Jeffs Closing Out Regular Season with First Place in Sight

Amherst still has chance to earn the NESCAC's top seed.

AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College men’s ice hockey team will close out its regular season this weekend when it hits the road for a pair of games against ECAC East opponents. Winners of four of their past five, the Lord Jeffs can finish as high as No. 1 and as low as No. 7 in the NESCAC standings.

Tonight at 7 p.m. Amherst will take on the Beavers of Babson College (9-11-3, 7-7-3 ECAC East), with live statistics and video available. The Beavers are in the midst of a five-game winless streak (0-3-2), most recently suffering one-goal losses at Williams (3-2) and Middlebury (2-1). Nine of Babson’s top 10 leaders in points are underclassmen, including PT Donato ’13, who leads the team in goals (12) and points (23). Providing much of the senior leadership is Jason Schneider ’11, who ranks among the Division III leaders in game winners (5) and has totaled 101 career points.

Amherst has won three straight against the Beavers, who demonstrated their potential when they tied Norwich—the defending national champion—on the road on Jan. 29. Games between the Lord Jeffs and Beavers tend to be high-scoring affairs, as the teams have combined for at least five goals in 16 of the past 17 meetings. Babson is scoring an average of 3.17 goals per game and is allowing 3.48, while its power play is among the best in the nation (30.0 percent). The Jeffs’ offense will be up against either Zeke Testa ’13 (.907, 3.12 GAA) or Andrew Peabody ’12 (.876, 3.69 GAA), who have split time in net throughout the year.

On Saturday a webcast will be provided as the Lord Jeffs go up against UMass Boston (14-9-0, 9-8-0 ECAC East). Three of the Beacons' top five points leaders are seniors, including Eric Tufman ’11 (8-21-29) and Matt Atsoff ’11 (12-6-18), with Atsoff sitting on 107 career points. The Beacons got off to a strong 13-4 start and were receiving votes for the Division III Men’s Poll, but they have dropped five of their past six games. Last weekend UMass Boston came up empty during a NESCAC road trip thanks to setbacks at Middlebury (4-1) and Williams (2-1).

The Lord Jeffs are unbeaten in their past 15 meetings with UMass Boston (13-0-2), but the Beacons nearly put an end to that streak a year ago in Amherst. Atsoff gave his team a 1-0 lead 4:30 into the contest, and the game’s only other goal wouldn’t come until Joe Brock ’11 helped the Jeffs take advantage of a two-man advantage by scoring on the power play with 9:31 remaining in regulation. The evenly matched game featured a slim 29-28 shot advantage for the Beacons and brought the regular season to a close. This year’s UMass team is averaging 3.78 goals per contest and giving up 2.74, converting on 18.0 percent of its power play chances with a 77.6 penalty-kill rate.

Amherst (11-7-4, 9-5-3 NESCAC) went through a difficult 1-4-2 stretch in the middle of the season, but the Lord Jeffs have stayed with the top of the conference pack thanks to a 6-2-2 start and a 4-1 record in the past five games. The Lord Jeffs are an impressive 6-2-1 on the road, but they will need to fine tune a power play unit that is 1-for its last 15 and has converted on only 17.8 percent of its opportunities on the season. One of the reigning NESCAC Co-Player of the Week honorees, Matt Rhone ’11 leads Amherst in goals (10), assists (10) and points (20), and the Jeffs will look to him to keep that momentum going as they aim to host a playoff game for the fourth consecutive season.

The NESCAC standings are a mess heading into the weekend, as the four quarterfinal hosts may not be determined until Saturday’s games are finished. Hamilton, Middlebury and Williams are tied for first place, but the Continentals are in the driver’s seat thanks to a win over the Ephs and a tie against the Panthers. The Lord Jeffs are only one point behind the first-place trio and could vault ahead of everyone with a successful weekend, but they need only one win to secure a home playoff game. Regardless of how the weekend plays out, there will be no easy games in the quarterfinal round of the NESCAC Championship, which is set to take place on Saturday, Feb. 26.