|Amherst College goalie Jonathan La Rose (photo: Amherst College Athletics)|
Time to hang up the skates for a bit, take a deep breath and reflect.
Southern New Hampshire and Johnson & Wales will play the last Division 3 game involving New England teams before Christmas tonight in Pawtucket, R.I.
If nothing else, the first month of the season has given us a preliminary indication of who the teams to beat are in each of the four New England leagues.
What are those four teams getting for Christmas? How about bull's-eyes?
Norwich cemented its status as the team to beat in the league – and maybe even nationally -- by virtue of wins against top-10 teams Plattsburgh, Elmira and Castleton State.
The Cadets (8-0-1, 6-0) have showed off balanced scoring, with Travis Janke (6-12-18) and Kyle Thomas of Waltham, Mass. (6-9-15) leading the way. Also good depth on a young defense in front of goalie Parker Carroll.
Breathing down their necks is a Castleton (10-1, 7-1) team they edged, 3-2, earlier this month and will see again on Feb. 11.
"They've got a very good goalie and their defense is pretty solid," said Norwich coach Mike McShane (Wakefield, Mass.). "(Coach Alex Todd) has got good depth and they play hard. They play an aggressive game and they like to hit everything in sight."
You have to love the mental toughness of Amherst (7-1-0, 5-0-0), which has won its last four games by one goal.
Of course, having a goalie like Jonathan La Rose, back with the program after two years away for non-hockey reasons, helps an awful lot, too. His 1.83 goals-against average is third in the nation and his .926 save percentage is 15th.
"Traditionally, we've been a pretty strong defensive team that's good on special teams," said Amherst coach Jack Arena. "We certainly wanted to continue to be strong in those areas."
Williams (5-1-2, 4-1-1) and Middlebury (4-3-1, 4-2-0), the two teams the Jeffs edged over the weekend, certainly bear watching as well.
Curry (7-1, 5-0) has won the last two league tournament titles and looks to be putting itself in position for the hat trick.
The Colonels have gotten 10 goals from leading scorer Payden Benning and strong play from freshman goalie Derek Mohney, who's won all six of his starts and posted nice numbers (2.15 goals-against average, .921 save percentage).
Johnson & Wales (6-3-1, 3-0-1) is getting another big year from Jeremiah Ketts (8-12-20), last year's Division 3 scoring leader, and has been pretty solid both defensively (2.4 goals allowed) and killing penalties (88.3 percent).
Western New England (6-3-0, 3-1) is in third place, but faces a rough January that will be spent almost entirely away from home.
Maybe the scariest thing about Plymouth State's hot start is that it's been with personnel that's at less than full strength.
The defensive-minded Panthers (8-2-0, 5-1) are doing two things they didn't do a year ago — win at home, where they're 5-0 in their new $16 million Ice Arena, and finish games out.
In January, they'll welcome back forward Larry Kincaid, who tore his MCL early on, and mix in UMass-Lowell transfer Zach Sarig, a defenseman.
"Back when we get everyone back healthy and in the fold in the second half, we're going to change the dynamic of the team a little bit," said Plymouth coach Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.).
UMass-Dartmouth (6-3-1, 4-1-1) and Salem State(5-3-1, 3-2-1) look to be in the mix, and Worcester State (4-4-2, 2-3-1) has been friskier of late.
Game of the Week
Southern New Hampshire at Johnson & Wales, Wednesday
This is the last game involving a Division 3 team from New England until after Christmas.
JWU is 6-3-1 after dropping a pair of games — by scores of 3-1 and 5-2 — at Fredonia over the weekend. SNHU is struggling through a tough year in the Northeast-10 at 1-9-1.
New England Division 3 power rankings
1. Norwich (8-0-1, 6-0 ECAC East)
Cadets needed third-period goals from Colin Mulvey (Worcester, Mass.) and Chris Duszynski to salvage 4-4 tie with No. 7 Plattsburgh.
2. Castleton State (10-1, 7-1 ECAC East)
Spartans were idle last weekend and off until they play No. 9 Utica in the Cardinal Classic at Plattsburgh on Dec. 30.
3. Amherst (7-1-0, 5-0-0 NESCAC)
Lord Jeffs capped superb first half with wins over league heavyweights Williams (5-4) and Middlebury (4-3 in OT). Leading scorer Mark Colp (Wareham, Mass.) had two goals and two assists on the weekend.
4. Curry (7-1, 5-0 ECAC Northeast)
That's seven straight wins for the Colonels after knocking off Babson, 6-1. Ryan Barlock (4-10-4) is one of the more offensive defensemen out there.
5. Williams (5-1-2, 4-1-1 NESCAC)
Eric Rubino had two goals in weekend split that included a 5-1 win at Hamilton, and leads the Ephmen with five goals.
6. Plymouth State (8-2-0, 5-1-0 MASCAC)
Panthers are perfect in their new building, and take a two-game win streak into the break after knocking off UMass-Dartmouth (3-2 in overtime) and Fitchburg State (4-3).
7. Middlebury (4-3-1, 4-2-0 NESCAC)
Road didn't agree with the Panthers, who were blanked at Hamilton (3-0) before falling to Amherst in overtime.
8. UMass-Dartmouth (6-3-1, 4-1-1 MASCAC)
Local trio of Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.), Phil Bronner (Wilbraham, Mass.) and Rob Dudley (Douglas, Mass.) are pacing the Corsairs, who have won four of five.
9. Bowdoin (5-3-1, 3-2-1 NESCAC)
Eight different layers found the net in dominant weekend sweep of Tufts (5-1) and Conn. College (7-0), including Jordan Lalor (Needham, Mass.), the league's scoring leader.
10. Johnson & Wales (6-3-1, 3-0-1 ECAC Northeast)
Jeremiah Ketts hits the break tied for third in Division 3 in scoring at 8-12-20.
Mike Zhe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.