By Mike Zhe
When he closed his eyes in the preseason and pictured how the year would play out for his Trinity College team, Jackson Brewer (Newton, Mass.) could see parts of the picture that’s formed.
The other parts? Not even with a crystal ball.
As the playoffs in the New England Small College Athletic Conference get going this month, no team is sitting prettier than the Bantams, who finished the regular season in first place for the first time since 2004-05.
Even better, they sit atop the regional Pairwise Comparison, which should assure them of a spot in the NCAA tournament if they fail to win the NESCAC tournament.
Even more amazing, Brewer — a junior — sophomore linemate Mike Hawkrigg and freshman Ryan Cole rank 1-2-3 in points in Division 3, a scoring punch spread out over two lines that’s made the Bantams one of scariest teams in the nation.
“As for the standings, I think our team’s believed since Day 1,” said Brewer, who leads Division 3 with 36 assists and 50 points. “We were third last year, and we had the best goalie in the league (Ben Coulthard of South Windsor, Conn.) and a strong defense returning.
“As for the scoring, I had personal goals and my linemates had personal goals. We thought we could (score a lot).
But to be honest, how could you expect three guys to lead the country in scoring?”
You couldn’t. Nobody could.
Brewer became the first player in Division 3 to hit 50 points in a single season since Mickey Gilchrist of Middlebury did it in 2005-06.
“Definitely would not have predicted all this,” said Hawkrigg, who is tied for the Division 3 lead with 20 goals. “I think we had a lot of confidence at the beginning. But the freshmen who’ve come in, Ryan Cole and (first-line center) Sean Orlando, I wouldn’t have expected them to produce so much.”
The Bantams (20-4) might be enjoying unprecedented team and offensive success (they rank third in Division 3 at 4.50 goals a game and own the nation’s best power play), but it hasn’t come from out of the blue. It’s been a progression.
This is Brewer’s third year at Trinity and the third year for coach Matt Greason (North Bridgton, Maine), a former assistant who was hired from the U.S. National Team Development Program — literally — on the eve of Brewer’s freshman season after coach Dave Cataruzolo left to take a position at Harvard.
A new coach always means an adjustment. But at that point, Brewer couldn’t have known how big that adjustment would be.
Growing up playing with Boston Advantage teams, he heard puck possession emphasized from an early age.
In Greason, who had not been involved in his recruiting, he was now playing for a coach who wanted a faster pace and quicker decisions.
“He absolutely had to change his game,” said Greason.
“Freshman year, he’d get over the blue line and he’d stop to see what the second layer was bringing. Now he’s playing at a higher speed and he’s pushing the pace of the game.”
“The biggest thing with Coach Greason is that the college game is much faster.
Backcheckers will catch up,” said the 6–foot-1 Brewer, a left-handed shot who plays on the right wing. “He didn’t want me to not possess the puck, but he said it’s not a bad play sometimes to just chip the puck in.”
He managed just eight points in 23 games as a freshman as the team finished below .500. As a sophomore, he put up 12-12-24 totals and the Bantams advanced to the NESCAC semifinals before losing to Williams, finishing 15-7-3 overall.
“At some point my sophomore year, I realized there wasn’t any reason for me to not be able to take over games,” said Brewer.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Hawkrigg. “Me and him really have a good chemistry and it just keeps getting better. He’s a great playmaker, a great passer and he shoots the puck very well.”
The 5-foot-10 Hawkrigg, a Toronto native, came to Trinity via the Bridgewater Bandits of the EJHL. He drew some mild Division 1 interest but liked the academic/athletic mix of the Hartford, Conn., school; he brought with him a Division 1 shot.
“He has as good a shot as I could have at Trinity,” said Greason. “He can absolutely rip a puck.”
“It’s one of the best shots I’ve seen in person,” said Brewer. “Not just the velocity of it, but his ability to pick his eyes up and put it where he wants. A lot of times in practice we’ll just be laughing about it.”
With a third-year coach, and a freshman, a sophomore and a junior comprising the top line, the Bantams have grown up together. Not without pains, though. In their highest-profile game to date, against league rival Williams at Fenway Park on Jan. 7, they failed to protect a 2-0 lead and lost, 4-2.
Since then they’re 13-1. The next time out after Fenway, at Middlebury, Brewer set up four goals in a 6-3 win.
“We went up to Middlebury and pretty much ran the show,” said Brewer. “That was a real strong sign of our character.”
Orlando has scored 18 times during his freshman season. He and classmate Cole have added instant offense to a team that already looked good in that department back in November, but couldn’t have foreseen that things would mesh this well.
“The fact of the matter is we did have some question marks,” said Greason. “Those guys had skill, but were they going to embrace that bigger role? It goes without saying that we’re ecstatic with what they’ve done.”
With plenty more to do.
“The word ‘believability’ has been in our room the whole year, with our leadership and our skill,” said Brewer. “You look across the board on our team and kids love playing hockey, kids look forward to hockey and like being a part of something that’s bigger than them.”
Now that’s something that’s not hard to see.