Tufts’ 2019 road woes continued this past weekend after tieing Trinity (9–3–3) 1–1 on Jan. 18, and losing 3–0 to Wesleyan (9–4–2) on Saturday. They have yet to win more than one game in January; their last victory came on Jan. 5 when they beat non-conference opponent Bryn Athyn (4–14) 2–1 .
The Cardinals, undefeated and first in the NESCAC (8–0–2), proved too strong an opponent for the Jumbos from minute one. It was the Jumbos’ sixth road game in a row. Tufts only had three power plays to Wesleyan’s five, and Wesleyan outshot Tufts 40–25 over the course of the game. Sophomore goalkeeper Drew Hotte notched an impressive 37 saves in the face of Wesleyan’s 40 attempts, further cementing himself as a workhorse in the three-man stable of Tufts’ goalkeepers.
The day before, Tufts started well against Trinity, scoring first just after the halfway mark of the first period. Junior forward Anthony Farinacci gave Tufts the first period lead with his goal from one of their two power plays of the game. But sophomore defenseman James Callahan scored a second period goal for Trinity to lock the game up at 1–1. Trinity mounted attack after attack, but first-year goalkeeper Josh Sarlo shut down Trinity’s offense with an astounding 59 saves — a career-best performance which propelled Sarlo into Tufts history, tying him for the fourth-most saves of all time.
Sarlo credited his impressive performance — which earned him NESCAC Player of the Week honors — to the entire team.
“We battled hard all game,” Sarlo said. “The guys did a really good job of limiting second chance opportunities and allowed me to see the puck. It was a team effort [from] top to bottom.”
Coach Patrick Norton also commented on some of the team’s highlights from the past couple of games.
“Both Josh Sarlo and Drew Hotte have played well, and given us a chance to win games,” Norton said. “Our zone defense has also been much improved.”
Since the season started back up in January, Tufts has been able to pinpoint many of its difficulties back to offense. The team has only reached the two-goal threshold three times in the past seven games and has yet to surpass it in 2019.
Norton explained his team’s offensive struggles.
“We are struggling to score goals, and that is putting pressure on every other facet of our game,” Norton said.
The team has a produced a few highlight reel performances thus far, with a number of stellar shutout performances nicely paired with notable offensive outbursts — but the trick is stringing those performances together. If the Jumbos can improve their offensive output, they could begin to climb up the NESCAC ladder.
“The youth [of the team] is playing a factor in terms of some of the mistakes we are making,” Norton said.
Tufts now sits at 5–10–1 overall, with a NESCAC record of 2–7–1, seating them at 9th place in the conference. Tufts is half a game behind eighth-seeded Bowdoin, an important distinction as the final month of regular-season play approaches. The NESCAC championship hosts the top eight seeds in the 10-team conference. The tournament starts on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Before the tournament takes off, Tufts faces a gauntlet of eight more NESCAC conference games. Each and every one of these games is crucial as the team looks ahead to the playoffs. With the exception of two meetings against last-place Conn. College, these games feature familiar opponents. In these games, Tufts went 2–4 and was outscored 21–17; however, these games included two massive victories over Williams and Bowdoin, 6–2 and 6–1 respectively.
“With only eight games left, every one is important,” Sarlo said. “We are essentially in playoff hockey already with how competitive the NESCAC is.”
The upcoming three-game stretch for the Jumbos will be looked back upon as a pivotal part of the season, for better or for worse. The Jumbos are gearing up for three consecutive home games against Williams, Middlebury and Conn. College. Notching even one win against these three conference opponents will markedly improve the Jumbo’s playoff prospects. Sarlo maintains that the squad is ready to perform.
“We have the right guys in our locker room to be successful in this league,” Sarlo remarked. “After a seven-game road trip, it’s exciting to come back to our home barn and have an opportunity to make a statement this weekend.”
The first of these games, against second-place Williams on Jan. 25, offers Tufts the opportunity to knock off a quality opponent and come away with a statement win. Tufts previously did so at Williams with their 6–2 victory way back on Nov. 30, and a repeat victory could give the Jumbos great momentum heading into the next two games. The Jumbos face off against the Ephs on Friday at 7 p.m.