Coming off of its first three-game winning streak in more than two years, the men’s hockey team is in prime position to end the regular season strongly and head into the postseason with confidence.
Standing in Bruno’s way (4-13-1, 7-17-1 ECAC) are two of the hottest teams in the ECAC, No. 10 Quinnipiac and Princeton. The Bears’ opponents have had markedly different seasons, as the Bobcats (20-8-2, 15-2-1) sit at the top of the ECAC standings and the Tigers (4-17-3, 2-14-2) occupy the bottom slot. But both teams are on streaks of their own: Princeton earned three out of a possible four points last weekend, including a surprising tie against second-place Saint Lawrence, while Quinnipiac has not lost in over a month.
Bruno’s Friday opponent is Princeton, which, after an eight-game losing streak in the middle of the season, has recently racked up some conference points. The Tigers got their second conference win last week against Clarkson and are a mere three points behind the Bears in the ECAC standings.
Princeton and Brown tied 2-2 in their previous matchup, a back-and-forth game in which untimely penalties marred Bruno’s otherwise decent performance. Sam Lafferty ’18 and Brandon Pfeil ’16 got the goals in a game that broke the Bears’ five-game conference losing streak.
The Tigers average an abysmal 1.38 goals per game, worst in the conference and nearly half a goal worse than the next closest team. Their power play percentage is just slightly above the conference-worst Bears, and they have registered only 594 shots this season, 50 behind the nearest conference opponent. Despite those statistics, Brown will have to remain alert defensively.
“A lot of our offense comes from defense,” said Matt Lorito ’15. “So as long as we’re playing the way we need to, we are going to get our chances, and then it’s just about finishing.”
But Princeton has gotten a huge boost from goalie Colton Phinney. The sophomore let in two goals in two games last weekend, including a 34-save effort against the third highest-scoring team in the ECAC. The netminder was awarded Goalie of the Week honors from the ECAC, as he registered the most saves of any goalie and recorded the league’s second-best save percentage last weekend.
The in-form first line of Lorito, Mark Naclerio ’16 and Nick Lappin ’16 will face Phinney. The trio has averaged 2.5 points per game in the last three weeks, a stark improvement from the beginning of the year. Lorito is sitting on 99 points for his career, which will likely change this weekend. The senior has been held pointless over a weekend just once this season, in a home-and-home with Yale in which Brown scored one goal in two games.
“It’s definitely a great achievement, but I’m not really concentrating on that now,” Lorito said. “I’m just trying to help our team win whatever way I can. I’m sure I’ll look back at it one day and appreciate it more, but right now, I’m just focused on playing the right way.”
The second line combination of first-year NHL draftees Lafferty, Tyler Bird ’18 and Max Willman ’18 should also stick together this weekend. The trio were on the same line against Princeton in the teams’ previous matchup, which resulted in a goal for Lafferty.
For the Bears, a matchup with Princeton is a must-win if they want to move up a couple of spots — suddenly an attainable goal. Bruno trails RPI and Union by five and four points, respectively.
“Every game from now on is a must-win game,” Naclerio said. “We are playing each one like it’s the playoffs and are focused on our play and not necessarily who we are playing.”
Saturday, the Bears will take on league-leading Quinnipiac, which needs only one win this weekend to clinch at least a share of the ECAC title. Unfortunately for Brown, Quinnipiac could come into its matchup with the Bears needing a win to clinch the title outright, which rules out a lack of motivation from the Bobcats.
Quinnipiac’s strong conference record is even more impressive in light of the ECAC’s incredible competition from top to bottom. The Bobcats rank in the ECAC’s top five in both goals per game and goals against per game, leading the league in the latter statistic in conference play.
Forwards Landon Smith, Sam Anas and Matthew Peca all rank at the top of the conference in individual scoring as well, with Peca setting the conference pace in assists this season. Smith already has 14 goals on the season, which means he is far and away the leading freshman goal-scorer in the ECAC.
Though netminder Michael Garteig has not been as impressive as Quinnipiac’s forwards, he does rank in the top five in goals against average this season. But in the two conference losses for the Bobcats against Clarkson and Harvard Garteig registered save percentages below 90 percent.
“It’s important to just get pucks going north and to put them behind their defensemen,” Naclerio said. “We are a fast team and are successful when we use our speed and take care of the puck.”
Garteig recorded a save percentage of .880 against the Bears in the teams’ previous matchup this year, but the Brown offense was no match for Quinnipiac’s high-flying forwards. Smith had a hat trick and Bruno went down 3-0 early, a hole that not even a hat trick from Naclerio could overcome. The Connecticut native has had some success against the Bobcats, registering six points in five games against the current league leaders.
“I don’t think it’s anything specific about Quinnipiac,” Naclerio said, adding that he prepares for Quinnipiac the same way he would prepare for any other team.
“Quinnipiac is obviously a great team, as they proved over the past few years,” Lorito said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us to try and grab two points in their rink, but I think having played them once already, we know we can play with them. It’s just going to be about playing solid defensively for a full 60 minutes and finishing our opportunities when they come.”