Tufts men’s ice hockey finished the season off strong with a good showing in the NESCAC playoff tournament, winning its play-in game against Middlebury 4–1, but falling to Colby in the quarterfinals 5–1.
Although the previous weekend was not entirely successful for Tufts, the team was coming off two close games against higher seeded NESCAC teams in Colby and Bowdoin. Tufts’ overall regular season record stood at 5–15–2 and their conference record at 5–11–2 entering the playoffs.
After securing the eighth seed, the Jumbos were set up to compete in a play-in game against the ninth-seeded Middlebury Panthers at home on Friday. In its previous two matchups, Tufts defeated Middlebury twice, once by a score of 3–2 in overtime, and the second time by a score of 4–0. Going into the game, the Jumbos were confident in their game plan, sophomore defenseman Andrew Gunlock explained.
“All throughout that week, the coaches kind of emphasized working [the puck] low to high in the offensive zone and the [defensive] shooting,” Gunlock said.
In the first period, possession was evenly split, and both goalies made multiple saves to keep the game scoreless. Neither team was able to breach the other’s defense until there were three minutes remaining, when Gunlock fired a slapshot past Middlebury goalie Jake Horoho, making the score 1–0 Tufts. Middlebury outshot Tufts in the period; it took 11 saves from senior goalkeeper Josh Sarlo to keep the Panthers off the scoreboard.
In the second period, the tightly matched contest continued. Thirteen minutes into the period, the Jumbos were able to break through the Panthers’ defense once again, as first-year forward Harrison Bazianos scored a wraparound goal to double the Jumbos’ lead. Middlebury put a lot of pressure on Tufts’ back line for the rest of the period, gaining a power play off a hooking call against sophomore forward Andrew Maynard. Sarlo made multiple crucial stops right at the end of the period to keep the score at 2–0.
Early in the third period, the Jumbos scored once more to firmly establish their advantage over the Panthers. The goal came from a faceoff in the offensive zone, and senior forward Justin Brandt sent a good pass into Gunlock for his second goal of the game, making it 3–0. Middlebury was able to pull one back off a point-blank shot directly in front of the net from Tucker Lamb to decrease Tufts’ lead to two goals. Right At the end of the game, a delay of game penalty was called against sophomore defenseman Sam Miller to give Middlebury a power play. To increase their chances of a late goal, the Panthers pulled their goalie, but Gunlock was able to score an empty net goal to complete his hat trick and end the game with a final score of 4–1. It was Gunlock’s conference-leading second hat trick of the year.
“[The] forwards did a great job of getting the puck in deep and then cycling it up top and getting to the net,” Gunlock said.
Sarlo made 32 saves throughout the game. The win cemented the Jumbos’ spot in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament and set up a game against the top-seeded Colby on Sunday.
The Colby Mules had a highly successful year, earning an overall record of 15–5–2 and a 12–4–2 NESCAC record. Three players are ranked in the top 10 in the conference for points scored, and goalkeeper Andy Beran is among the best in the league with a save percentage of .942. In their previous matchups, the Mules shut out the Jumbos twice.
In the early minutes of the first period, Tufts couldn’t gain possession of the puck, and Colby dominated the offensive zone with precise passing. Sarlo made a full stretch save to keep the game scoreless, but the defense didn’t hold out for long. Colby was able to force a Tufts turnover right at the blue line and get a three-on-one breakaway, which resulted in a goal, putting the Mules up 1–0. After the goal, Tufts started to gain some momentum and was able to string longer sequenced passes together. After a long period of time spent forechecking in the Colby defensive zone, senior forward Brendan Skarda passed the puck from behind the net to sophomore forward Aidan Lovett, who wristed the shot home to tie the game 1–1. Tufts was able to get some more chances throughout the rest of the period, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities presented to them.
In the second period, the first penalty of the game was called 30 seconds in against first-year forward Brennan Horn for slashing. Sarlo made multiple good stops, but eventually Colby was able to take advantage of the numbers mismatch and fire the puck off of Miller into the back of the net to retake the lead 2–1. Colby then scored again very quickly in similar fashion, banking the puck off the skates of sophomore defender Jack Hughes to make the score 3–1. The pair of goals proved to be the turning point in the game, as Colby maintained possession of the puck for the majority of the remaining minutes.
In the final period, Colby put the finishing touches on a very complete performance. Five minutes into the period, Colby forward John McElaney sent a wrist shot into the back of the net to make the score 4–1. The Mules would score once again soon afterwards to make the final score 5–1. McElaney had an incredible game, totaling two goals in addition to two assists to give the Mules home advantage for the rest of the tournament.
Despite what their record may show, the Tufts men’s hockey team had a very solid year, with many of their games being decided by a margin of one or two goals.
“I think we showed some really good resiliency, and there’s a real great future ahead for a lot of these young guys,” Sarlo said.