Men's hockey: Men win two to qualify for NESCACs

“Everybody was clicking this weekend,” said junior A.J. Greco.

Amherst won Friday night’s game over Tufts in thrilling fashion. In front of a packed house, the Jeffs and the Jumbos were tied 2-2 after two periods. Tufts scored a quick but controversial goal to start the third as forward Shawn Sullivan barreled into goalie Dan Smith ’07 and the puck skittered beneath the sprawled keeper. The Jeffs responded forcefully, getting scoring chance after scoring chance on two power plays early in the third period. Tufts goalie Ben Crapser stood strong between the pipes, stopping a veritable barrage of shots during the pair of power plays.

Co-captain Beau Kretzman ’05 finally broke through to tie the game at 3-3. After receiving a pass from Steve Nelson ’06, Kretzman found himself alone in front of Crapser. With brilliant stickwork, Kretzman deked around the lunging Tufts goalie to tie the score. Moments later, junior Brad Craigen sent a daring pass through the crease which was tipped in by Marc Russell ’05 on a short angle to give Amherst the lead. The crowd exploded into a frenzy, as Amherst went ahead just 18 seconds after tying the score. The Jeffs put the game away for good just over a minute later when Greco flipped a backhand past the glove of Crapser.

Amherst stepped up play on both ends of the ice. “[Smith] played really well and gave us a good chance to win,” said Greco. The rookie keeper had 36 saves on the night.

The Jeffs themselves peppered the Jumbos with 38 shots. The sudden offensive outburst was inspired, as Amherst was staring a six-game losing streak and ninth place in the NESCAC in the face. The Jeffs persevered, however, keeping their playoff spot in the process.

After such an emotional win, the team feared a let-down against the NESCAC cellar-dwelling Conn Camels. Their fears proved unfounded just moments into the game, as Greco scored a pair of goals in the first 14 minutes of the contest. Both goals came off of Greco’s backhand, the third goal off the backhand in two games. Amherst took a 3-0 lead 16:01 into the first period, when Scott Aldrich ’05 took a face-off win from Jack Greeley ’06 and beat Camel goalie Steve Oven with a wrister. Camel Tim Finkle scored a goal late in the period, but Amherst had already taken commanding control of the game. Smith was stellar in net in the first period, saving nine of 10 shots.

Amhest continued to pour on the offense, outscoring the Camels 4-1 during the second period. Sean Ellis ’07 and Steve Nelson ’06 both scored goals-but the story of the game was unquestionably Greco. Greco scored twice more on the power play in the second period, upping his game total to four. He banged home a rebound off a shot taken by Brandon Zangel ’07 three minutes into the period, and added another goal on a nifty move in front of the net. With his fourth goal of the game, Greco sent starting Camel goalie Oven to the bench. Oven saved only 11 of 16 shots, far below his .886 save percentage. With his 14th goal of the season, Greco surpassed Kretzman’s 13 goals to take the team lead. Kretzman had quite a day of his own, tallying three assists. Senior defenseman Chris Norqual had one of the best games of his four-year career as well, notching four assists.

In the third period, the Camels attempted to fight back, with little success. Sophomore goalie Sean Lynch replaced Smith during the third period and saved 10 of 11 shots. Junior Bill Jenkins and Josh Hoffman ’04 added goals in the third period as Amherst won with ease, 9-3. The win constituted Amherst’s biggest offensive outpouring of the season, eclipsing a previous high of six goals.

Entering the last week of the season, the Jeffs hope to rise in the standings. Amherst is a mere two points behind seventh-place Wesleyan University. If the Jeffs remain in eighth, they are scheduled for a postseason date with the top-ranked team in the nation, the Middlebury College Panthers. Middlebury beat Amherst soundly, 7-2, earlier in the season. However, Wesleyan plays its final two games on the road against Tufts and Conn. With some luck, Amherst could improve its playoff standing.

Amherst travels northward to face Colby and Bowdoin Colleges over the weekend. The White Mules and the Polar Bears are third and second, respectively, in the NESCAC. On Friday evening, Amherst begins the brief road trip at Colby. The White Mules are led by forward Nick Bayley, who has scored 12 goals and accumulated 31 points on the season.

Bowdoin is the 12th-ranked team in the nation and has won seven of its last nine games. The Polar Bears are led by forwards Jon Landry and Adam Dann. Landry has scored 31 points this season while Dann is second in the NESCAC in goals with 19.

Greco said, in order to win, the Jeffs “need to listen to what the coaches tell us, because they know what we need to do to win. If we do that, we will win.”

Wins against Colby and Bowdoin would catapult the Jeffs to a decent seed in the NESCAC tournament. No matter which team Amherst plays, the Jeffs should be able to compete in their first round match and hopefully go deep into the playoffs.