Sports

Homestand offers chance to escape conference basement for men’s hockey

Bruno squares off against conference-leading Quinnipiac and fellow bottom-dweller Princeton

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2015

Forward Matt Lorito ’15 and defenseman Dane Cooper ’18 defend the Brown net on the penalty kill. Lorito only needs five points to reach 100 for his career; he currently ranks first among active Ivy Leaguers in points.

Tied for last in the ECAC, the men’s hockey team is heading into a four game homestand against two of the top teams in the conference — Quinnipiac and Harvard — and two bottom feeders — Princeton and Dartmouth. Despite the unlikeliness of getting results against the upper echelon teams, the next two weekends will provide excellent chances for the Bears to accrue some much-needed points.

This weekend, Brown (4-15, 1-11 ECAC) will welcome Quinnipiac (15-8-1, 10-2), the top team in the conference, and Princeton (3-14-1, 1-11), which is tied with the Bears for last place in the ECAC.

“It will be a good challenge — we aren’t really looking at the games as the first and last place teams,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. “We see it as four points that we need to have at home and are excited for the weekend. We have had a great week of practice and plan to carry that over into Friday’s game.”

First up will be the Bobcats, who came into the season as a prime contender for the conference title and have hardly faltered. Their only two ECAC losses came at the hands of Clarkson (10-11-4, 7-4-2) — which massacred the Bears last weekend — and Harvard (12-4-2, 8-3-2), which beat Bruno 6-2 earlier in the season.

Leading the charge offensively for the Bobcats has been sophomore Sam Anas, who has 13 goals and 15 assists this season. Thirteen goals is good enough for third in the conference, tied with Mike Vecchione of Union (12-10-2, 4-7-1) and behind Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey and Union’s Daniel Ciampini.

Despite underwhelming offensive statistics in conference play, the Bobcats are the best in the ECAC in goals against average, giving up only 1.5 goals a game. For reference, the Bears’ GAA is 4.39 — worst in the conference.

Quinnipiac has derived much of its success from its special teams — the Bobcats are 10th in the nation on the power play and 14th on the penalty kill. Unfortunately for Bruno, owners of the nation’s worst penalty kill, Brown gave up two power play goals the last time it took on a team that ranked in the top 15 with the man advantage,  falling 7-1 to Union.

“I think our penalty kill has been working well the past few games but we’re definitely going to pay attention to some certain things that Quinnipiac does well on their power play because it is a strength for them,” Lorito said.

One silver lining for the Bears could be some questionable Bobcat goalie play. Against Merrimack (13-8-3, 4-6-2 Hockey East), junior Michael Garteig let up two first period goals and was subsequently pulled for freshman Sean Lawrence, who went on to finish the game and start the next one. Lawrence has only appeared in six games this year, and if he starts, the Bears could take advantage of an inexperienced freshman in his first career ECAC start.

Facing the Quinnipiac goalie will be the Bears’ impressive first line, which has recently found its form. Nick Lappin ’16 has scored in five of Brown’s last seven games, while Matt Lorito ’15 only needs five points to reach 100 for his career. The senior currently ranks first among active Ivy Leaguers and third among active ECAC players in points. 

“It would definitely be a special thing to join that club with all of the great players that have played here over the years,” Lorito said. “It would also mean a lot to me and my family considering my journey to college hockey and the adversity I faced to get to this point.”

“Matt is a tremendous player and has been very successful throughout his four years at Brown,” Naclerio said. “It’s great to see him accomplishing some great milestones because he deserves it. As his line-mate I have seen firsthand his ability and know he will accomplish many more great things.”

On Saturday, the Bears will welcome Princeton to Providence. The Tigers are coming off their first win since beating Michigan State (9-11-2, 3-3-2 Big Ten) Nov. 28. The Tigers have only three wins on the season,  beating Cornell (8-9-2, 6-6-0) Nov. 7 for their only conference win.

“I think this game is a must win — like every game — considering where we are on the standings,” Lorito said. “Princeton is obviously a big rival and an Ivy opponent as well so regardless of where we are in the standings you always want to play your best against them.”

Because Princeton didn’t play in any ECAC games last weekend, its game against Army (5-17-2, 5-13-2 AHC) was its first in two-and-a-half weeks, so the Tigers will be well-rested coming into Meehan. No Princeton player has scored more than three goals this season in an offense that ranks last in the ECAC in goals per game and shots. For all of the Tigers’ offensive woes, they also give up an average of around 3.5 goals a game — second to last in the conference, only ahead of the Bears.

Jonathan Liau comes into the weekend as Princeton’s leading point scorer with nine points, including a three-point game against Army. All three of the Bears’ front liners have nine or more points on the year, so Brown should have an offensive advantage. The problem for the Bears will exist — as it has for the majority of the year — on the defensive side, where Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 has used a different starting combination in almost all of their games this year.

Another question heading into the weekend will be who starts at goalie, as both Tim Ernst ’17 and Tyler Steel ’17 have seen time in double digit games so far. Last weekend, Steel started against Clarkson but gave up three goals and was pulled for Ernst, who finished the game and then played the entirety of the Bears’ loss to St. Lawrence (13-10-2, 9-4-0).

Whatever the situation at goalie may be, the Bears will have their work cut out for them against one of the top teams in not only the conference, but also in the country. If Brown can put up a good performance against Quinnipiac on Friday and then carry that performance into the matchup against Princeton on Saturday, Bruno could escape the cellar of the ECAC.