Men’s ice hockey (13–6–3, 10–3–3 in the NESCAC) swept a two-game set against Middlebury this weekend to secure sole possession of first place in the NESCAC. The Ephs flourished offensively and defensively, scoring seven goals over the series while holding the Panthers to just one tally.
At Lansing Chapman Rink on Saturday, the men scored four first-period goals in a 4-1 victory.
At 4:31 in the first period, Marcus Mollica ’19 gained control of the puck in the neutral zone, leading to a 2-on-1 opportunity. He set up a chance for Alex Hagerty ’17, who elevated a shot past Middlebury goalie Steven Klein to put the Ephs up 1-0. James McNamara ’17 earned a secondary assist on the play.
Just over a minute later, the Ephs doubled their lead. At 5:48, Frankie Mork ’17 brought the puck up the ice. Skating between two Middlebury defenders, he fired a wrist shot over Klein’s stick side to make it 2-0. Mork’s goal, his third of the year, was assisted by co-captain Tyler Young ’17 and David Italiano ’18.
At 13:43, the Ephs converted a power play opportunity. C.J. Shugart ’18 centered the puck from the lower left side of the zone and Italiano, who was stationed at the right post, put it past the goal line. The goal was Italiano’s 12th of the season and gave him his team-leading 31st point. His 16 assists and 25 points in conference play lead the NESCAC. In addition, Young earned an assist, his fourth of the weekend.
The Ephs furthered their lead at 14:46. Shugart intercepted the puck and fed a perfect pass to the stick of Mollica, who shot one over Klein’s left shoulder for his second point of the game. Luke Stickel ’17 also assisted on the play. The Panthers pulled Klein for a backup, and the teams headed to the locker rooms with the score 4-0 in favor of the Ephs.
After a scoreless second period, the shot count was a whopping 38-8 in favor of the Ephs. The Panthers got on the board at 2:10 of the third period when a Middlebury player collected a rebound and put a shot past netminder Michael Pinios ’19. The lone Middlebury goal brought the score to 4-1.
On Friday night, the Ephs blanked the Panthers 3-0 behind a shutout from Pinios.
The Ephs got out to a two-goal lead within three minutes of the puck drop. At 1:27, Italiano received a breakaway pass from Young and backhanded the puck into the top corner. Wyatt Glover ’20 extended the lead two minutes later. Hagerty hit a pass across the crease, and Glover tapped it in for his third goal of the season.
Early in the second period, Middlebury had a golden opportunity on a 5-on-3 power play. Although the Ephs’ penalty kill is second-to-last in the NESCAC with a 77.1% rate, the men thwarted the 5-on-3 opportunity with ease.
The Ephs nearly extended their lead when alternate captain George Hunkele ’17 caught the crossbar on a shot at 13:40. The referees initially ruled for an Ephs’ goal, but upon meeting, they reversed the call.
Roberto Cellini ’19, assisted by Mork and Italiano, scored his team-leading 14th goal of the season at 8:02 and extended the lead to three. Mork’s slapshot was deflected to an open pocket to the right of the net, where Cellini was waiting to finish it off. Cellini’s 10 goals in conference play are tied for first in the NESCAC, and he is second behind Italiano in points.
Pinios, last season’s Div. III Newcomer of the Year, stopped 23 shots in his first shutout of the year.
Co-captain Sam Gray ’17 praised the defensive effort.
“A weekend where we only gave up one goal is a great sign,” he said. “Pinios had two awesome games in net, and the whole team made a commitment to help him out.”
On Thursday, Mork was named a semifinalist for the Joe Concannon Award, a prize given to the best American-born Div. II/Div. III college hockey player in New England. The defenseman has three goals and 15 assists to his name this season. One of four semifinalists from the NESCAC, Mork is tied for third in conference assists. The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston will announce the finalists following league playoffs in March.
The men currently sit atop the NESCAC, a half-game ahead of Hamilton and one game ahead of Colby.
Head Coach Bill Kangas said the team is trying to stay focused on each game.
“It’s nice to be in the position we’re in, but we still have things to work on as we prepare for another tough road trip,” he said. “The season’s a process, not a sprint, and we have to work to get better every day.”
“The league is tough, and we can’t take anything for granted,” he added. “We have to keep looking ahead.”
The men face Amherst on the road Friday at 7 p.m. before finishing their regular season at Hamilton on Saturday at 3 p.m.