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Cornell, Colgate visit ECAC’s hottest team

On five-game unbeaten streak, Bruno looks to improve standing before conference tournament

After the men’s hockey team lost its seventh straight ECAC game at the start of December — a 7-1 scorching from a struggling Union team — little confidence remained that Bruno (8-17-2, 5-13-2 ECAC) could compete with any team in the country, let alone in the conference.

“I always imagined we could go on a run,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. “Our team is very skilled and our record is not reflective of who we were as a team. We have gained some confidence over the last few weekends, and we are just going to keep working hard to continue playing the way we are capable of.”

The Bears’ struggles are now behind them, as Brown became the hottest team in the ECAC over its last five games, winning four and tying one. Three of the Bears’ five wins in that time period have come against the ninth-, 10th- and 12th-place teams in the conference, but Brown also toppled No. 16 Harvard and took a 2-0 lead over No. 10 Quinnipiac before the game ended in a draw.

Heading into the final homestand of the season, Bruno has all of the momentum. Brown has a chance to escape the bottom of the ECAC and improve its standing right before the conference tournament. A pair of New York rivals — Cornell and Colgate — will make the trip to Providence, and both opponents have a lot on the line heading into the season’s home stretch.

Cornell (11-11-5, 9-8-3) will come Friday to Meehan Auditorium seventh in the ECAC, safely slated for a first-round home game and still in contention for a bye. Two points behind fourth-place Colgate and Harvard, the Big Red would have to get results against Brown and Yale and hope for one of those teams to slip up.

Cornell’s game plan has been defined throughout the course of the year: Ranked third-to-last in goals per game — one spot below the Bears — the Big Red relies on its defense and goaltending to win games. Mitch Gillam is the ECAC’s best goaltender in terms of save percentage but ranks eighth in saves during conference play. Cornell’s strong defense means Gillam does not need to make many saves, but when the sophomore is called upon, he usually does well.

“It’s all about getting pucks on net,” Naclerio said. “With most good goalies you need to get bodies in front of them and force them to make multiple saves. If we provide good screens and get secondary chances we will find ways to score goals.”

When the Big Red does score, the team often has junior Christian Hilbrich and sophomore Matt Buckles to thank. The two have combined for about 27 percent of Cornell’s goals this year. One of its biggest offensive weapons is Cole Bardreau, who has 14 assists in conference play this year, second only to Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey.

In the Bears’ final home game of the season Saturday, Colgate (18-11-3, 10-7-3) will head into Providence looking to lock up a bye. The Raiders will need to get one more point than Harvard this weekend if they want that elusive fourth bye, which will make their matchup with Brown pivotal.

Colgate is not much different from Cornell defensively: Ranked seventh in goals per game in the ECAC, the Raiders give up less than two goals a game, making them a top-four defensive team in the conference.

But Colgate is a lot more offensively proficient, with three forwards with double digits in goals this year. Akin to Bruno’s offense, the Raiders’ offense is led by two juniors and a senior, each with over 20 points on the year. The similarities don’t end there: The Colgate trio of Kyle Baun, Tyson Spink and Joe Wilson accounts for 40 percent of Colgate’s goals; Naclerio, Matt Lorito ’15 and Nick Lappin ’16 account for 49 percent of Brown’s goals.

But it has been a completely different tale in the net for the two sides. Charlie Finn has been a mainstay for Colgate between the pipes, winning ECAC Goalie of the Week honors three times this season.

In contrast, Bruno’s goalies have struggled mightily. Tyler Steel ’17 began the season as the starter but was never able to hold down the starting role, while Tim Ernst ’17 had his own share of difficulties. The goaltender’s play was so bad that Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 put Connor Maher ’18 in for two periods against the league’s best team despite the fact that he had never played a collegiate hockey game.

Now Ernst has just about grabbed the spot for good. He has been the starter for the entirety of the Bears’ unbeaten streak, giving up more than two goals in a game only once, during a 6-3 victory for Brown over RPI.

“Tim has been unbelievable for us these last five games,” Lorito said. “Our defensemen have definitely played a big role in his success, but he’s made some great saves at key times for us and that’s been the difference.”

If the season had ended after last weekend’s results, Brown would be heading up to Hanover for a series with Dartmouth, which has outscored the Bears by nine points this season after facing off in two games. With all of the teams tight in the standings, it is hard to assess where anyone ranked fourth to 11th in the conference will end up. But if Brown were to leapfrog Union, that would be enough to avoid the Big Green.

“It’s just important to just make sure we are playing our best hockey,” Naclerio said. “We know that we are getting on the road for the first round and it would be better to play a lower-ranked team, but we are just focused on playing our game and doing what makes us successful.”

This weekend also marks the last home game for the class of 2015 — Lorito, Joey De Concilys ’15, Kyle Quick ’15, Ryan Jacobson ’15 and Matt Harlow ’15. Lorito achieved his 100th career point last weekend with a two-assist showing against Princeton, but his work is not done.

“I’m just looking forward to helping this team go as far as possible,” Lorito said. “I’ve had a great career at Brown, and I don’t want it to end anytime soon. This team has grown a lot over the year, and although it has been tough at times, there’s not a group of guys I would rather play my last game at Brown with.”


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