This Norwich squad had handed Connecticut College a 6-1 defeat earlier this year, the same Connecticut College team that had beaten the Jeffs only one week earlier. When the two teams faced off last year, Norwich shut down the Amherst squad, cruising to a 6-0 victory. On paper, hardly anyone expected this game to be contested. At Orr Rink this Saturday, the Jeffs proved their skeptics wrong, skillfully skating the Cadets to a 5-5 draw.
With a larger than average crowd at their backs, the Jeffs came out of the locker room looking to attack rather than simply defend against the talented Norwich offense. Junior forward Steve Nelson elucidated the Jeff mindset. “We came out respecting them, but we didn’t want to show them any fear,” he said. Even though Norwich drew first blood with Kurtis McLean’s shorthanded goal just over three minutes into the game, the Jeffs’ fearless attitude would not allow them to be discouraged. Only a minute later, Amherst sophomore forward Sean Ellis, on a two-on-one breakaway, put a rebound shot into the back of the Norwich net to even the score.
The Cadets would take the lead again on another McLean goal at the 7:47 mark. Again Amherst would not be intimidated, as just 22 seconds later, first-year sensation Kyle Schoppel rebounded senior defenseman Bill Jenkins’ shot, flipping the puck over the Norwich goaltender and knotting the score at 2-2. Schoppel, the NESCAC Player of the Week, would continue his early season one-man show on the ice, scoring his seventh goal of the season at the 11:35 mark off a beautiful assist from junior forward AJ Greco. Going into the locker room at the end of the first period with a 3-2 lead, the Jeffs realized they still had the bulk of their work ahead of them.
Norwich came out of the break strong, scoring three goals to start the second period. McLean earned the hat trick with a goal at the 3:17 mark to even the score. Norwich senior Vadim Bellaev put the puck past sophomore Jeff netminder Josh Fillman just under three minutes later. Brian Mullally added another goal to give Norwich a 5-3 lead 6:22 into the frame. In just the first seven minutes of the second period of play, Amherst had lost both its momentum and its lead. Sensing a need to regroup his team and stop Norwich’s momentum, Coach Jack Arena called a timeout to speak with his squad.
Whatever Arena told his team proved successful, as the Jeffs returned to the ice with their earlier intensity. On a Jeff power play, Ellis scored his second goal of the game at the 9:23 mark. A rebound off a shot by first-year Andrew Schremp, Ellis’s goal brought Amherst to within one goal of the mighty Cadets. Then, with just 3:46 to play in the second period, senior forward Marc Russell found the back of the net for the first time this year on a shorthanded goal set up by another Greco assist. Russell’s goal would be the last score of the game from either squad. Though both teams battled through the third period and the overtime session, neither could put in the game winner. When the final horn blew, Amherst had capably skated with arguably the best team in the nation and earned a triumphant 5-5 tie for their efforts.
Junior forward Jack Greeley attributed the Jeffs’ success to their physical intensity. “We made our physical presence known early, we never let down, and Norwich was not expecting it,” he said. “[Brandon] Zangel [’07] was demolishing the opposition, and Thierry Pauyo [’05] was also throwing his weight around.”
Sophomore Trevor Calamel spoke of the Norwich battle as an excellent showing of the Jeffs’ skills. “This gives us confidence. We know we can play against anyone we face,” said the defenseman. “We just have to make sure we don’t get overconfident. We need to take it one game at a time.”
Added Greeley, “Coach Arena was fired up for the game, he kept saying it was going to be a great night.” Indeed, it was a great night for the Jeff squad, as the team who hoped to compete at the top of the NESCAC standings skated valiantly for 65 minutes with the second-ranked team in the nation.
A night earlier, Amherst had handed ECAC East foe St. Michaels College of Vermont its first loss of the season by a score of 4-1. Schoppel scored two goals and added an assist. Calamel and co-captain forward Beau Kretzman ’05 contributed a goal apiece for the Jeffs, while defenseman and senior co-captain Jon Hill was rewarded for his unselfish play with three assists.
The Jeffs, now 3-1-2 overall (2-0-2 in ECAC play), take on visiting Western New England College of Springfield at Orr Rink this Friday at 7 p.m. On Saturday night, the Jeffs travel to the Kenyon Arena at Middlebury College to face the top-ranked Panthers.