November 29, 2011

Small College Journal: Amherst seeks right consistency

By Mike Zhe

Amherst coach Jack Arena felt he was presiding over a Jekyll-and-Hyde hockey team last winter – often in the same weekend or week of practice. 

Amherst defenseman Mike Baran (photo: Amherst College Athletics)

Amherst defenseman Mike Baran (photo: Amherst College Athletics)

Loyalists could make a case that the team was young up front, or that the wins and losses often reflected the quality of the opposition, which in the NESCAC is collectively high.

But Arena (Randolph, Mass.) knew better.

“It was us,” he said. “We definitely had consistency issues. It just wasn’t in games; it was in practices, and it was something we fought all year long.”

In the fight for consistency, the Lord Jeffs are off to a promising start this season. They’re 3-1, and coming off a weekend of good competition that saw them beat Salem State (5-1) in the Cape Cod Invitational before falling to Hobart, 3-1.

The Lord Jeffs went 12-9-4 overall last year, finishing tied for third in the NESCAC and losing on home ice to Bowdoin in the conference quarterfinals. After starting 6-2-2, they hit a rough patch, regrouped – and then bowed out early.

The focus this year is moving up -- via consistency.

“As a matter of fact, we were just talking about it this morning,” said Arena on Tuesday, “how often on a weekend we’d have one good effort and one less-than-optimal effort. We’d have a good practice followed by a bad practice.”

This year, the practices have been better, reflecting an attitude in the players Arena said he saw from the beginning of the offseason. The defense, led by senior co-captain and penalty killer extraordinaire Mike Baran (Duxbury, Mass.), has allowed just five goals in four games.

Goalie Jonathan La Rose (2-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .976 save percentage) is back between the pipes after two years away from the program for non-hockey reasons, and hoping to again flash the form that made him an All-NESCAC selection in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

“The team came into the season as prepared as they’d ever been,” said Arena.

If there’s a potential stumbling block, it’s in production. Sixteen goals in four games sounds nice, but half of those came in an 8-1 rout of Westfield State and five others came in the win over Salem State, a team expected to finish near the top of the MASCAC.

December should tell us more. Four straight games against NESCAC foes – Wesleyan, Trinity, Williams and Middlebury, starting Friday night and all at home – will help shape the league’s first-half pecking order.

For all the talk of deficiencies and inconsistency last year, the Jeffs still finished in a tie for third place behind Hamilton and Williams. And, to observe the players in the offseason, said Arena, that just won’t be good enough this year.

“I know the kids were disappointed last year,” said Arena. “Tied for third in the NESCAC and be disappointed? I guess that’s a good thing.”

Game of the Week

Castleton State at Norwich, Friday

The top two teams in our power ratings go head-to-head at Kreitzberg Arena with first place in the ECAC East on the line. Welcome to winter, Vermont.

New England Division 3 power ratings

1. Norwich (6-0, 4-0 ECAC East)

Tests passed on Thanksgiving weekend by the Cadets, who were stifling defensively in the PrimeLink Tournament, blanking then-No. 6 Plattsburgh (3-0) and beating then-No. 10 Elmira (5-2).

2. Castleton State (9-0, 6-0 ECAC East)

Spartans are firing on all cylinders, putting up a 10-spot on Becker en route to winning the Rutland Invitational over the weekend.

3. Middlebury (2-1-1, 2-0 NESCAC)

Tough to fault the Panthers too much for a close loss to Elmira (3-2) and a scoreless tie with Plattsburgh (0-0) in the PrimeLink over the weekend.

4. Curry (4-1, 3-0 ECAC Northeast)

Steven Mohler was the overtime hero in a 5-4 win against Tufts last week, scoring 3:23 into sudden death to help Colonels win their fourth straight.

5. Amherst (3-1, 1-0 NESCAC)

Johnny Van Siclen (Carlisle, Mass) had a point in all three of the Lord Jeffs’ games last week, two of them wins.

6. Williams (2-0-2, 1-0-1 NESCAC)

Goalie Ryan Purdy needed to make 41 saves in Sunday’s 1-1 tie at Manhattanville to keep the Ephmen’s record unblemished.

7. Salem State (3-1-1, 1-0-1 MASCAC)

Andrew Cetola’s hat trick helped the Vikings salvage the consolation game of the Cape Cod Invitational against Babson, 5-3, a day after losing to Amherst (5-1).

8. Plymouth State (4-1, 2-0 MASCAC)

Panthers lost 5-2 at Castleton last Tuesday, but that hardly puts them in an exclusive club.

9. Bowdoin (2-1-1, 0-1-1 NESCAC)

Polar Bears finally got some swagger back, routing University of New England (10-2) and beating Salve Regina (5-2), getting four goals from Tim McGarry.

10 (tie). Johnson and Wales (4-1-1, 1-0-1 ECAC Northeast)

JWU enjoyed a week off and gets back at it Wednesday in the league against Becker.

10 (tie). New England College (5-2, 4-2 ECAC East)

Pilgrims were idle over Thanksgiving and should get a nice battle within the Granite State when they travel up to Plymouth State Tuesday night.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.