By Mike Zhe
There’s always preseason scuttlebutt around the New England Small College Athletic Conference about who’s lost what and who’s bringing in what, though it tends to get started later than it does in most of the other leagues due to the no-rush starting date.
One of the tidbits had Amherst needing to replace about a third of its scoring that graduated. The prevalent opinion? How much does Amherst really need to score?
The Lord Jeffs ranked 10th in Division 3 last year by surrendering an average of 2.08 goals a game. They were fifth on the penalty kill (88.5 percent) and won their share of tight games, even if their record of 15-7-3 was a step back from the even stingier final four season of 2011-12, and saw them bow out of the NESCAC tourney in the quarterfinals, on home ice to Middlebury.
The start this year has been nothing less than encouraging, a couple weekend sweeps to start the season, one a home-and-home with Hamilton, and the other against Wesleyan and Trinity. In those four games, the Jeffs allowed a total of five goals, a nod to a position that might be an untapped resource this winter.
“We have some defensemen that can contribute that we did not necessarily get much out of last year,” said Amherst coach Jack Arena.
The coach cited Aaron Deutsche and Jake Turrin, a pair of juniors out of Milton Academy; and sophomore Kevin Ryder. Deutsche has a goal and a pair of assists through five games, Ryder has two assists, and Turrin’s set up two. They form the core of a unit that also includes senior Elliot Bostrom and sophomore Theodore Hannah.
But scoring isn’t their primary concern.
Amherst has four goalies on its roster, one for each class year, but this is Dave Cunningham’s show. The sophomore and former Belmont Hill standout out of Arlington, Mass., had the preseason edge and handled every minute in the first four games, with a 1.25 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.
He yielded to senior Johnny Russell (24 saves) in a 4-0 non-conference win against St. Michael’s (Vt.) on Tuesday.
“Dave saw the most time; I’d expect him to grab the job,” said Arena on the eve of the season.
The NESCAC was cleanly divided into contenders and non-contenders last year. This year, among last season’s bottom tier, Colby has shown some early juice, scoring late to salvage a 1-1 tie at Williams on opening night and winning at Bowdoin, 4-2, on Saturday, with Nick Lanza (Rocky Hill, Conn.) getting the hat trick.
“There’s a lot more known than unknown this year, certainly from my perspective, having gone through last season and seeing the caliber of play in the NESCAC,” said second-year Colby coach Blaise MacDonald (Billerica,Mass.), who is breaking in 13 new players.
Player of the Week
Nick Lanza (Rocky Hill, Conn.), sr., F, Colby
Who’s the most popular guy in Brunswick, Maine, this week? Surely not Lanza, whose hat trick in a 4-2 win at Bowdoin Saturday night helped satisfyingly square a home-and-home series between two programs who take losses to the other on home ice personally.
Game of the Week
Middlebury vs. Norwich, at Plattsburgh, N.Y., Friday, 4 p.m.
This is one of two anticipated ECAC East/NESCAC crossover games this weekend. The opening round of the PrimeLink tournament at Plattsburgh matches the Vermont heavyweights in a first-round matchup. The winner plays either host Plattsburgh or Wisconsin-Superior on Saturday.
Also on Saturday, unbeaten Amherst heads to Boston to face unbeaten Babson, a homecoming of sorts for Cunningham and a matchup between two of the stingier teams in our region.
NEHJ Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Norwich (5-0-1, 4-0-1 ECAC East)
Shane Gorman dished, but six different players scored for the Cadets in 6-2 romp past New England College on Saturday.
2. Babson (7-0, 4-0 ECAC East)
Identical game plans for Beavers in 2-1 wins at Skidmore and Castleton – build a 2-0 lead and let goalie Jamie Murray of Scituate, Mass. (.968 save percentage) hold the fort.
3. Amherst (5-0, 4-0
Andrew Kurlandski and Brian Safstrom both scored twice in weekend sweep of Trinity (3-1) and Wesleyan (4-1).
4. Williams (3-0-1, 3-0-1 NESCAC)
Sean Dougherty stopped 51 of 54 shots as Ephmen beat Conn. College. (5-2) and Tufts (4-1) on the road.
Jake Charles connected on the power play for the OT game-winner at Conn. College Saturday, 5-4.
6. UMass-Boston (2-1-2, 1-1-2 ECAC East)
Big weekends for Peter MacIntyre (Norfolk, Mass.) and Jeremy Finger, but Beacons had to settle for road ties with Castleton and Skidmore.
(2-2-1, 1-2-1 NESCAC)
Polar Bears and Colby each grabbed a win on the other’s home ice last weekend, where each is much beloved.
Salve Regina (6-1, 4-1 ECAC
Defenseman Lucas Sousa (Billerica, Mass.) set up two goals in 4-1 win at Western New England Saturday.
(4-1-1, 3-1-1 ECAC
Alex Larson (.930 save percentage) made 22 stops in 3-1 win at Johnson & Wales Saturday.
10. Trinity (3-1, 3-1
Six assists in four games for sophomore forward John Hawkrigg.