Sports

Men’s ice hockey must forget about challenging February

Despite early-month slump, recent strong performances could mean Bruno is ready for a conference run

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, February 24, 2014

The men’s hockey team stumbled out of the gate this month, but with wins in two of its last three games, the squad has shown it will not roll over.

At the end of January, the Bears were sitting pretty. After beating No. 19 Colgate (16-11-5, 12-5-3 ECAC) by a score of 5-2 at home on Jan. 31, Bruno was 6-6-1, good for seventh place in the ECAC. Mark Naclerio ’16 had just been named ECAC Player of the Month, and the team had only lost one home game, all the way back on Nov. 1.

Those good feelings evaporated quickly when the calendar page turned. The Bears lost a closely fought home game Feb. 1 to No. 13 Cornell (14-7-5, 10-6-4) by a score of 2-1, their first home loss in exactly three months. The following Friday, Bruno dropped a 4-3 game at No. 3 Union. A close road loss to a top-five team is no cause for concern, but the disheartened Bears were listless in a 4-1 loss at Rensselaer the following night.

After the RPI game, captain Dennis Robertson ’14 said the team was “a little unprepared.” Naclerio added, “We broke down and gave them the win by beating ourselves.” The players were disappointed in their team’s performance, but it would not be their worst game of this ugly stretch.

Rock bottom came at home the next Friday, when Bruno fell to last-place Princeton. At this point, the Bears were 0-4 in the new month, dropping steadily in the ECAC standings.

Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 tore into his players after the loss, calling the team’s performance “awful.”

But since that night, the Bears have started to play to their potential and show their capabilities. The rebound began the night after the loss to Princeton, when Bruno defeated No. 5 Quinnipiac 4-2.

Whittet expressed pride in his team for how the squad turned around after playing so lackadaisically against the Tigers.

“I could tell, going into the room, that the guys were ready tonight,” he said, following the victory against Quinnipiac.

The Bears entered this weekend riding high from that win, but fell in overtime to a scorching Dartmouth squad that has not lost in its last four games. A loss is of course never ideal, but Bruno played hard against the hottest team in the ECAC. Brown showed up ready to play, which cannot be said about the team’s unsuccessful efforts against RPI and Princeton.

What mattered most about this weekend’s loss to Dartmouth was how the Bears would respond. Would they wilt like they did after falling to Union and RPI, or use the defeat as motivation as they did after dropping the game against Princeton?

Bruno answered with a performance resembling its victory over Quinnipiac, rolling into Harvard and defeating the Crimson, 2-0.

“We responded really well,” Naclerio said. “We’re going to carry that momentum into next weekend.”

Now having won two of three, the Bears will have a shot at revenge in a pair of home games against Union and RPI before the conference tournament begins. Should Bruno hold off its opponents and remain in eighth place, it will host a first round series in the conference tournament, likely against St. Lawrence. Whittet said having home ice in the first round is “really, really important” to the team.

If the results are any indication, the Bears have learned from their mistakes at the beginning of the month. They are starting to look like the team we saw in January, which went 4-2-2 against a very tough schedule, including a tie against No. 1 Boston College.

Finishing the turnaround next weekend with strong showings against Union and RPI will be hugely important for the Bears.

“We have to be playing our best hockey as we head into the tournament,” Whittet said.

Under Coach Whittet, the Bears have a great track record in the ECAC tournament, reaching the semifinals as the No. 11 seed in 2010, and making it to the title game last season as the No. 7 seed. In his past four seasons as head coach, Whittet has made more ECAC semifinals (two) than his predecessor Roger Grillo did in 12 seasons (one).

“We’ve done some major damage in the playoffs in two of my four years,” Whittet said.

Based on winning percentage, this year’s team is the best Whittet has had at Brown, and if the Bears play up to their potential, they might make some noise in the tournament once again.