Men's Ice Hockey: Jeffs peak at season's climax

Facing a stiff challenge from the Mules on Friday night at Orr Rink, the Jeffs responded with some of their best hockey of the year in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory.

The resilient attitude of Head Coach Jack Arena’s squad was evident from the very beginning of the game, as Colby controlled the puck and the tempo from the first face-off. However, the Jeff defense, anchored by goaltender Josh Fillman ’07, did not allow a single puck into the net, even though Amherst had been outshot 10-3.

Colby led off the second session by scoring the game’s first goal a little over a minute into the period. Just five minutes later the Mules added another tally to give Colby a 2-0 lead. Realizing the magnitude of the contest, the Jeffs responded to their two-goal deficit with passionate hockey. When the puck came loose during a Colby offensive possession, Amherst’s rookie sensation, forward Kyle Schoppel, led a two-on-one breakaway before passing the puck to sophomore defenseman Brandon Zangel, who scored his first goal of the season at the 13:57 mark of the second period.

Amherst’s senior forward Scott Aldrich scored the game’s next tally at the 18:35 mark off assists by defenseman Mike McIntosh ’08 and Schoppel, the NESCAC’s highest scoring first-year. Just 30 seconds later, junior forward Jack Greeley took a beautiful feed from classmate forward A.J. Greco to finish a two-on-one rush by beating Colby goaltender Ben Grandjean to give Amherst its first lead of the game heading into the second intermission.

While the Mules aggressively tried to even the contest in the game’s final period, the Jeffs refused to relent. McIntosh added a goal to give the Jeffs a 4-2 lead with just 7:30 left to play; Greeley and senior forward Roy Mabrey assisted on the tally. Colby responded by putting one of their 14 shots in the period past Fillman to make it 4-3, but it was too little too late for the Mules.

“We didn’t generate a whole lot of scoring chances, but when we did, we finished,” said Fillman. Amherst was outshot in the contest, 33-12. “We had trouble getting anything going until Zangel made a big play on defense, blocking a shot that generated the two-on-one. When he got the goal, you could feel the momentum change,” added Fillman.

With the win, Amherst kept its hope of a home playoff game alive heading into Saturday’s matinee against the Polar Bears. Playing in what would be the seniors’ final game on the ice of Orr Rink, Amherst came out of the locker room skating aggressively.

For the game’s first two periods, the Jeffs attacked Polar Bear netminder George Papachristopoulos with a barrage of shots. Senior forward Bill Jenkins blasted a slapshot past Bowdoin’s netminder to put the Jeffs ahead 1-0 at the 18:19 mark of the first period. Greeley and Mabrey teamed up to assist on the tally for the second time on the weekend.

Amherst came out of the first intermission looking to extend its one goal lead. At the 16:44 mark of the second period, senior co-captain Beau Kretzman masterfully passed the puck across three Bowdoin defensemen to Schoppel, who put the puck in the back of the net for the short-hand score. Some two minutes later, Zangel scored his second goal of the season and weekend on a backhanded shot to finish a three-on-two rush. Junior forward Steve Nelson and senior co-captain Jon Hill assisted on Zangel’s goal.

Though comfortable with a three-goal advantage, the Jeffs added another score for good measure, all but sending the Polar Bears into hibernation. Mabrey’s tally at the 6:26 mark of the third capped the scoring for the Jeffs. Greeley and Hill each notched their second assist of the game on Mabrey’s goal. With the game seemingly out of reach, Bowdoin scored two meaningless goals to make the final score 4-2.

After the last home game of the season, Arena had praise for every member of the large senior class, but he was most impressed with how they progressed together over the last four years. “This class has been a core group through its four years in the program,” he said. “I hope the attitude, work ethic and selflessness that this class has shown will be the model for the classes behind them.”

With the two wins, Amherst wrapped up its regular season schedule with a 13-9-2 overall record (11-6-2 NESCAC). Because Colby earned a point in the standings with a tie at Hamilton on Saturday evening, Amherst ended up with the fifth seed in the NESCAC playoffs. As a result, the Jeffs travel on Saturday to Brunswick, Me., for a rematch with the Polar Bears, the tournament’s fourth seed.

Jenkins expressed his confidence in the team coming out of the regular season’s final weekend, “The [win against Bowdoin] was one of the best we’ve played all season, and if we play like that again, we should be able to repeat,” he said.

“The most important thing we gained this weekend is confidence,” added Hill. “We have the ability to beat any team, and we are playing our best hockey at the most critical point in the season. I couldn’t be happier with the guys, and I can’t wait to punish Bowdoin again this weekend.”