MEDFORD – A more experienced Tufts University men's hockey team will look to be a factor in the competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCASC) this winter as a new seasons starts this weekend.
Fourth-year head coach Pat Norton and his staff's roster is stacked with sophomores and juniors who have played valuable minutes for the Jumbos. A new class of eight freshmen will get a chance to contribute as well. Captain Clay Berger is the lone senior on the roster.
"The strength of this team is our depth," Norton said. "I think we have a lot of guys that are able to step in and contribute. If we run into some injuries, or we want to make some adjustments to the line-up, I think we have players available to us that will give us options."
|Junior Tyler Scroggins is the top returning scorer|
The Jumbos had their moments last season, including victories against Amherst and Hamilton teams that were top-four seeds in the conference championship, as well as a victory against conference semi-finalist Williams. A 2-2 tie against an Endicott team that was ranked #2 nationally at the time also stood out. However, the Jumbos will need more consistency in order to make a mark in the challenging league.
Tufts need only look to last year for an example of how things can play out in the competitive NESCAC. Sixth-seed Colby College won the conference title and then advanced all the way to the NCAA "Final Four."
"Our team goals for the season are the same as they have been, we want to win a NESCAC Championship," Norton said. "It is a very tight league, and in order to achieve the larger goal we first need to qualify for the post-season, and then we want to host a first round game at the Forum. We want to put ourselves in the best position possible to be successful."
The Jumbos graduated 2017 All-Conference goaltender Nik Nugnes as well as leading scorer Brian Brown and reliable defenseman Dan Kelly. However, 21 players who suited up for the brown and blue last season are back and the Jumbos will rely on that experience to be much improved this year.
The junior class will need to step up. It features a solid defensive core with assistant captain Cooper Stahl, Jordan Haney, Cory Gottfried and Jaret Koger. The junior forwards are Tyler Scroggins (6-7-13), Anthony Farinacci, Blake McIntyre, Ross Delabruere and assistant captain Machlan Sawden, all who will join the senior Berger in an effort to be offensive leaders in 2018-19.
Freshmen were six of Tufts' top eight scorers last season and should build on that. Mason Babbidge and Charley Borek, both 4-4-8 last year, along with Brendan Ryan, Hayden Smith, Peter Hatton, Edward Hannon and Andrew Hadley are a strong young nucleus up front for Tufts. Craig Uyeno, Michael Gordon and Tom Tresca make up the sophomore blue-liners.
Sophomore Drew Hotte is the only goalie returning with experience, having played in seven games last season. Sophomore Tyler Haywood and freshman Josh Sarlo are also in the mix as the Jumbos look to replace Nugnes.
Playing better team defense is high on Tufts' to-do list, as is improving power-play production and generally playing like a more seasoned team.
"We need to work harder through all three zones, making sure we are quick not hurried," Norton said. "We need to be patient in our positioning, and have more poise with the puck both on breakout, and when attacking the net. Our power play needs to be an asset for us over the season. If we keep it simple, we should have more success."
The Jumbos will get a good first look at where they're at in NESCAC as they open the year against defending #1 seed Trinity College on Friday (7 pm) and against a Wesleyan team that was on one of the league's most improved squads last year on Saturday (4 pm). Both games are at Valley Forum.