Ice hockey gears up for a rebound from last season

Sophomore forward Peter Hatton pursues the puck in Tufts' 3–0 loss to Colby at the Malden Forum on Feb. 17. Alina Strilekis / The Tufts Daily Archives

The Jumbos’ 2017–18 season was somewhat of a letdown. Tufts’ final record of 5–16–4 was not what its members sought heading into last year, but the team saw some positives late last season which it will hope to build on this year, according to coach Patrick Norton. 

“From our goaltending to our scoring to our defense, we struggled from the first game,” Norton said. “We had a rally in the second half [of the season] where we played a lot better, and a lot of the young players started to come into their own. We ended the season going in the right direction.”

Sophomore forward Hayden Smith also said the team looks forward to this season. 

“We struggled a little bit, but this year we’re really excited and ready to go,” Smith said.

The Jumbos kick things off on Friday and look to bring their momentum and optimism from last year’s second half into a palatable opening stretch of November games. These games include matchups against Wesleyan and Williams, as well as a rivalry matchup with Trinity to open the season. 

We’re excited to kick the year off against Trinity,” Smith said. “They’re a good rival for us.”

Tufts opened up its season last year with a 5–1 defeat at Trinity but found itself on the cusp of beating Wesleyan in two games last season, finishing with a 3–3 overtime tie in November and a 2–1 loss in January. Meanwhile, Tufts split the series with Williams last season, winning one 4–2 and losing another by the same scoreline. Early games against these teams will be good opportunities for the team to notch some early wins and gain momentum heading into the heart of the season.

Some notable changes from the Jumbos’ 2017–18 campaign include the departures of forward Brian Brown (LA ’18) and defender Dan Kelly (LA ’18). Brown played in an astounding 90 games, with over 30 goals and 30 assists to his name. Kelly, who has a similarly impressive 76 games played, will also be sorely missed. Both players were featured in key roles last season as co-captains, and contributed a combined 10 goals and 11 assists.

“We’ve got to find someone who will replace Brian Brown in scoring,” Norton said. “Brown was our leading returning offensive player, and he was that for four straight years. We’ve got to find someone who can pick up the slack, and hopefully even tack a few more [goals] on.”

Looking to step up to fill this void is now senior forward Clay Berger. Berger played in all 25 games last season and has a knack for assists, posting 13 over his three-year career. Though goals have eluded him over his Tufts career — he has scored just three — he will look to change that as the team seeks new playmakers on the offensive side.

In terms of goaltending, Nik Nugnes (LA ’18) and Ryan McConnell (LA ’18) also leave behind big shoes to fill. Sophomore Drew Hotte is now the most experienced keeper on the roster, logging 121 saves over the 2017–18 season. He will look to improve in his second season with the team, with classmate Tyler Haywood and first-year Josh Sarlo as the other two goaltenders the team will be carrying this season.

Norton said while Hotte is the starter for the season opener, all three payers will likely draw substantial playing time.

“We’re not going to get too far ahead in terms of when they’re playing,” Norton said. “I feel good about our goaltending. Any of the three can come in and give us a great effort.”

Heading into this new season, Norton is excited to see the young team continue to improve. He has already seen a notable strength emerge in the team’s speed, and he is also impressed with the overall depth the team boasts. Smith believes that this is something the coaching staff will look to exploit in order to aid Tufts’ bid to be a competitive team this year.

“I’d be willing to bet there’s a different lineup every night,” Smith said.

Norton also said the team will capitalize on its penchant for aggressiveness.

“One thing we’re going to try and work on is our power play,” Norton said. “We need to be more dangerous and opportunistic when we have chances to take a lead by two or put a team away.”

Despite its early exit last year, the young squad is confident and optimistic, according to Norton. 

“Our expectations are what they always have been,” Norton said. “We’re trying to win a NESCAC championship. Last year, the sixth-place team made the [NESCAC] Final Four, and it shows that anything can happen.”

Tufts’ season begins on Friday at 7 p.m. at home against Trinity, before the team takes on Wesleyan the following day at 4 p.m.