February 7, 2012

Small College Journal: UMass-Boston living on both edges

By Mike Zhe

If you were to put together a list of the teams that have knocked off both of the ECAC East powers from Vermont this winter — No. 1 Norwich and No. 7 Castleton State — it would be a short list.

UMass-Boston forward Anthony Fitti (UMass-Boston Athletics)

It would start with UMass-Boston. And it would end with UMass-Boston.

For the second time in a month, the Beacons played giant-killer on Friday, scoring four times in the first period and then holding on for dear life to nip Castleton, 5-4, at Clark Athletic Center.

“We’re in a position where our guys expect to win every night,” said UMB coach Peter Belisle (Manville, R.I.). “We get so jacked up for Norwich or Castleton. Our first period against Castleton was our best period of hockey all year.”

But there’s been a flip side to this season of upsets, best illustrated when, less than 24 hours later, the Beacons lost on home ice, 4-2, to a sub-.500 Skidmore team that outshot them 17-7 in the third period and scored the game’s final two goals.

“We’re going to address that at practice,” said Belisle. “Our consistency is the issue.”

The Beacons (10-8-3, 6-7-1 ECAC East) are scoring goals (3.3 a game) and doing a decent job of preventing them (2.5). Senior Anthony Fitti (8-14-22) leads a group of eight players with double-digit points, a group that includes senior captain Jimmy Ennis (Roslindale, Mass.), the poster boy for the blue-collar mindset of the team.

“Be physical, keep it simple, get pucks deep,” said Belisle. “We try to play a simple, tough, blue-collar kind of hockey. It’s when we get away from that, and start running around or being too cute, that we get hurt.”

Another senior, goalie Kevin Bendel, has played more than half the games in goal, posting a 2.21 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Some nights it’s been enough; some nights it hasn’t been.

There are two weekends left in the regular season before the eight Division 3 teams in the league begin conference tournament play. For UMB, the goals are two-tiered:

First, the Beacons, who sit just two points out of fourth place, would like to finish strong, and grab a top-four finish and the home ice for the quarterfinals that goes with it.

Failing that, they want to make sure they stay out of the seventh and eighth spots, the ones that point the owners up to Vermont for quarterfinals at Castleton or Norwich.

“You really want to avoid going on the road and, with four games left, we still have a chance to do that,” Belisle said. “At all costs you want to avoid a trip to Vermont.”

Though Norwich and Castleton, who face off Saturday, have been the pace-setters all winter, the second half of the season has shown signs that the games in the tournament could be a lot more interesting than first thought.

Since losing to Norwich at Fenway Park on Jan. 13, third-place Babson (7-11-3, 7-4-3 ECAC East) has not lost in regulation, a 4-0-3 run that includes a 2-2 tie with Castleton on Saturday.

Fourth-place New England College (9-8-4, 6-5-3 ECAC East) owns a tie with Castleton and an overtime loss to Norwich in the last 1½ weeks.

Game of the Week

Salem State at UMass-Dartmouth, Thursday

Easy to make a case for the Norwich at Castleton rematch on Saturday night, but the race for home ice and top seeds in the MASCAC is a little tenser.

Both teams are coming off weeks that saw them stumble. Salem (11-6-3, 8-2-3 MASCAC) dropped a 6-5 non-league decision at St. Anselm and tied Fitchburg State (2-2), while the Corsairs (13-6-1, 8-4-1 MASCAC) have been idle since a 3-2 loss at Worcester State last Thursday.

The defeats paved the way for Plymouth State (12-6-2, 9-3-2 MASCAC) to move into first place, by one point over Salem and three over Dartmouth. But Thursday’s is the game in hand for both pursuers.

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Norwich (18-1-1, 13-1 ECAC East)

Former Avon Old Farms captain Blake Forkey followed up his hat trick in a 6-3 win at St. Anselm with an assist in a 3-2 overtime win at New England College.

2. Amherst (16-3-1, 13-1-0 NESCAC)

Only Norwich and Plattsburgh are allowing fewer goals per game than Amherst’s 1.85. Lord Jeffs took down Bowdoin (3-1) and Colby (5-2) over the weekend.

3. Castleton State (15-4-2, 10-2-2 ECAC East)

Spartans have given up 4, 5 and 2 goals in last three games, none of them wins, after allowing more than 2 in just one of previous eight games.

4. Bowdoin (11-5-3, 8-3-3 NESCAC)

Tough to tell which hurt more — losing to frontrunner Amherst, 3-1, on Friday, or letting a two-goal lead slip away in a 2-2 tie at Hamilton Saturday.

5. Salem State (11-6-3, 8-2-3 MASCAC)

Maddening week for the Vikings, who closed it by letting a two-goal, third-period lead against Fitchburg State slip away in Saturday’s 2-2 tie.

6. UMass-Dartmouth (13-6-1, 8-4-1 MASCAC)

Senior Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.) continues to lead the MASCAC in scoring, with 11 goals and 20 points in 13 league games.

7. Plymouth State (12-6-2, 9-3-2 MASCAC)

Panthers took care of business, blanking Fitchburg State (4-0) and overpowering Westfield State (4-2), and getting good efforts from sophomore goalie Tyler Ingerson (Concord, N.H.) in both.

8. Williams (10-5-5, 7-5-2 NESCAC)

Ephmen went oh-for-the-weekend for the first time all season, losing on the road to Trinity (3-1) and Wesleyan (4-1), and dropping to fifth place in the league standings. They’re winless in their last four games.

9. Tufts (11-7-2, 8-5-2 NESCAC)

Sophomore Kyle Gallegos followed up his hat trick in 7-1 win over Connecticut College with two more goals — the first two — in 4-2 win at Conn. College a night later. His 14 goals are tied for second-most in the league.

10. Wentworth (14-6-1, 7-2-1 ECAC Northeast)

Any hopes of finishing the regular season in first place are contingent on beating first-place Curry in a rematch on Feb. 16.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.