Jeffs Set to Host Rivals in Pivotal NESCAC Weekend
Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College men’s ice hockey team will face arguably its two biggest games of the regular season in its final weekend as the 10th-ranked Lord Jeffs prepare to host NESCAC rivals Williams and Middlebury on Friday night and Saturday, respectively.
The Jeffs will kick off the home doubleheader with Friday night’s marquee matchup against the 11th-ranked Ephs. Opening faceoff from Orr Rink is scheduled for 7 p.m. On Saturday, the Jeffs will take on the Panthers in a 3 p.m. Senior Day contest as Amherst honors its eight members of the Class of 2013.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
When the NESCAC released its schedule for the 2012-13 season, one couldn’t have imagined it playing out much more dramatically. As Tom Petty would have said, the future is wide open.
Heading into the final weekend of conference play, the top five seeds in the upcoming NESCAC playoffs remain undetermined. While Bowdoin and Trinity enter Friday night’s contests atop the standings with league records of 11-2-2 and 9-3-3, respectively, neither can be positive that it will stay there as Amherst, Williams and Middlebury stand in a three-way tie for third with identical 10-4-2 NESCAC marks.
Although any of the five teams could still claim the top seed, the Jeffs have arguably the toughest road to get there, facing the Ephs and Panthers while the other four teams will each play opponents further down in the standings. Controlling its own destiny, Bowdoin hosts 10th-place Tufts and eighth-place Conn. College while Trinity will play a pair of games with sixth-place Wesleyan. Meanwhile, Williams and Middlebury will each visit seventh-place Hamilton in addition to their showdowns with Amherst.
In an interesting twist, last weekend’s winter storm forced the postponement of Bowdoin and Trinity’s scheduled contest, leaving the top two teams with one fewer game played than the rest of the conference heading into this weekend. With the makeup recently scheduled for Monday, seeding could remain uncertain after the rest of the league wraps up its regular seasons on Sunday.
The Amherst-Williams rivalry has heavily favored the Purple & White in recent years, with the Jeffs having entered the season as winners of seven in a row against the Ephs dating back to the 2006-07 campaign. Momentum shifted in a big way on Dec. 7, however, as Williams pulled out a 2-1 win at home in the squads’ first meeting of the year.
The contest in Williamstown was a back-and-forth nail-biter with the Ephs grabbing an early lead on sophomore Peter Mistretta’s power-play goal six minutes into the first period. The Jeffs pulled even just over four minutes later, cashing in on their second of two successive power plays as Johnny Van Siclen ’13 scored off an assist from Conor Brown ’16, but Mistretta struck again early in the second and Amherst could not solve the Eph defense again despite a 17-5 shot advantage in the third.
Meanwhile, the Amherst-Middlebury feud has turned in favor of the Jeffs lately. After a 13-game Panther unbeaten streak between the 1999-2000 and 2008-09 seasons and seven straight Middlebury wins from 2003-04 to 2007-08, Amherst holds a 6-1-1 record against their Green Mountain rivals over the last five years. The run has included NESCAC Championship game victories in 2009 and 2012 and a trio of Jeff triumphs last season. The Amherst momentum continued into this season’s first clash as the Jeffs picked up a 4-2 win on Dec. 8 in Vermont.
The December matchup was tight much of the way with Mike Rowbotham ’15 opening the scoring 5:37 into the first and Louis Belisle ’14 equalizing for Middlebury just over two minutes later. The decisive second period belonged to Amherst, however, as Brian Safstrom ’14 struck seven minutes in and Nick Brunette ’13 netted the eventual winner at the 12:10 mark, putting Amherst up 3-1. Middlebury kept it tight with a Ronald Fishman ’16 power-play goal 5:50 into the third, but the Panthers could not equalize and Van Siclen iced the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
SCOUTING AMHERST (14-5-3, 10-4-2 NESCAC)
Ranked 10th in the latest USCHO Division III poll, the Jeffs enter this weekend on a four-game unbeaten streak with their only losses since the Williams setback coming to Bowdoin and Trinity. A stifling defense has carried Amherst this season, with the Jeffs leading the NESCAC and ranking fifth nationally with an average of just 1.86 goals allowed per contest. Head coach Jack Arena’s squad has been suffocating on the penalty kill, leading all of Division III with a 90.8 percent (69-of-76) clip.
