January 23, 2014
Over the past three years, Hamilton sports teams have worked hard at developing a foothold in the Northeastern Small College Athletic Conference. The results have not always been ideal, but across sports, teams are starting to establish more consistency, and playoffs are becoming the expectation rather than the hope.
The men’s hockey team, which has finished eighth in the conference the past two years, embodies a Hamilton team trying to get over the hump. It’s been an uneven ride for the squad, as the team has yet to put together a winning streak, and is just 2-6 on the road.
The Continentals have fought their way up to seventh with an overall record of 4-8-1 and 3-6-1 in the NESCAC. Hamilton showed solid resolve over a six-game road stretch—after dropping the first four, the Continentals defeated Tufts 3-2, then earned a half game in the standings with a 3-4 overtime loss to Connecticut College.
Team captain Evan Haney ’14 believes the execution has improved over the recent stretch, even if the results have been underwhelming. “Coming into the New Year, our coaching staff outlined several points of emphasis for our team to improve upon,” Haney explained. “Despite the outcomes of those games over break, we did make significant strides in some of those areas. However, we have struggled to consistently do the little things that are needed to win games,” he added. “We have not played a team that is better than us this year. At this point, our task is simple. We need to do the things that have proven to give us success on a consistent basis.”
In a sport like hockey, where a team might only generate a handful of scoring opportunities, those “little things” manifest themselves in the standings.
Hamilton is among the better even -strength teams in the conference, but their special teams units have struggled in power play situations. After a blistering start for the power play unit, the Continentals have slipped to seventh in the NESCAC, down to a 17.6 percent scoring rate. Moreover, Hamilton has compiled the most penalty minutes in the conference, stressing the penalty kill unit.
Defensemen Conor Lamberti ’17 is one of the team leaders in ice time, and he highlighted the avoidable burden penalties have placed on the Conts. “As a team, we started taking too many penalties during our last few weekends,”said Lamberti. “We were unable to create much of a flow to our game when we were constantly killing penalties. Our coaches have emphasized playing smart and disciplined over the past few weeks.”
It is no coincidence that Hamilton has seen a positive turn the past two games. The Continentals received just 14 total penalty minutes against Tufts and Connecticut College, slicing a huge chunk off their 16.8 penalty minutes per game average. With Hamilton avoiding long stretches in the penalty box, the Continentals outshot both squads, giving themselves golden opportunities to win.
They must sustain this focus on discipline, as Hamilton will close its season with an eight-game NESCAC stretch against schools they have already faced. That includes a road game against Wesleyan on Feb. 1 and a home skate against Connecticut College Feb. 16, the two teams in closest competition with Hamilton for the final NESCAC playoff spots.
For Lamberti and the Continentals, vengeance is a strong motivator, in addition to the playoff chase. “We’re looking forward to each weekend and trying to get four points,” Lamberti assured, “but I think as we play our second game against each NESCAC team, there is a motivation to try and beat the teams that we lost to earlier in the year. I think everyone will be a little more eager to get revenge on those teams.”
Hamilton men’s hockey is no longer a NESCAC minnow, but they are not a shark yet either. To truly elevate to contender status, the Continentals must string together a winning streak as the season winds down, and bring their best hockey on a nightly basis. With Hamilton taking a step forward with their recent form, as Haney concluded, “It has shown in our play...when we’ve played the kind of hockey that we are capable of, we have been a force.”