The Connecticut College men's hockey team will host NESCAC rivals Williams and Middlebury for conference action at Dayton Arena this weekend.
Friday night, the Camels will clash with the 11th ranked Ephs from Williams College at 7. Saturday, the Panthers, who are receiving votes in this week's USCHO poll, arrive to New London for a 3:00 p.m. conference tilt.
The Camels are playing some of their best hockey of the season right now. Under the direction of 2014 NESCAC Coach of the Year Jim Ward, the improving Camels have posted a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games to even their record at 7-7-2.
The Camels opened the New Year in impressive fashion by winning the 50th Annual Codfish Bowl Tournament at UMass-Boston. Connecticut College defeated the fifth ranked UMass-Boston Beacons 4-1 in the first round and won a shootout against Lake Forest in a grueling battle that went to the eighth round before senior captain Zach Jones scored the difference maker for the Camels.
"I wasn't really expecting to have my name called by Coach," Jones said. "But he gave me the nod so I just went out and shot five-hole. Winning this tournament does a lot for our confidence. A lot of the NESCAC teams that we play are ranked right now so it's a good boost for us and it's just good for our overall team moral."
It was a gratifying weekend for junior goaltender Tom Conlin who was playing just a few minutes away from his hometown of Norwood, Mass.
Conlin was honored as the Tournament's Most Valuable Player. The junior returned to the Commonwealth to stop 69 of 71 shots, compiling a1.04 goals against average to go with an impressive .971 save percentage for the tournament champions.
Conlin has posted an impressive 2.58 GAA to go with a .911 save percentage to lead the Camels this season.
Conlin joined classmate Tim DiPretoro as the second Camel to be honored as a NESCAC Player of the Week this Season with his selection January 12.
"I saw a lot of familiar faces on UMass-Boston in particular so it was nice to get a win against some guys I used to play with in front of a home crowd for myself," Conlin said. That was definitely a nice feeling."
Senior forward JC Cangelosi was impressed with Conlin's dominating performance between the pipes.
"Tom has played absolutely phenomenal for us," Cangelosi said. "He's been focused in practice and he's definitely one of our hardest working guys in the gym as well. He's been squaring up to shooters and making saves and making some big saves when we've really needed it. "
It's been a balance effort for the Camels. Cangelosi is the program's leading active scorer with 32 goals and 36 assists for 68 points. DiPretoro was honored as the NESCAC Player of the Week back in December and leads the team in total offensive production with 14 points, having accounted for four goals and 10 assists. Junior Joe Birmingham, a transfer from the University of Connecticut, has made a seamless transition into the NESCAC style of play, supplying a team-best nine goals for the Camels.
The talented trio of Cangelosi, DiPretoro and Birmingham are reunited now as friends and line-mates in the collegiate ranks after playing together at the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.
The Camels knocked off a 10th ranked Bowdoin College squad in New London December 5. On the next day, Connecticut College rallied from a 5-2 third period deficit to tie a talented Colby College squad.
In the final days of practice in December and the first few days back from the holiday break, the Camels focused on their penalty killing execution.
That investment paid dividends at the Codfish Bowl. Connecticut College was a perfect 9-for-9 on its penalty kill.
In the shootout win against Lake Forest, the Camels skated off a two-minute minor during the overtime period that kept the game scoreless.
"We focused a lot on our penalty kill after the games against Bowdoin and Colby," Cangelosi said. "We worked on our starts and stops and where we should be positionally and getting our sticks in the lane. That's helped us a lot. We also did a lot of conditioning which helped. When they are pushing the puck at the point. we're pushing their defense, trying to force them to make mistakes. "
Seniors Will Leedy, Marc Roper along with sophomore Greg Liautaud and freshman Mason Evans have been key contributors to the Camel defense. The team features 13 freshmen which should also bode well for the future growth of the program.
"We have a lot of really skilled younger guys on the team that are coming in and taking advantage of the opportunities that are given," Jones said. "They are just trying to do as much as they can to help the team. They might not be a go to guy right away but they are playing a good supporting role right now and that's really important for the whole team to be successful."
Jones and the Camels are looking forward to hosting a faculty appreciation night. The team should get a nice boost from Camel Nation with five of their final eight conference games scheduled to be playing the friendly confines of Dayton Arena.
Admission to both games this weekend is free of charge.
Drop the puck!