Men’s Hockey Splits Pair of Crucial NESCAC Contests

Amherst men’s hockey took a two-game road trip this weekend, traveling first to New London, Conn., to take on the Camels and then to Medford, Mass., to face the Jumbos. The Mammoths returned to Amherst with one win and one loss.

While most of campus enjoyed their first Friday night after a week of Zoom classes, the Amherst men’s hockey team took the short bus ride to Connecticut College on Feb. 11 to take on the Camels in the first of two games that were vital to the Mammoths’ NESCAC postseason seeding.

The Mammoths took a 1-0 lead early in the second period off a Connor McGinnis ’24 power-play goal from the left faceoff circle, assisted by a perfect pass from Sean Wrenn ’22. After Conn scored to even the game at one, the score stood there for the rest of the period, but not much longer. Aware of the game’s high stakes, the Mammoths came out of the locker room firing in the third, scoring three goals in the final frame. Only 2:51 into the period, Matteo Mangiardi ’22E scored on a breakaway that resulted from another beautiful pass, this time from Pieter von Steinbergs ’22E. The onslaught would continue shortly thereafter, with Wrenn scoring to make the game 3-1 only eight minutes later and Ben Kuzma ’25 putting the game to rest four minutes after that. The Mammoths’ dominating third-period performance sent the Camels back to their dorms with a 4-1 defeat. The victory provided the Mammoths with three of the six points that they desperately needed to improve their NESCAC seeding.

However, the joys of that victory would not last long. Traveling to Tufts the next day, the Mammoths were hoping to continue their impressive run of form into the game against the Jumbos. But a flat start doomed them in a game that they will definitely want back. The Mammoths did not get the type of stifling defensive performance that they have been accustomed to all season, giving up a goal in the first six minutes of play to quickly find themselves in a 1-0 hole. While a Wrenn tip-in goal would tie the game a minute later, the first period ended with the Mammoths giving up two more goals before the horn. The second period wouldn’t prove to be much better, with the Mammoths giving up two more goals in the first three minutes of the period.

With their backs to the boards, the team put forth a mammoth offensive effort in the final period, with Greg McGunigle ’23 scoring at the four-minute mark and Joey Verkerke ’23 adding a goal of his own midway through the frame to reduce the Jumbos’ lead back to only two. But the Jumbos pulled away again, ballooning the lead to 7-3 before Ryan Tucker ’24 and Matt Toporoski ’25 scored to pull the Mammoths within two goals for the third time in the game. This is the closest they would get though, as an empty-netter from the Jumbos finished the game off, ending the wildly high-scoring contest with an 8-5 loss for the Mammoths. The eight goals allowed by the Mammoths are the most that they have given up since a 10-2 loss to Babson College in January of 2007.

With the uneven weekend, the Mammoths move to 9-10-2 overall with an 8-7-1 conference record. Because of the Covid-impacted season and the many cancellations occurring throughout, the NESCAC has changed the tournament format for this year. Every team will make the tournament, with seeds determined by points percentage in the final conference standings, and matchups will be announced following the conclusion of regular season play. The Mammoths currently sit in fifth place, and will look to improve their seeding in their last two regular season games next weekend.

McGinnis confirmed the enormity of these two games. “This weekend coming up is a big one for us,” he said. “The standings are very tight and we are trying to earn a top-four seed so we have home ice advantage in the playoffs. We have to bounce back from a tough game Saturday, and hopefully being at home and it being Senior Night will only help. With two wins, our head coach [Jack Arena] would hit 500 career wins on Senior Night, which would be pretty special. There’s plenty of motivation for this weekend, so we need a big week of practice and [to] come ready to earn six points this weekend.”

Middlebury and rival Williams are coming to Orr Rink on Friday, Feb. 18, and Saturday, Feb. 19. The puck will drop versus the Panthers at 7 p.m. on Friday and against the Ephs at 3 p.m. on Saturday.