April 16, 2012

From NEHJ: La Rose blooms again

By Anna Grearson

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Like most soon-to-be graduates, Amherst senior Jonathan La Rose wanted to make the most of the last season of his collegiate career. 

After winning the Sid Watson Award as the Division 3 men’s hockey Player of the Year, earning NESCAC Player of the Year honors and guiding the Lord Jeffs — along with Div. 3 Coach of the Year Jack Arena (Randolph, Mass.) — to their first-ever Frozen Four appearance, the veteran netminder didn’t leave anything undone.

Senior goalie Jonathan La Rose -- who returned to Amherst after an unexpected leave -- makes a save vs. Oswego State in the national semifinals. (Photo by Jim Feeney)

“He got better and better as the season went on,” Arena said, after returning from an overtime NCAA semifinal loss to Oswego State in Lake Placid, N.Y. “Having the best player in the country on your team and as your goalie, it’s a pretty comforting thing.”

But Arena, La Rose and the Lord Jeffs almost didn’t get a chance to be there together.

La Rose left Amherst after the Lord Jeffs won their first NESCAC championship in his sophomore season for non-academic, non-hockey, non-disciplinary reasons.

The Boyle, Alberta, native went home for the first semester of his would-be junior year (2009-10) and spent the second semester at Div. 3 Neumann University in Pennsylvania.

With the intention of playing hockey for the Knights during the first semester of the 2010-11 academic calendar, “things worked out to come back to Amherst,” La Rose said.

The “unfortunate circumstances” behind him, La Rose redshirted and finished out the semester in Pennsylvania before returning to western Massachusetts.

“I came home after Christmas, I trained, I worked hard and I went back to Amherst,” he said. “I’ve definitely taken the side roads, but it definitely worked out for the best. The trials and tribulations have worked out for the best, and now I get to experience the greatest, coolest stuff.”

“The opportunity presented itself for him to come back, he asked us if it was something that was possible, and we welcomed him back with open arms,” Arena said. “He’s a great kid, and no one on our team worked harder. He loved the team, loved to practice and was a great role model for the younger guys. He’s a leader. He was just so good on the ice, a good person to have in our program.”

“Picking up where he left off,” according to Arena, La Rose made 21 appearances (19-1-1) prior to the Frozen Four in which he sported a 1.53 goals-against average (making it 1.67 for his career, 50 games). His save percentage for the season (.943) also stands as his career mark.

La Rose made 25 saves on 27 shots in Amherst’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Lakers in which he spent 66 minutes, 41 seconds in net — a place he’s called home on the ice since shortly after he started playing organized hockey at 3½ years old.

“Hockey’s really big in northern Alberta,” he said. “When I started, everybody was older than me, and there was one game where I didn’t touch the puck. I cried. The next game the coach put me in net, and it was great. The puck came to me.”

And almost 20 years later, La Rose came back to Amherst to fulfill his hockey dreams alongside his academic dreams — he’ll graduate in the spring with a degree in environmental studies.

“Everyone walks around Amherst, and they don’t truly get (how much it means to you) until you graduate, until you leave,” he said. “I went through this year already having that.”

La Rose used that motivation to help Amherst to a 24-4-1 overall record this season and boosted his career record to 42-5-3.

But as quick as he is to make a save, he’s quicker to defer the glory.

“If I was having a tough time in goal, the boys would come back and keep it close, or if they were struggling I would keep it close,” La Rose said. “All that hardware will make it easier to find a contract next year. I give all the credit to the boys this year. Really there should be 28 other names on there.”

Arena, however, is the only other Lord Jeff to have his name on a trophy this year. A first for Arena and for Amherst, the Ed Jeremiah Award came to Arena after a sparkling season on the ice. 

Amherst's Jack Arena was named Div. 3 Coach of the Year after leading the Lord Jeffs to their first Frozen Four. (Photo courtesy of Amherst College Athletics)

The Lord Jeffs won their second conference title, posted the nation’s best scoring defense, allowing a mere 1.64 goals per game, outscored opponents 50-12 in a 12-game win streak, had the nation’s fifth-best power play and penalty kill and put up six shutouts.

“It’s certainly a great honor,” Arena said. “It’s kind of ironic, a lot of times when you get the most recognition it’s in the easiest years. You’re best when the team takes ownership of itself, and we had great leadership. You spend more time trying not to screw it up than you are pushing it in the right direction because the kids are already taking it that way. It’s very much appreciated.”

La Rose and Arena have differing feelings on when they thought a trip to the Frozen Four would be in the cards.

For Arena, it was the last game of the regular season when the Lord Jeffs were down 1-0 to Middlebury after two periods and had been outshot 28-8.

“We had already secured first place, the game didn’t have any consequences for us in the standings,” he said. “I wish I could say I made a rah-rah emotional speech that spurred the boys on, but I really didn’t. We came out from the drop of the puck and dominated the third period, scored twice, outshot them 13-3, and beat them 2-1. It was a moment where I was like, ‘Wow, we just for two periods were dominated, then our guys just said, “Enough’s enough,” and just completely turned the tables.’ At that point I was like, ‘Hmm, these guys didn’t want to lose, in a game that didn’t really have any significance.’ I realized that when we play, we might be that good.”

For La Rose, it was the very beginning of the season.

“Maybe it was just the two of us,” La Rose said of himself and Arena, who will carry a career record of 377-290-50 into next season. “We thought it was a real possibility. The entire team was training and preparing as if that was our goal. We worked our tails off. We were unbelievably determined to see it happen. From Day One, they’ve all been phenomenal.”

What matters, however, is that they made it.

“It’s a direct reflection of the captain’s leadership,” Arena said of captains Eddie Effinger and Mike Baran (Duxbury, Mass.), who was named to the Div. 3  Frozen Four All-Tournament team. “The intensity they brought, they demanded it of everyone else. We were so consistent in how hard we worked, and in games we competed all the time. There was a quote from (head men’s hockey coach) Bob Emery (Somerville, Mass.) from Plattsburgh, and the word he used about us was ‘relentless.’ You can’t do that if you’re not working and competing and that’s something we did all the time. Most seasons have ebbs and flows, you have days where you scratch your head wondering how they got that bad that fast, and we didn’t have that this year. That never happens. We didn’t always execute our best, but we always worked.”

Arena and La Rose officially will be presented with their awards, selected by the American Hockey Coaches Association, at the AHCA Celebration of Men’s Hockey Banquet on April 28 in Naples, Fla.

Norwich head coach Mike McShane (Wakefield, Mass.), a four-time winner of the award, was runner-up. Cadets junior forward Pier-Olivier Cotnoir was runner-up for Player of the Year honors. Norwich also lost in the semifinals to eventual champion St. Norbert College, after spending much of the season atop the Div. 3 rankings.

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Anna Grearson can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com