After splitting a two-game road trip last weekend, the men’s hockey team returned to Orr Rink for their final two games of the regular season. They took on Middlebury on Feb. 18, and then battled perennial rival Williams on Feb. 19, in two important contests for NESCAC playoff seeding.
In the Mammoths’ first game on Friday night, Middlebury struck first, scoring with about five minutes remaining in the first period before adding another goal midway through the second frame. Matteo Mangiardi ’22E then woke his team up by scoring first for the Mammoths with 10:42 remaining in the second period, which cut the Panthers’ lead in half to make it a 2-1 game. Sean Wrenn ’22 won the puck behind Middlebury’s goal and proceeded to throw it into the slot, where Mangiardi connected with it for a one-time shot into the top right-hand corner for a slick goal. The goal was Mangiardi’s eighth of the season.
The period continued with neither team able to capitalize on their big opportunities, but with 4:12 left to go, the Mammoths struck again. This time it was Ben Kuzma ’25 who delivered the goal. A tape-to-tape pass from fellow first-year Matt Toporowski ’25 allowed Kuzma to easily push the puck into the vacant lower right-hand corner of the goal. Kuzma has been stellar so far in his first season for the Mammoths: his marker was also his eighth goal this season, and tied him with Mangiardi and Wrenn for the team lead.
Despite their comeback efforts, the Mammoths fell to the Panthers in overtime by a score of 3-2. They had their opportunities to put the game away but narrowly missed their chances to do so. Kuzma almost added his second tally of the game to win it in overtime, but his shot from the slot hit the crossbar, and the Panthers ended up scoring a mere 20 seconds later. This was just Middlebury’s fourth win in NESCAC play this season.
The Mammoths had no choice but to quickly lick their wounds before heading into Senior Day and the last game of the regular season against rival Williams the next day. With Amherst sitting at 8-8-1 in conference play and tied with Williams in the standings at 27.5 points entering the game, the three points awarded to the victor would be crucial for each team’s postseason seeding. After Williams took the lead on a filthy between-the-legs breakaway goal in the second period, Michael Pitts ’23 put the Mammoths on the board at the 12-minute mark, tying the game at one. Pitts had originally received the puck from Wrenn in the high slot, but he wasn’t fond of his position and circled the zone again before firing a wrist shot that found the back of the net.
The game remained tied until the Ephs capitalized with a power-play goal to take the lead back with 3:14 left in the third. The Mammoths fought hard and had some chances to knot the score in the final minutes. Tyler Bourque ’24 had a great chance on a close-range shot from the left circle, but it was stopped by the Ephs’ goalie. Not long after, Williams delivered the dagger with a one-time shot off of a rebound with 2:51 left in the period, handing the Mammoths a brutal 3-1 loss.
The Mammoths closed out the regular season at 9-12-2 overall, and 8-9-1 in conference play. They received the No. 6 seed in the NESCAC playoffs, while Williams earned the No. 3 seed thanks to the additional three points they received from their victory on Saturday. The Mammoths will go on the road to face their familiar foe once again on Saturday, Feb. 26, in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs.
Junior forward Evan Lichman ’23 described the Mammoths’ winning recipe for next Saturday. “I respect Williams a lot — they play a fast, skilled game and have one of the best goaltenders in the nation,” he said. “That said, they are young and shrivel up when the game gets physical. If we make things hard for them by finishing hits, competing for loose pucks, and picking up men on the backcheck, we will win.”
Forecasting a physical matchup, Lichman concluded, “This program has always prided itself on playing a simple, hard-nosed, and bullying style of hockey. Expect to see that in Williamstown next weekend.”
A spot in the NESCAC semifinals is on the line in the rematch between the two archrivals. The puck will drop in Williamstown at 3 p.m. on Feb. 26.