Huge Friday (Feb 1, 2012) night coming up in the NESCAC

The scheduling gods have conspired so that each of the top 6 NESCAC teams will be playing another top 6 team on Friday night, opening up multiple opportunities to shake up the standings and to gain and lose tie-breaker opportunities. All 3 games (plus Tufts at Conn College) will be carried live on the Internet (go here for links):

# 5 Amherst (7-4-1 in the NESCAC (15 points); 11-5-2 overall) at # 1 Bowdoin (10-1-1 in the NESCAC (21 points); 16-1-1 overall): The best offense meets one of the 3 no. 1 defenses — something has got to give!! Bowdoin scores goals at a nice clip of 4.33 goals per game, while the stingy Amherst defense allows only 1.88 goals per game and is tied for no. 1 in the league with the Trinity and Williams defenses.  On the other hand, Amherst’s anemic offense is the weakest of the top-tier teams at no. 7 and just 2.5 goals per game while Bowdoin’s defense is almost as strong as Amherst’s, allowing only 2.00 goals per game. Bowdoin’s only loss of the season was its Jan 11 6-5 OT loss to Wesleyan; otherwise, its been perfect and already scored a 3-2 win over Amherst on the road on Jan 4. After a slow start, Amherst with only 2 losses in its last 10 games (a bad 7-4 loss to Trinity on Jan 26 and the tough 3-2 loss to Bowdoin), has been on a bit of a roll itself. Should be a good one in Brunswick and a good indicator of how far the skilled and talented Polar Bears will go this year and whether Amherst can tap into a last season’s magic in the stretch run.

# 3 Trinity (7-2-3 in the NESCAC (16 points); 10-4-3 overall) at # 2 Williams (9-2-1 in the NESCAC (19 points); 12-4-2 overall): This game features 2 of the 3 top defensive teams in the NESCAC, with both teams allowing only 1.83 goals per game and tying Amherst in this category. Just as the teams are evenly matched defensively, so too are they evenly matched in the offensive zone, with Williams having the fourth best offense at 3. 17 goals per game and Trinity next in line at no. 5 in the league (2.92 goals per game). Williams is on a 4-game win streak but struggled to defeat Wentworth Institute of Technology, 1-0, on Monday night. Trinity is also on a 4-game win streak, with only 1 loss (a 5-2 loss to Bowdoin) in the last 8 games. A wild card for Trinity is the availability of top scorer Chris Menard, who did not play against Amherst. Williams has just regained the services of offensive ace Craig Kitto, who returned to action for the WIT game after missing all previous games. When last these 2 teams met in Hartford, the game ended in a 2-2 tie, which means that the winner of Friday night’s game will have the tie breaker if the 2 teams end up deadlocked in the final standings.

# 6 Wesleyan (5-5-2 in the NESCAC (12 points); 9-7-2 overall) at # 4 Middlebury (7-3-2 in the NESCAC (16 points); 8-8-2 overall): Both teams are have strong offenses (Middlebury is second to Bowdoin at 3.92 goals per game while Wesleyan is third at 3.67) but both teams have been prone to defensive lapses (Wesleyan’s defense is fifth in the league (2.67 GPG while Middlebury is tied for sixth (2.92 GPG). Wesleyan has been playing well of late but did lose to Middlebury on Jan 4 in Middletown by a score of 4-3. This is important game for Wesleyan in terms of establishing some consistency for its stretch run as it did not impress in its 3-1 loss against Amherst this past Friday. It’s an equally important game for Middlbeury, which has won only 4 times in its last 11 games, and needs to build on its successful Conn College-Tufts road trip this past weekend to make a run for a home game in the NESCAC play-offs.

Other games, with important implications for who captures the last 2 play-off spots, are:

# 7 Hamilton (3-7-2 in the NESCAC (8 points); 5-10-3 overall) at # 10 Colby (1-10-1 in the NESCAC (3 points); 3-13-2 overall: There is symmetry in this game as the 9th worst offense (Hamilton scores only 2.00 goals per game) meets the 9th worst defense (Colby gives up 4.42 goals per game). Hamilton is playing without scoring ace Mike DiMare (out with season-ending surgery) and struggled mightily against Wesleyan in an 11-3 loss this past weekend (a much better performance was provided the day before in a 1-0 loss to Trinity). Colby needed a goal from Ben Chwick with 6 seconds to go to come away with a tie in Tuesday’s OOC game with UNE. This is an important game for Hamilton in terms of securing play-off slot and even more important for Colby in terms of qualifying for the play-offs with a late season surge.

# 9 Tufts (1-9-2 in the NESCAC (4 points); 6-10-2 overall) at # 8 Conn College (1-8-3 in the NESCAC (5 points); 5-10-3 overall): The worst defense (Tufts at 4.67 goals per game) meets the worst offense (Conn College at a mere 1.92 goals per game). This weekend’s back-to-back games between these 2 travel partners could go a long way to deciding which team sneaks into the NESCAC play-offs in that last 8th spot. Both teams  have struggled all season long but both are also capable of pushing the high-ranked teams, with Tufts having tied Wesleyan and Trinity and defeated Wesleyan and Conn College having tied both Middlebury and Amherst and losing in OT to Williams. Tufts has been playing without leading scorer and NESCAC first teamer Kyle Gallegos since Jan 18 and played with a short bench in its Tuesday OOC contest with Suffolk, dressing only 17 skaters. A strong weekend by either team will go a long way toward pushing the teams the ends up on the short end of the stick out of the play-off picture.

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