January 14, 2014

D3 Journal: Discipline brings success to Johnson & Wales

By Mike Zhe

One of the most penalized teams in the nation last year, Cody Sarmiento and the Johnson & Wales Wildcats are now one of the most disciplined, and it's paying off. (Photo courtesy Johnson & Wales Athletics)

The disadvantage has become a big advantage.

A year ago, only one team in Division 3 was penalized more than Johnson & Wales, which was logging nearly 23 minutes a game.

Predictably, the Wildcats gave up a bunch of shorthanded goals – a whopping 30 in 27 games, one of the highest totals in the nation. Their penalty-kill success rate (79.6 percent) left them well below the median and had plenty to do with a 10-16-1 season that ended in the ECAC Northeast semifinals.

That’s the fine line JWU coach Erik Noack and his team knew they would have to straddle coming into this season: Stay out of the box, while at the same time play physical in the corners and in front of the net, things good defensive teams have to do.

So far, the Wildcats have straddled it just fine.

Of 60 teams in Division 3, only 10 have been penalized less than the Wildcats’ average of 12.86 minutes. They’re killing off 90 percent of their man-downs and even have four shorthanded goals to their name, tied for the fourth-best total in the country.

“I think your penalty kill is better because it’s not on the ice as much,” said Noack. “You’re not wearing out the same four or five guys.”

At 11-3, the Wildcats have already surpassed last year’s win mark, their 3-2 mark in the ECAC Northeast positioning themselves to challenge for a top spot over the next month. The signature win so far was Saturday’s 3-2 overtime upset of NESCAC pace-setter Williams, one they tied in the third period on Aaron Arm’s goal.

A shorthanded goal, at that.

“The win was amazing,” said Noack. “We know who (Williams is). The NESCAC may be the best conference around and Williams may be the best team in that conference.”

Penalty killing often starts with goaltending, and freshman Joey Ballmer has delivered that. The former USHL player (Sioux City) owns a .947 save percentage, a big reason his team is giving up fewer goals per game (1.64) than all but four teams in Division 3.

“We knew coming in he was going to be a special kid,” said Noack. “We didn’t know how special.”

The guys in front of him on the penalty kill — leading scorer Cody Sarmiento, fellow captain Eddie Patterson and Alex Porrier (Rutland, Vt.), plus freshmen Michael Mazzotta, Matt Lanzillotti and Justin Decowski — have thrived in those roles.

It’s a young team, with five of the top six scorers either freshmen or sophomores.

“You really worried about the group hitting the ice and who’s going to be leaders,” said Noack. “Every team needs an identity and we had to get one, quick.”

This weekend features a trip to Potsdam and Canton, and then it’s back to New England for the final nine games, all against league foes.

“We’re excited about where we are, that’s for sure,” Noack said.

Player of the Week

Jackson Brewer (Newton, Mass.), jr., F, Trinity

Brewer collected three goals and nine points as the Bantams shed a 4-2 loss to Williams at Fenway Park with wins at Middlebury (6-3) and Becker (5-3).

The former Rivers School standout has 25 points, most in the NESCAC and third-most in Division 3.

Game of the Week

Salem State at Westfield State, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

It’s taken the better part of two months to get a little separation in the MASCAC, and this game between the two front-runners – each will bring a 5-2 record in league play into the matchup at Amelia Park – will add a little more.

NEHJ Division 3 Power Rankings

1. UMass-Boston (12-1-2, 5-1-2 ECAC East)

A week to savor for the streaking Beacons, which included a 4-2 win over Salem State at Fenway Park on Tuesday and a takedown of Norwich, 4-2, on Friday behind a pair of goals by Jeremy Finger.

2. Norwich (10-2-2, 7-1-1 ECAC East)

Chris Czarnota (Wakefield, Mass.) made 21 saves to earn the Fenway Park shutout against Babson on Thursday, 1-0.

3. Williams (8-2-2, 6-0-2 NESCAC)

Despite a 41-22 edge in shots, the Ephs dropped another con-conference game, this time to Johnson & Wales Saturday, 3-2 in overtime.

4. Babson (12-3, 6-2 ECAC East)

Milton, Mass., native Mike Driscoll’s two goals led an 8-3 onslaught of St. Michael’s after missed opportunity at Fenway.

5. Bowdoin (8-3-2, 4-3-1 NESCAC)

Eleven goals in weekend wins over Hamilton and Amherst the latest signs that Polar Bears are hitting midseason form.

6. Johnson & Wales (9-3, 3-2-0 ECAC Northeast)

Freshman Joey Ballmer is enjoying one of the best debut seasons in Division 3 with a 1.58 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

7. Trinity (9-3, 4-2 NESCAC)

Sean Orlando scored two goals and set up another as Bantams jumped out 4-0 at Middlebury Friday en route to 6-3 win.

8. Nichols (9-3-2, 3-1-1 ECAC Northeast)

After getting handcuffed in a 4-1 loss to Hobart, Joe Sposit (hat trick) and the Bison took out their frustrations in a 9-4 rout of Morrisville.

9. New England College (10-4, 6-3 ECAC East)

Ten different players scored in weekend wins against Southern Maine (6-4) and University of New England (3-0).

10. Salem State (8-5, 5-2 MASCAC)

Only losses in December and January came against Babson and UMass-Boston, hardly embarrassments.

Twitter: @MikeZhe603
Email: mzhe@hockeyjournal.com