Men’s ice hockey offense cracks under playoff pressure

Bears fail to score when it matters most because they try too hard to do too much

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2014

With home ice on the line in this weekend’s homestand, Bruno collapsed, scoring no goals and falling to ninth in the conference.

The Bears’ offense, typically average in the conference, has suddenly ground to a halt. They have not scored a goal in over 132 minutes of play despite 60 shots on goal over the past two games.

Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 identified a few problems with the offense after both games.

After the loss to RPI, one in which the Bears outshot the Engineers, he said, “I think some of our skilled guys have to understand the fundamentals. Shots need to get to the net, bodies need to get to the net, especially against that team.”

After the Union game, Whittet’s thoughts were much the same.

“We just didn’t get enough traffic in front of (Union’s goalie),” he said. The team needs to “get pucks to the net, retrieve pucks, get pucks to the net again, and outnumber, and that’s how you have success.”

Forward Matt Lorito ’15 agreed with his coach.

“We kind of struggled moving the puck and creating offense in their zone,” he said.

Though it’s unclear why the Bears did not do what was necessary to contend and win against these two good teams, Whittet’s explanation makes the most sense.

“We were gripping sticks, we’re trying too hard, almost,” Whittet said. “And it seems a goofy way to say it, but the guys understand the importance of the game, and sometimes try and do too much instead of just keeping it simple.”

Captain Dennis Robertson ’14 said  he feels anxious to perform as a senior during his last homestand and last ECAC tournament.

“There’s definitely added pressure,” he said. “You can’t let (those thoughts) creep in, and then you’re gripping the stick a little too tight. I think that might have happened a little bit over this weekend, so I’ve got to get back to what makes me strong as a player and execute.”

Every player on the team recognized the importance of these past two games. They knew this homestand would be critical. When a team struggles in a situation like this, it is often because players are uncomfortable under the pressure, freeze up and fail to play naturally. But the Bears appear to have had the exact opposite reaction: instead of shying away from the spotlight, players are trying to step up and put the team on their back.  Unfortunately, that means that they are trying to do too much, something that Whittet noticed.

“We overcomplicate things so much offensively,” he said. “It’s just too much one-on-one play, and not enough just moving the puck, head-manning things, funneling things to the net. It’s way too individual, and it’s not an individual game.”

Now the Bears have to face much more pressure on the road as the tournament begins next weekend, but Whittet saw a silver lining to dropping in the standings.

“We’re going to go on the road,” he said, “and sometimes when you’re on the road and your backs are against the wall, you come out and you play much more simple hockey.”

The road trip might be a wakeup call, but it also presents a massive challenge to the Bears.

“It becomes infinitely harder to go on the road,” Whittet said, “especially in the first round, and then have to knock out one team, and then knock out another team on the road. It’s very hard to do.”

Bruno now heads to St. Lawrence, a team it beat in Canton, N.Y. Jan. 17. The Saints have many weaknesses, including mediocre goaltending, but are powered by the brothers Greg and Matt Carey, who are first and sixth in the ECAC in points, respectively.

Lorito said the key to defeating the Saints will be to “play solid defense and shut (the Careys) down.” The Saints allow the second-most goals per game in the conference, so they may be just what Bruno needs to get the offense going again. But nothing is a foregone conclusion, especially given the team’s recent play.

The Bears have had success in the playoffs in the past, but that is no guarantee of future accomplishment. They may seem like a playoff team, but RPI head coach Seth Appert and Union head coach Rick Bennett described their games against Brown as “a playoff game” and “playoff hockey” respectively, and Bruno crumbled spectacularly against them. The Bears must make some serious changes, especially in their own mindset, in order to avoid a first-round knockout.

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