This year did not start well for the men’s hockey team, which endured separate five- and six-game losing streaks before the month of February. But for Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 and Bruno (8-17-2, 5-13-2 ECAC), the payoff may be well worth the wait.
The Bears took down Princeton Friday thanks to a three-goal outburst in the second period before tying No. 10 Quinnipiac 2-2 Saturday. The tie extended the Bears’ point streak to five games, the longest such run for Brown since 2009.
Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Tyler Bird ’18 struck first against Princeton (4-19-3, 2-16-2), notching his second goal of the season with about two minutes left in the first period.
“That freshman line has really come into its own,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. “They are very young but tremendously skilled. They have adjusted well and have learned our systems well, which has helped them a lot. They are only getting better every day.”
After 12 minutes of back-and-forth hockey in the second, Bruno put its foot on the gas pedal, scoring three goals in a seven-minute span. Naclerio got his ninth of the year, with helpers from Matt Lorito ’15 and Joey De Concilys ’15. The assist was not given to Lorito immediately, but after video review, he was credited with his 100th point.
“I was really excited for (Lorito),” Naclerio said. “He’s worked so hard and is such a great player, and I’m glad he achieved that goal.”
“It was great,” Lorito said. “It’s definitely a lot better when something like that happens during a win, and I’m glad we were able to keep the streak going.”
Not to be outdone by his fellow first-year, Pittsburgh Penguins draftee Sam Lafferty ’18 snuck one past Princeton netminder Colton Phinney to put the Bears up 3-0. Nick Lappin ’16 got the Bears’ fourth and final goal of the game with seven seconds left in the second period, with a helper from Lorito — his hundred-first career point.
The streak has been defined by the talent of Brown’s first two lines, as two players from each — Naclerio and Lappin on the first, Lafferty and Bird on the second — scored against the Tigers.
Kevin Liss broke Tim Ernst’s ’17 121:56 shutout streak with a shorthanded tally, picking up a turnover in the neutral zone and bundling the puck past the helpless goalie. The 4-1 scoreline marked only the fifth time that the Bears held an opponent to one goal or less, with Ernst starting four of those games.
Next up for the Bears was league-leading Quinnipiac (20-8-4, 15-2-3), which only needed one point to secure a share of the regular season ECAC title. A slow first period climaxed when Bruno killed off a Max Willman ’18 high-sticking penalty and avoided falling into an early hole. Brown’s now-sixth-to-last penalty kill in the nation was 4-of-5 on the weekend, marking a stark improvement but still significantly trailing the top PK percentages in college hockey.
Brown showed some flash in the second period for the second straight game, as Joey Prescott ’16 — who has started all five games on the Bears’ streak — got the first goal of the night. It was the junior’s third goal of the year, with the other two coming in two wins against ECAC opponent Rensselaer.
Seven minutes later, Lappin became the first Bear to score double-digit goals this season as he split two defenders and beat Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig with a breakaway backhand. Both goals were unassisted.
Unfortunately for Bruno, the third period was not in its favor, as Danny Federico scored a power play goal 8:35 into the frame to cut the Bears’ lead in half. Sam Anas tied the game one minute and 34 seconds later.
There was a little late game drama, as Tanner MacMaster was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct with under four minutes to play. But Brown could not take advantage of the power play time in either regulation or overtime, so the game ended in a 2-2 draw. The Bobcats clinched a share of the Cleary Cup, but the tie hurt their national standing and boosted Brown’s chances of improving its playoff seeding heading into the last weekend of regular season play.
“We were confident going into that game, and we’re happy to get a point, but we would have preferred two,” Naclerio said. “We had the lead going into the third, and we just need to continue to grow as a team and be able to close out those close games.”
Ernst had 36 saves in the effort, marking his fifth straight start for Brown. The sophomore, incredibly, ranks fourth in the nation in save percentage and leads the ECAC in save percentage, saves and goals against average over the past five games.
It certainly has not been an offensive dominance that has catapulted the Bears the last five games. In these games, Brown has the second-to-last shots per game rate of all ECAC teams. But Brown has become incredibly productive: The Bears trail only second-place Saint Lawrence in shooting percentage among their conference foes at 12.4 percent. For reference, the Bears shot 6.5 percent in their previous 22 games.
Defensively, it has been the same story: In the past five games, the Bears rank second to last in the ECAC in shots on goal against but have only given up seven goals. In the same time frame, Bruno is being outshot, on average, by seven shots per game but has a goal margin of +8.
Though it may seem that these metrics tell a story of incredible luck, Naclerio attributed Bruno’s success to other factors.
“I don’t think it’s luck at all,” Naclerio said. “I think it’s guys really focusing on our goals and coming together as a team. We all invest a lot and work hard to get better every day, and we are starting to see success and hopefully that will continue.”