Hockey rises to ninth in nation, first in NESCAC

Men’s ice hockey (12-3-3, 10-3-1 in the NESCAC), standing atop the NESCAC and ranked ninth in the United States Collegiate Hockey Organization rankings, has come back strong after an initially disappointing performance after break: Williams turned around its 1-3-1 January record with wins against St. Anselm and New England College Jan. 22 and 23, a hard-fought tie against Bowdoin on Jan. 29, and three more wins over Colby, St. Michael’s and Norwich on Jan. 30, Feb 5 and Feb. 6, respectively.

Last Saturday, Williams defeated second-ranked Norwich, formerly the last undefeated team in Div. III men’s hockey, 2-1. The Ephs struggled in the first period, only taking four shots to the Cadets’ 18. Thanks to netminder Ryan Purdy ’12, who saved 48 shots during the game, the Ephs entered the second period with a 0-0 tie.

In the second period Mark Lyons ’13 scored his first career goal with five minutes left, off of an assist from Matt Masucci ’11, to give Williams a 1-0 lead headed into the third.

The Cadets answered the Ephs in the final period when a shot snuck under Purdy’s arm early in the period. The Ephs were able to regain the lead when, a minute into the next power play, Brian Malchoff ’11 took off down the boards, finding captain Alex Smigelski ’10 in the middle. Smigelski fired a slapshot into the back of the net, giving the Ephs the 2-1 advantage they would hold onto to close out the game.

The men’s eighth straight win came after a 4-1 domination of St. Michael’s Friday night. The Ephs controlled the first period, but the men only managed to convert on one of their 12 first period shots. Connor Olvany ’11 collected the puck from Smigelski a minute into the Ephs’ first power play, ripping a shot past the Knights’ goalie to put his team up 1-0.

Olvany scored again early in the second period off a rebounded shot from Malchoff. Williams lost control for a while, giving St. Michael’s a few solid chances, but regained momentum and control as Ben Contini ’11 and Cody Skinner ’13 both took stellar shots that were turned away by the Knights’ goalkeeper. It was Smigelski, however, who stepped up again for his team, scoring the Ephs’ third goal of the night with 4:04 left in the period.

The Ephs’ offensive push continued throughout the third period: The men were unfazed by the one Knights goal that went past netminder Marc Pulde ’10, and Smigelski rounded out the score with his 15th goal of the season near the end of the period. Pulde stopped 23 shots during the game.

Head Coach Bill Kangas remarked on Smigelski’s success this weekend in particular. “It was a big weekend for Alex and for us … [there were] six points on the weekend and he was involved in five of them and had two game winners,” he said.

The early dominance that characterized the St. Michael’s game was not seen Jan. 30 against Colby. Williams attacked the net throughout the game, but the Colby goalminder blocked every shot until the third period. It wasn’t until the 17:24 mark of the third that Evan Dugdale ’13 controlled a bouncing puck in the offensive zone enough to pass to Ryan Young ’11, who flipped it into the top corner of the net. Smigelski and Ryan Scott ’12 both scored empty net goals in the last minute of play to bring the score to 3-0. Purdy had a fantastic game, stopping 31 Mules shots for the shutout.

Williams battled hard against Bowdoin on Jan. 29, coming out 4-4 in the NESCAC matchup. Olvany and Smigelski were the dynamic duo of the first period, with Olvany assisting Smigelski’s goal early on and Smigelski returning the favor when one of his shots rebounded straight to Olvany. The Polar Bears scored three goals before Olvany could answer 51 seconds into the second period. Another Bowdoin goal put the men behind 4-3, but Eric Rubino ’13 evened it out, putting the puck in the back of the net off of a backhanded pass from Contini. Both teams had numerous opportunities during the third period and in overtime, but neither could convert, and closed out the game tied 4-4.

The men went 2-0 the weekend of Jan. 22-23, taking down St. Anselm and New England College 6-2 and 3-2, respectively. Smigelski led the team with three goals over the course of the weekend, while Contini and Olvany supported him with two goals each. Masucci and Rubino also notched one each en route to the team’s victories. As usual, Purdy anchored the Ephs on the wins, making 39 saves over the course of the weekend.
The Ephs have also been honored on an individual level recently: this past week, Smigelski was named a semi-finalist for the Joe Concannon award, which goes to the best US-born Div. II or Div. III player in New England. The captain was also named co-NESCAC player of the week. Teammate Miller was named a finalist for the 2010 Hockey Humanitarian Award.

When asked how the men have managed to turn their season back around so rapidly after the men’s disappointing performance in early January, Kangas attributed recent successes to redoubled efforts in practice. “We’re just playing better … we recognized the fact that we had to work a little harder every game,” he explained. “When you’re undefeated going into break … [it] gives you a little confidence, but you forget that [you] have to show what you’re capable of,” he cautioned.

Williams went up against NESCAC rival Middlebury in their last regular season home game last night, but results came in too late to report. The men will be on the road for the next two weekends as they finish out the regular season. Upcoming games will be played at Babson for a 7 p.m. game on Saturday before heading out to UMass-Boston, where the puck will drop at 4 p.m. on Sunday.