One of the problems the UNE hockey team has had in its two seasons of NCAA competition is consistency. Whether it’s within one game or from one game to the next, reliable effort has been lacking from this program. Every one of the seven wins UNE has earned as a varsity program has been followed by at least three losses.
After Tuesday’s win over Franklin Pierce, the Nor’easters head to Malden, Massachusetts to face perhaps the ideal opponent against which to break that unfortunate trend. The Tufts Jumbos are 4-14-1, having lost their last 12 games to plummet into last place in NESCAC.
On paper, the two teams seem evenly matched. Both teams have 51 goals on the year, and both have been poor defensively, especially on the power play. The Nor’easters are still seeking their first road win while the Jumbos haven’t done well at home.
Motivation could be a key factor. Both squads are in last place, but UNE will be going to the playoffs because ECAC East members St. Anselm and St. Michael’s compete in Division II in other sports and are therefore ineligible to participate in NCAA Division III postseason play, meaning the league’s other 8 teams automatically get a playoff spot. NESCAC, on the other hand, does not have any schools that drop down to D-III for hockey, so the bottom two teams go home at the end of the regular season. The Jumbos aren’t officially out yet, but they’d need a lot of help to get in, and judging by their recent play (their last six losses have all been by three goals or more) the Jumbos aren’t exactly going down fighting for their playoff lives.
The Nor’easters, on the other hand, have the playoffs to prepare for, and they should be using these last four games to prepare and get some momentum heading into the postseason. Assuming it can bring some intensity to the Bay State, there’s no reason UNE can’t grab its first consecutive varsity triumphs.
The Nor’easters then swing south to take on Connecticut College in another winnable contest. The 6-11-3 Camels, currently the other NESCAC club on the outside of the playoff bubble, are a hard team to figure, having beaten conference leaders Bowdoin and Middlebury but being largely unimpressive otherwise. Like Tufts, Connecticut College has struggled lately, losing four straight and only posting two goals in each contest.
Unlike the Jumbos, though, the Camels are only two points out of a playoff berth, so Saturday’s game might come down to whether or not they come out like their season is on the line. Neither team has played particularly well on a regular basis, so we’ll just have to see who wants it more.