December 27, 2011

Small College Journal: Six must-see games in the second half

By Mike Zhe

Fans of small college hockey have long appreciated how much the game has going for it: cozy arenas, raucous crowds, decades and decades of history in some cases, and an intensity you’d see in any division.

That said, it’s time to ease back into the schedule after holiday breaks that stretched up to three weeks for some teams. And also to target six can’t-miss games the rest of the way.

Friday, Jan. 6: Amherst at Bowdoin

The first-place Lord Jeffs and standout goalie Jonathan La Rose have navigated the rocky terrain of the NESCAC without a misstep so far. They’ll get their first stiff test of the new year right out of the gate in Brunswick, Maine.

Friday, Jan. 13: Norwich vs. Babson (at Fenway Park)

Never mind that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime setting for the programs and their fans. It’s a good game, too, with Babson known for its strong second halves. And let’s be honest: Opponents sure haven’t been having much success against Norwich indoors.

Thursday, Jan. 26: Plymouth State at UMass-Dartmouth

Based on the results of the last two title games – both overtime wins by the road team – and the higher stakes (an auto bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time), the MASCAC championship in March will be the real must-see TV. Until then, we’ll enjoy a clash of perhaps the league’s top two contenders.

Saturday, Jan. 28: Curry at Johnson & Wales

Neither team has lost in the ECAC Northeast all season. This first meeting might even advance us closer to a winner-takes-regular-season-title match-up on the last weekend of the season.

Thursday, Feb. 9: Middlebury at Williams

Two of the better teams in the NESCAC meet twice in three days -- in Williamstown, Mass., first, and then at Middlebury on Saturday.

Saturday, Feb. 11: Norwich at Castleton State

First place could be on the line when these two teams meet in what will surely be a highly-anticipated rematch. The Cadets raced out to a 3-0 lead when the teams played in Northfield, Vt., in early December, and then had to hold on for the 3-2 win.

Game of the Week

Utica vs. Castleton State, Friday

The opening round of the Cardinal Classic in Plattsburgh, N.Y., pits a pair of top-10 teams against each other, with another waiting in the wings.

This will be the third of eight straight games away from home for No. 3 Castleton, a stiff stretch that could see them play Plattsburgh twice, while No. 9 Utica (9-3) is the only team to beat No. 2 Oswego.

No. 5 Plattsburgh and Babson will play in the late game Friday, with the winner meeting Saturday.

“How exciting is this to have all these teams together?” asked Castleton coach Alex Todd. “I think three teams are in the top 10. It’s exciting. I think it could have a lot of effect at the end of the year when (the NCAA) is determining who’s going to the national tournament.”

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Norwich (8-0-1, 6-0 ECAC East)

Who’s going to hand the Cadets their first loss? Best bet might be Middlebury on Jan. 24.

2. Castleton State (10-1, 7-1 ECAC East)

Talk about your breakout years. Only one player in Division 3 has more goals than the 12 put up by Spartans sophomore Nick Lazorko.

3. Amherst (7-1-0, 5-0-0 NESCAC)

Only one team in Division 3 – the Milwaukee School of Engineering – is allowing fewer goals than the Lord Jeffs’ 1.88 a game.

4. Curry (7-1, 5-0 ECAC Northeast)

Colonels own the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation, putting up a whopping 5.75 goals a game.

5. Williams (5-1-2, 4-1-1 NESCAC)

Six of the well-balanced Ephmen’s leading scorers are juniors, a group led by Eric Rubino (5-3-8).

6. Plymouth State (8-2-0, 5-1-0 MASCAC)

Leading scorer Kyle Greco on the Panthers’ fast start: “I don’t think we’re playing our best hockey yet,” he said, “and that’s scary.”

7. Middlebury (4-3-1, 4-2-0 NESCAC)

Panthers are 2-3-1 away from home, but 2-0 on home ice and home for their next five, starting this weekend in the Middlebury Classic.

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. Johnson & Wales (7-3-1, 3-0-1 ECAC Northeast)

Wildcats are the last New England team to have seen action, a 7-1 win over Southern New Hampshire on Dec. 14. Danny Kaufman’s 13 goals lead Division 3.

10. Bowdoin (5-3-1, 3-2-1 NESCAC)

Jordan Lalor (Needham, Mass.) is the league’s scoring leader, with 4-9-13 totals through eight games.

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