Crunch time, must-win mentality as ice hockey heads into final two weekends

02/17/2018 - Malden, MA - Forward Hayden Smith '21 fights for the puck in a home game against Colby at the Malden Forum on Feb 17, 2018. (Alina Strileckis / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts’ Hockey’s frustrating stretch continued over the past two weeks, with the Jumbos dropping three games and tying another to fall further out of the playoff race. After a 3–1 loss to Williams (13–6–1), a 2–2 tie with Middlebury (8–10–2) and a 4–0 loss to Conn. College Camels (6–13–1), the Jumbos lost again to the Camels by a score of 2–1.

After sophomore forward Charlie Borek answered an early Conn. College goal with one of his own late in the first period, the Camels snatched the game away again with a power play goal during the second period. The hard fought match followed an earlier defeat at the hands of the Camels the day before when the Jumbos were shut out 4–0 at home, despite limiting their opponents to a 1–7 power play success rate.

On Jan. 26, the Jumbos tied Middlebury 2–2. In the first period, first-year forward Cal LeClair deftly guided the puck through traffic to the stick of first-year defenseman Tom Tresca, who slid the puck past the goaltender for an early lead. Middlebury answered with an early second period goal with 5:12 left, but less than a minute later Tufts responded with junior forward Machlan Sawden’s rebound score. Neither team found the back of the net for the rest of regular time or the entirety of overtime.

Earlier that Friday, Tufts suffered a hard loss to Williams. The Jumbos faced a 2–0 deficit after the first period, and it wasn’t until there was 10:34 left in the second period that Tufts got on the scoreboard with a goal from sophomore forward Brendan Ryan. Less than a minute later, Williams responded with the game winning goal from senior forward Marcus Mollica, sealing the victory. Tufts put up a strong performance on the stat sheets, winning 33 face-offs to Williams’ 24, out-shooting Williams 31–30 and limiting power plays to just three attempts. Coach Patrick Norton highlighted the frustrating nature of the team’s recent results.

“We played well against Middlebury and Williams, the results just didn’t come,” Norton said. “We outshot Williams and tied with Middlebury [in shots], but at the end of the day, we were only able to land the tie.” 

In the final stretch of the season, the team heads into must-win territory. With four games left, the Jumbos are in ninth place, one away from the final playoff spot, which is currently held by Bowdoin (6–12–2). Sophomore defenseman Craig Uyeno is not discouraged by Tufts’ narrow playoff chances.

“Everyone’s been working really hard,” Uyeno said. “I think that everyone’s really focused and really determined. We’re in a good spot as a team.”

The results in the upcoming game against Bowdoin could play a pivotal role in the final NESCAC standings for both teams and will likely dictate who clinches the final playoff spot.

“That one’s definitely a big one for us,” Uyeno said. “Really a must-win.”

Bowdoin will host the match; In their last encounter, the Jumbos stomped the Polar Bears 6–1 in a home victory. The previous matchup against Bowdoin bodes well for the Tufts squad, which rode a massive first period to a dominant victory on both sides of the puck. Offensively, it was one of the best performances of the season, highlighted by a dominant five-assist outburst from junior forward Tyler Scroggins and a superb two-goal performance by LeClair. Defensively, sophomore goalkeeper Drew Hotte put up an impressive 32 saves. Tufts dominated in many other facets of the game, netting two of six goals during power plays and another goal while shorthanded, while winning 46 face-offs to Bowdoin’s 36. Junior defenseman Cory Gottfried commented on the run-in.

“We need to have a strong showing these last four [games] and win as many as we can,” Gottfried said. “People are just excited to get to work this week in practice and put in the hard work it’s going to take to come out with the wins we need.”

The team will rely upon its defense moving into the final games of the regular season, an area that Norton has been impressed with as the season has progressed.

“The defense has been really good down the stretch,” Norton said. “We’ve had guys who have really stepped up. Tom Tresca, Jaret Koger and Craig Uyeno have all been bright spots. Our goaltenders are doing a great job keeping us in games.”

The Jumbos are seeking to improve on their low scoring output that has plagued them in 2019. The squad has only scored 13 times in 11 appearances, and have the lowest goals scored this season out of all NESCAC teams. If their offense doesn’t come into form, they must depend on their stellar defense and goalkeeping trio to keep them in playoff contention.

The Jumbos’ push for the playoffs begins on Friday with a home game against Amherst at 7 p.m., followed by another home against Hamilton on Saturday.