Sports

Split personality plagues inconsistent men’s hockey team

Hard-fought win over national powerhouse Quinnipiac comes one day after lack of hustle in loss to cellar-dweller Princeton

By
Sports Editor
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Few observers of ECAC men’s ice hockey would have expected anything different than a split from a Brown team facing opponents at both ends of the standings this weekend. But at the same time, few would also have expected the split to play out the way it did.

In a roller coaster weekend, Bruno turned in both its best and worst performances of the season. The team’s loss to Princeton Friday seemed to foreshadow a disappointing remainder of the season. The next day, a victory over No. 4 Quinnipiac produced flashes of brilliance, suggesting that the Bears can beat any team in the nation.

The biggest question is this: Which Bruno team will we see going forward?

 

What’s strong

Against the Bobcats, Brown put Friday’s loss in the rearview mirror, turning in perhaps the ECAC’s greatest display of team resilience this season. The Princeton loss seemed devastating to the Bears, whose playoff stock would have taken a major blow with a winless weekend. To come back the next day and dominate the fourth-ranked team in the nation was no small feat.

Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 has to be given some of the credit for this turnaround. Whittet’s displeasure rang through the press room following Friday’s defeat, as he attributed his team’s loss to a sense of complacency. But he communicated this message to his team, and it produced the results Bruno needed.

Brown jumped on the gas pedal from the very beginning Saturday afternoon, scoring the first goal in a game for the first time this month. The Bears netted the first two scores and outshot the Bobcats 14-4 in the first period. Bruno must post more of these strong starts to be successful down the stretch. In 2014, Brown is 5-0-0 when it gets on the scoreboard first and is 0-6-2 when the opposing team does.

When the Bears score first, they tend to play well the rest of the game, and Saturday was no exception. Brown played the fast-paced, gritty style of hockey that has brought it success in the past. Garnet Hathaway ’14 responded well to Whittet’s criticism of the team’s upperclassmen by scoring two goals this weekend. Bruno beat its opponent to loose pucks the entire game. Unlike Quinnipiac, which spent the majority of its third period in the penalty box, Brown kept itself from committing stupid penalties.

Over the past two years, Brown has beaten the Bobcats twice, tied them twice and lost just once. Each time, Quinnipiac has been ranked no lower than fifth in the nation.

 

What’s wrong

Still, playing well against good teams means very little if you play poorly against bad ones. In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine a bigger missed opportunity for the Bears than the Princeton loss. Coming into the game, Princeton had won just once since Thanksgiving, turning in a 1-11 record over that stretch. Last week, fellow ECAC cellar-dweller St. Lawrence pummeled the Tigers 7-1 at Princeton.

The Bears failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities throughout the game. The team notched 38 shots on goal, its fourth-highest total of the season, yet could only get on the scoreboard twice. Turnovers in all areas of the ice made it difficult for goalie Tyler Steel ’17 to keep Princeton out of his net. Bruno also could not score on any of its five power plays, a problem that persisted in the Quinnipiac game.

Repeating its final-minute blunders against Cornell last weekend, Brown’s offensive attack faltered in the last two minutes of the game against Princeton. While Bruno should not rely on the sixth man to make up for offensive struggles during an empty-net situation, it should be able to muster more than its single shot on goal against the Tigers.

Whittet chalked up Friday’s struggles to complacency. But the bigger issue is inconsistent play from the Bears. If Bruno can take down a team like Quinnipiac, it should be able to turn in better efforts against teams like Rensselaer and Cornell that have similar conference records.

 

What’s new

For the second weekend in a row, Whittet shuffled his lines against Quinnipiac. Whether in response to the team’s poor effort against Princeton or just to try something new, the move had the effect of distributing scoring throughout the lineup. For just the second time this season, a forward on three of Bruno’s four lines scored a goal in the game against Quinnipiac. The only other time was Jan. 24, when Bruno took down defending national champion Yale 3-1.

After missing the past four games due to a hand injury, Brandon Pfeil ’16 rejoined captain Dennis Robertson ’14 on the top defensive line. His presence will certainly be felt on the power play, which has struggled in his absence.

Marco De Filipo ’14 started in net for the Bears for the first time since Jan. 4. It will be interesting to see whether De Filipo will get more playing time going down the stretch.