Sports

Men’s hockey’s leading scorers supply offensive firepower

Bears must improve on the power play to contend against ferocious ECAC opponents

By
Sports Editor
Monday, February 3, 2014

Mark Hourihan ’14 applies pressure in the offensive zone Saturday. Brown fell to the Big Red after failing to convert on a number of scoring chances.

The men’s ice hockey team came into the weekend facing not just two of the strongest teams in the ECAC, but two of the hottest teams in the nation. Colgate came in on a five-game winning streak, and Cornell had not lost since Nov. 30.

Though Bruno emerged with a weekend split and could not improve from its seventh-place conference ranking, it showed the college hockey world that it can play with — and beat — the top teams in the country.

“We’re making really good strides coming up the stretch,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. “Hopefully we can stay hot and string together some wins coming into the playoffs.”

 

What’s strong

Naclerio and Nick Lappin ’16 were on a different wavelength than anyone else in uniform this weekend. Bruno’s two leading scorers seemed to find each other in the right spots at the right times in both games.

Against Colgate, Naclerio and Lappin teamed up for three of the team’s five goals. Each score came on an assist from the other, featuring crisp passes in the offensive zone.

Naclerio and Lappin continued to create a number of scoring opportunities against the Big Red, but goalie Andy Iles answered their attempts for most of the game.

After being repeatedly frustrated by Iles, Lappin managed to get a wrist shot past Iles midway through the third, only to see it careen off the right post. Naclerio finally broke the scoring drought with less than two minutes to play for his team-leading 14th goal of the year.

Before the season began, Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 called the top line of Lappin, Naclerio and Matt Lorito ’15 “one of the best in the nation.” His star players have lived up to the high praise.

Against Colgate, Brown turned in a strong effort in the neutral zone. Despite mustering 32 shots on Tyler Steel ’17, who continued to play well for the Bears this weekend, the Raiders struggled all game to get the puck into Bruno’s end of the ice.

“We just played a really intelligent hockey game,” Whittet said. “We’re just continuing to get better and better.”

Despite narrowly falling Saturday to the Big Red, the Bears demonstrated the resiliency they will need to be successful down the stretch. When Cornell scored its second goal on a two-on-one late in the third period, it appeared to be game over. Goals had been at a premium, and with just six minutes left, a comeback seemed improbable.

But Bruno did not quit. After the goal, the Bears put up a majority of their third-period attempts, outshooting the Big Red by a lopsided 14-2 in the frame. Whittet aptly called the game “frustrating,” referring to the numerous scoring opportunities that did not materialize.

 

What’s wrong

It is difficult to find much to criticize in the Bears’ performance against Colgate. The power play struggled yet again, managing just one shot on two opportunities. But the Bears more than made up for these struggles at full strength with five goals.

Against Cornell, difficulties on the man advantage proved to be one of the key factors in Bruno’s defeat. The Bears could not score on any of their five power play opportunities, failing to score a power play goal for the fifth-straight game.

Cornell’s strong penalty kill unit, third in the ECAC with an 86.4 percent kill percentage, made the problem even worse. In order to have success going forward, Bruno will need to do a better job taking advantage of its opportunities.

The return of defenseman Brandon Pfeil ’16 next week, a player Whittet said “runs the power play,” should improve efficiency on the man advantage. Pfeil has missed the past three games due to a hand injury.

Poor execution in the final 90 seconds also hurt the Bears. After a torrent of scoring opportunities over the last 10 minutes, Bruno could not generate much of anything after pulling Steel. The Bears failed to keep the puck in Cornell’s zone three times when it mattered most, including on a final opportunity with 20 seconds to play.

Cornell’s size also plagued the Bears. Cornell had 13 skaters listed at 6-foot-3 or taller; Brown had just seven. The Big Red’s physical presence made it much more difficult for Bruno to generate the same kind of neutral zone success that characterized its victory over Colgate.

In another unfortunate turn of events for the Bears, officials failed to review what may have been Brown’s first goal of the evening midway through the second period. A flurry of action in front of the Cornell net led to a pileup, under which the puck may or may not have trickled across the goal line.

“We have cameras that we pay a lot of money for,” Whittet said. “I have no idea why it wasn’t reviewed.”

In the third period, the officials would review a similar play, eventually ruling it a goal for the Bears. The earlier blunder was another indication of Bruno’s bad luck Saturday evening.

 

What’s new

Rather than joining Naclerio and Lappin on the usual top line, Lorito played on a different line due to the absence of Massimo Lamacchia ’15. Whittet has tinkered with lines in the past, typically by moving Lorito between center and right wing. A key question remains whether Whittet decides to keep his top three scorers together on the top line, or if he chooses to distribute his stars throughout the lineup going down the stretch.