the extra period to seal the victory for the hosts.  After the disheartening results, Tufts looks to pick up a couple of late-season victories against Amherst and Hamilton.

The Jumbos may face an easier task this weekend, as both of their opponents have worse conference records than the second-place Camels. Amherst is 6–4–4 (9–7–4 overall) and fourth in the NESCAC, while Hamilton is 7–6–1 (13–6–1 overall), good for fifth in the conference. However, the Jumbos will definitely have their work cut out for them. Hamilton has a couple of standout offensive talents who will no doubt give Tufts a tough contest. Junior forward Rory Gagnon and sophomore forward Nick Ursitti rank second and tied for fourth in the league for goals, respectively. Gagnon has 13 goals to his name, while Ursitti has 10. Hamilton also boasts the third- and fourth-highest point contributors in the NESCAC in junior forward Jason Brochu and Gagnon. Brochu has eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points, while Gagnon’s 13 goals and six assists tally 19 points.

Hamilton and Amherst also have rock-solid defenses, another obstacle Tufts will have to overcome to get victories. The Hamilton defense has allowed 38 goals this season, an average of just 1.90 goals per game. The Amherst defense is not much worse, letting in 45 goals, an average of 2.25 per game. Hamilton’s defense is ranked second in the conference, and Amherst’s is ranked third. Tufts, on the other hand, ranks eighth out of ten NESCAC teams in scoring, with 44 total goals and an average of 2.20 goals per game. The Jumbos may struggle mightily to find the net against their defense-minded opponents.

Tufts will be looking to its top point-scorers for a spark. Specifically, senior forward Brian Brown, the leading point-getter for the Jumbos (eight goals and six assists on the season), will be relied on after scoring on Saturday against the Camels. 

“[Against Amherst and Hamilton], we will try to execute the same game plan as the last time we played them,” Norton said. “We need to force both teams to play 200 feet, be strong on the lines and get shots with traffic. Both teams have good goaltending and are good in transition.”