Despite losing standout rookie Theo Hannah to injury earlier in the winter, the Amherst blue line has remained strong under the leadership of co-captain Brandon Hew ’13 and fellow senior Jamie Hawkrigg and the strong play of defensemen Elliot Bostrom '14, Aaron Deutsch '15, Kevin Ryder '16 and Jake Turrin '15. Nathan Corey ’13 has been solid between the pipes, ranking second in the conference with a 1.87 goals-against average and fourth in save percentage at .928.
Meanwhile, the Amherst attack has been far from pedestrian, ranking fourth in the league in both goals per game (3.27) and power-play efficiency (22.5 percent) while tying Bowdoin for the conference lead in net special teams (+10). The Jeffs have been especially dominant early in games, surrendering just eight first-period goals and outscoring opponents 55-24 over the opening two frames. Things have been tougher in the third, however, as Amherst is even with its foes at 17-17 in final stanzas.
A trio of Jeff forwards rank among the NESCAC’s top ten scorers, led by Rowbotham’s 24 points on seven goals and a league-best 17 assists. Co-captain Mike Moher ’13 (7-15-22) and Van Siclen (12-10-22) have been nearly as dangerous on the attack while Andrew Kurlandski ’14 (10-8-18) has been lethal of late, tallying two goals and three assists over the last two games and an 8-6-14 line over the last 10 contests. Brown (7-10-17) has also come on strong for the Jeffs with 10 points (5G, 5A) in his last seven games, including a four-goal weekend at Bowdoin and Colby.
SCOUTING WILLIAMS (13-6-3, 10-4-2 NESCAC)
After a 6-2-2 January, the 11th-ranked Ephs enter Friday night’s contest with just one win in their last four games, having lost to Trinity and tied Wesleyan before splitting a doubleheader with Middlebury last weekend. Head coach Bill Kangas’ squad has picked up the points expected of it, however, with its only conference setbacks coming to Bowdoin (twice), Middlebury and Trinity.
Statistically, the Jeffs and Ephs show great similarity. Like Amherst, Williams has been led by a strong defense, ranking ninth nationally at just 2.00 goals allowed per game and fifth on the penalty kill at 87.8 percent (65-of-74). The Ephs have also struggled late in games, outscoring opponents 47-26 over the first two periods but just 19-18 in the third and overtime. Goalie Sean Dougherty ’15 sits at third in the NESCAC with a .933 save percentage and a 1.99 GAA.
Offensively, Williams ranks just sixth in the league at an even three goals per contest, but the Ephs did put up an impressive six-spot in their home win over Middlebury last Friday. Mistretta has been one of the conference’s top goal scorers with 14 tallies to go with six assists on the year while seniors John Wickman (8-9-17) and Evan Dugdale (5-12-17) have also been reliable on the front line.
SCOUTING MIDDLEBURY (11-9-2, 10-4-2 NESCAC)
It has been a rollercoaster season for the Panthers, who have struggled against a tough lineup of non-conference opponents but enter the weekend having won six of their last eight, the lone setbacks coming to Williams and Bowdoin.
Middlebury boasts the NESCAC’s third-ranked offense, averaging 3.32 goals per contest, but has been nearly as porous as its opponents, surrendering an average of 3.14 scores per game. Those figures have been slightly further apart in conference play, with the Panters oustcoring opponents by an average of 3.81-2.94 per game. Three Middlebury goalies have logged over 300 minutes this season, with Nick BonDurant ’14 posting the group’s best record at 5-1-2 but Liam Moorfield-Yee ’16 and Dan Fullam ’15 also earning significant time between the pipes.
The Panthers have been strong on special teams, ranking ahead of Amherst with a 25.5 percent (25-of-98) conversion rate on the power play while trailing only the Jeffs and Bowdoin with a +7 net performance. Offensively, Derek Pimentel ’15 is tied for 10th in the conference in scoring (6-15-21) while Belisle (11-8-19) and Matt Silcoff ’16 (9-9-18) have also starred on head coach Bill Beaney’s balanced attack.