December 5, 2012

Division 3 Journal: Bowdoin out in front of learning curve

By Mike Zhe

Rob MacGregor (No. 39) and the Polar Bears celebrate a goal. (Brian Beard/Creative Images Photography)

The start? Promising.

The road? Beckoning.

There was little doubt at the end of last season that Bowdoin was one of the top teams in the NESCAC, even without the attesting spot in the conference championship game or an NCAA tournament berth.

But that 16-6-3 team survived some growing pains early on, starting 3-3-1 out of the gate before clicking. In coach Terry Meagher’s 30 years at the helm, that been the rule more than the exception, as new players make the adjustment to college hockey – and college – and the team goes about building an identity.

This year? A 7-0-1 start would suggest the Polar Bears are out in front of their learning curve.

“I don’t think any surprises,” said Meagher, after a home-and-home sweep of Colby over the weekend, “more just some wonderful benefits and the building of our team.”

Senior forward Daniel Weiniger (7-4-11) and Ollie Koo (Greenwich, Conn.), a versatile junior who plays up front but can also drop back in the Polar Bears’ three-back system, are leading the way offensively. But Harry Matheson (3-6-9) and Robert Toczylowski of Reading, Mass. (6-3-9) are right there, too,

The offense is scoring at a 4.25 pace and the power-play clicking at 30 percent (12-for-40).

“We’ve always been a balanced team,” said Meagher. “The way we play encourages balance. We try to attack from all different areas, including the back end.”

The goaltending tandem of junior Steve Messina (2.00 GAA, .925 save percentage) and sophomore Max Fenkell (2.59, .920) has been solid, a source of confidence for the entire team, the coach said.

The Bears are off to their best start since beginning 7-0 in 2002-03. Meanwhile, Norwich (9-0), Hobart (10-0-2) and Adrian (9-0) are the only other teams in Division 3 without a loss.

Now, the fun part.

Beginning with Saturday’s back end of the weekend series against Colby, the Polar Bears are in a stretch that will see them play six straight road games, including visits to league foes Tufts and Amherst.

 “The road can be great,” said Meagher. “It can also be lonely, challenging and hard. I think a lot of good teams, when they have a long road trip, it can be really good. They just get off the bus and play.”

Player of the Week
Ryan Williams, G, UMass-Dartmouth

Williams was nearly untouchable in a pair of wins for the Corsairs, stopping 65 of 66 shots as UMB topped Fitchburg State (4-0) and Westfield State (2-1) to surge into first place in the MASCAC.

Game of the Week
Amherstat Middlebury, Saturday 4 p.m.

Contrast in styles, with Amherst coming in as the toughest team to score on in Division 3 (1.29 goals allowed), while Panthers’ 4.67 goals a game are the fifth-most.

It’s also a rematch of last year’s NESCAC championship game, which the Lord Jeffs won 4-3 en route to an NCAA tournament berth and ultimate trip to the Frozen Four.

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Norwich (9-0, 7-0 ECAC East)

Another weekend of beat the clock for Colin Mulvey (Worcester, Mass.), who scored the game-winner with 15 seconds left in regulation to beat Castleton State, 2-1, on Saturday. And don’t overlook the defense, which allowed just 11 shots on goalie Chris Czarnota (Wakefield, Mass.).

2. Bowdoin (7-0-1, 3-0-1 NESCAC)

Toczylowski and Weiniger each had a pair of goals as the Polar Bears swept rival Colby, 3-1 and 5-2.

3. Plymouth State (5-1, 3-1 MASCAC)

Alex Cottle’s two goals served as the scoring bookends in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Salem State, a rematch of last year’s league title contest. He added two assists in a 5-1 win over Worcester State on Saturday.

4. Middlebury (3-1-2, 2-0-2 NESCAC)

Louis Belisle scored four goals and managed six points – matching modern-day program records -- as Panthers raced ahead 7-0 in eventual 9-2 pasting of Tufts on Saturday.

5. Amherst (4-2-1, 3-1 NESCAC)

Goalie Nathan Corey is third in Division 3 in save percentage (.951) and Lord Jeffs are nation’s stingiest team. Offense is another story.

6. Western New England (5-3, 4-1 ECAC Northeast)

Frustrating, 4-1 home loss to Johnson & Wales Saturday saw visitors take lead on a third-period power play and tack on a pair of empty-netters late..

7. Trinity (4-1-1, 2-1-1 NESCAC)

Goals were tough to come by for Bantams, who were carried by goalie Ben Coulthard in overtime loss to Hamilton (2-1) and shutout of Amherst (1-0).

8. UMass-Dartmouth (4-1-2, 3-0-1 MASCAC)

Senior Dave McDonald (Wakefield, Mass.) scored half of the goals for the Corsairs in weekend wins again Westfield State (2-1) and Fitchburg State (4-0).

9. Babson (4-2-2, 3-2-1 ECAC East)

Four straight wins for Beavers, who got two goals and two assists from Ryan Smith (Lynnfield, Mass.) in wins over Southern Maine (4-2) and the University of New England (6-3) this past weekend.

10. Wentworth (5-3-1, 3-2 ECAC Northeast)

The consistency for R.J. Tolan’s team has been there, but the six first-period goals they scored in 9-5 win at Becker show what Leopards are capable of when they’re on.

Mike Zhe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @MikeZhe603.