The action started Friday as the Jeffs welcomed the Ephs for a crucial NESCAC battle. This match, while carrying the normal significance of an Amherst-Williams battle, was also crucial for the playoff picture, as both teams are treading dangerously close to elimination.
Chris Norqual ’04 staked the Jeffs to an early lead, with a one-timer past the Ephs goalie. The Ephs, however, responded with a pair of goals in the next six minutes to take the lead. Trailing 2-1 with three minutes to go in the period, captain Erich Schram ’03 finished a give-and-go with Beau Kretzman ’05 to knot the score entering the first intermission.
In the second period it was more of the same, as the two teams waged an even battle all over the ice. Schram gave the Jeffs a 3-2 lead when he tallied his second goal of the game on a wrist shot from the point through traffic, his fifth goal of the season. But with just over a minute remaining in the period, the Ephs were able to tie the score.
The third period was a classic nail-biter, as both teams traded scoring opportunities, but it was Kretzman and Sean Lynch ’06, the rookie netminder, who elevated their games the most in crunch time. Lynch made 15 saves in the final period, including a sprawling game-saving rejection on an Ephs power play, but it was Kretzman’s game-winning goal that earned its place in Amherst hockey history.
Schram fed Kretzman with a pass, and Kretzman did the rest. Kretzman held the puck behind the net with no clear passing lane and when no defender came out to challenge him, he fired a shot off of an Eph defenseman which ricocheted past the goalie. Kretzman raced to the boards in front of the home fans and the raucous celebration on the ice and in the stands shook the rafters of Orr Rink.
After the emotional high of the thrilling win over Williams, the Jeffs faced an even tougher challenge the next afternoon with Middlebury coming to town. Ranked third in the country, and coming in with a 13-game winning streak, the Panthers were a formidable opponent.
The Panthers jumped on the scoreboard first as they took advantage of an Amherst penalty. Kevin Cooper, Middlebury’s all-NESCAC forward, converted on a backdoor pass to stake the Panthers to a 1-0 lead.
Middlebury held that lead for the next 20 minutes, but the Jeffs tied the game on a power play chance of their own. DiNardo made a point-to-point pass to Norqual, who sent a slap shot toward the goal. Ted Bickel ’06 redirected the shot in front of the net and it slid past Middlebury goalie Mark Scheuer, marking Bickel’s third goal of the season.
In the third period, Lynch made the difference again, as he repelled all the Panthers’ shots, but Scheuer was just as good. Neither team was able to break the tie, and the game went to overtime.
In the extra period the Jeffs controlled most of the play, and came within inches of winning the game. During a frantic scramble in front of the net an Amherst shot caromed off of the crossbar, and a second Amherst bid for the game-winner was repelled by Scheuer.
Lynch was named the NESCAC Men’s Hockey Co-Player of the Week for his play, which included 27 saves against the Ephs and 22 saves against Middlebury. “Lynch got [inserted into the lineup] a couple of weeks ago and has played great since. He really kept us alive against Williams,” said Steve Nelson ’06.
The Jeffs now stand in a three-way tie for sixth place in the NESCAC, with only two weekends of play remaining. This weekend the Jeffs travel to Conn. College and Tufts University for a pair of away games. The Jeffs’ first match of the weekend will be against the 5-10-2 Camels. A win by the Jeffs will knock the Camels out of playoff contention while also bolstering the Jeffs’ chances for entering the conference tournament.
The Jumbos and the Jeffs will square off as very evenly matched teams – they are currently tied in the conference standings. This game will be crucial for the Jeffs, as every point is important at this juncture in the season.
“Right now we feel like we can beat anyone. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season,” said Nelson.