The hockey team wrapped up its season with two home games at Valley Forum over the weekend, after defeating Colby 3–1 on Friday and losing to Bowdoin 4–2 on Saturday.
Going into the weekend, Tufts, Colby and Bowdoin were all vying to qualify for the NESCAC tournament in the extremely tight conference.
“Our approach was that we knew we needed to win two,” coach Pat Norton said. “The guys had a good attitude and a good focus coming into the weekend. I thought that we were ready to play and I felt that we understood the task at hand.”
In Saturday’s matchup against the Polar Bears, the two teams played a relatively even first period, although the Polar Bears outshot the Jumbos 14–5. Bowdoin got on the scoreboard first just over six minutes in with a goal from first-year forward Ethan Kimball. However, Tufts quickly responded, as senior defenseman Cory Gottfried scored a power play goal about four minutes later.
But the game quickly slipped away in the second period. Sophomore forward Jimmy Duffy scored for Bowdoin off a rebounded shot that deflected off sophomore goalie Josh Sarlo, bringing the score to 2–1. Less than 90 seconds later, Kimball scored his second goal of the day. A few minutes later, sophomore defenseman Cam Berube brought the score to 4–1 on a power play goal.
Playing to keep their season alive, the Jumbos did not let up and held the Polar Bears scoreless for the rest of the game. In the second period, Tufts outshot Bowdoin 14–13, and in the third period, Tufts again outshot Bowdoin 14–9.
“I thought we responded well and we played great after [the goals],” Norton said.
Senior forward and assistant captain Anthony Farinacci was the only Jumbo to convert, though, as he scored just over 12 minutes into the third period, assisted by sophomore forward Justin Brandt and junior defenseman Michael Gordon.
Norton pulled Sarlo from the net with three minutes remaining, and despite some scoring opportunities, the score remained 4–2.
“We had a great chance with the goalie pulled, five on four, to score goals, and their kid made some great saves,” Norton said, talking about Bowdoin junior goalie Alex Zafonte. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
Friday’s result was more positive for Tufts in the must-win weekend, as the team defeated Colby 3–1.
Sophomore forward Nick Schultze scored for Tufts just 1:56 into the first period. But Colby equalized the score 1–1 with a goal from senior forward J.P. Schulen. Despite being outshot overall 33–28, the Jumbos scored goals in the second and third periods and held the Mules scoreless. The second period goal came from Farinacci, while junior forward Mason Babbdige — the team’s leading scorer this season — ensured the victory with his third period goal.
With the win and the loss, the Jumbos ended up as the ninth seed in the NESCAC and missed the playoff cut. Bowdoin, meanwhile, moved up to a three-way tie for fifth place. Colby got tenth place and also will not play in the tournament. Overall, Norton emphasized just how tight the NESCAC was this season.
“We played a lot better this season in almost all areas and I think we were four points less last year and we got in the playoffs,” Norton said. “I think if we had the record we had this year, we would’ve [been] fighting for fourth place of fifth place last year. It’s just the way the league goes.”
Despite taking the second-to-last spot in the conference, Norton emphasized that his team played close games. Many of the more lopsided scores came from pulling goalies at the end of close games, a necessary risk that sometimes does not pay off.
“We pulled a goalie seven or eight times this year,” Norton said. “That’s a close competitive season.”
Nevertheless, the team did not qualify for the playoffs. For seniors like forward Blake McIntyre, it was a frustrating end to the season.
“You can attribute [it] to whatever you want, but we didn’t get the job done,” McIntyre said. “It was a sad weekend especially for the seniors. … It still stings, but as a program, it’s moving forward with the right steps.”
Looking forward, although the team will graduate a core group of seven seniors, Norton is optimistic about the future of his team.
“There [are] a few things we can continue to work on to get better at,” Norton said. “It’s just this year, the pucks didn’t quite go our way.”