Men's ice hockey hopes to improve on last season

Last year’s team began the season with a 9-4-2 start, winning the Ben McCabe Memorial Tournament, and rising to an impressive 14th in the national rankings. However, a disappointing midseason five-game losing streak evened the Jeffs’ record. Down but not out, the squad recovered, qualifying as the seventh seed in the NESCAC Tournament. They finished the season averaging over four goals per game over the last four games.

The Jeffs graduated four seniors, including defenseman and co-captain John McNicholas, defenseman Chris Norqual and forwards Mike Kreger and Josh Hoffman. Though each of these four players contributed substantially to last year’s squad, this year’s Jeffs expect to mitigate the loss with the arrival of a skilled recruiting class.

Senior co-captains Beau Kretzman and Jonathan Hill will lead the 2004-2005 squad. A three-time All-NESCAC selection and United States Collegiate Hockey Organization Div. III preseason honorable mention all-American, Kretzman led last season’s team in scoring with 27 points. Meanwhile, Hill will move from offense to defense, hoping the switch will bolster a tough but young defensive unit.

“Both captains are proven leaders on and off the ice,” said junior forward Jack Greeley. “They have set the tone early in the year, leading by example on the ice, in the weight room and at the track. Their dedication and the sacrifices they have made have inspired the team to follow their example.”

This winter’s team will consist of many returning upperclassmen. Junior forwards A.J. Greco and Steve Nelson hope to improve on their impressive sophomore campaigns. Both finished the season tied for the second-highest number of points on the team with 21 apiece. Also expected to contribute on offense are senior forwards Marc Russell and Scott Aldrich, as well as feisty sophomore forward Sean Ellis.

The defense should be prepared for the rigors of the season. Helping Hill make the transition to defense will be senior veteran Bill Jenkins, hard-hitting sophomore Brandon Zangel and crafty sophomore Trevor Calamel. In between the pipes, Amherst will look to sophomores Josh Fillman and Dan Smith, who shared time in goal last season.

A stellar recruiting class hopes to gain tutelage from this experienced group. Featuring forwards Greg Adamo, Kyle Shoppel and Andrew Schremp and defenders Rob Stevenson and Mike McIntosh, the class of 2008 is expected to make a substantial and immediate impact on the ice. “We lost some significant size with last year’s graduating class, but the freshmen are very skilled and should help to alleviate the loss,” said Nelson.

Due to the more experienced nature of the team, there is a new level of intensity at practice. “Because we have so much depth this season and everyone is hoping to prove themselves worthy of playing time, we’re seeing higher-paced practices,” said Greeley. “People are working harder in all aspects of the game.”

Though the team appears to be much improved from last year, this year’s schedule will present many obstacles along the road to success. A competitive NESCAC schedule features home games against Williams and Hamilton Colleges and a road trip to Trinity College. In addition, on Dec. 4, Amherst must play perennial national contender Norwich University, ranked second in preseason polls. The team also travels to 14th-ranked New England College on Jan. 29.

While every game carries its own importance, the highlight of the 2004-05 season will be Amherst’s two clashes with NESCAC rival and defending Div. III national champion Middlebury College. Hoping to avenge last year’s 7-2 loss, the Jeffs face the currently top-ranked Panther squad in Middlebury’s Kenyon Arena on Dec. 11 and again at home on Feb. 4. This year’s team is optimistic about its chances. “They’re one of the most skilled teams we play,” Greeley said. “We’ve had trouble skating and moving the puck against them, but that should change this year.”

To open the season, Amherst faces two physical, hard-skating battles at UMass-Boston and Babson College. The Jeffs open their home schedule on Dec. 3 against St. Michael’s College.