DWC men’s hockey looks to recapture early-season magic

It’s been an eye-opening season for the Daniel Webster men’s college hockey team.

The Eagles have been competitive throughout, and they began their first full-fledged varsity schedule by winning three of their first five games.

But then, an eight game losing streak followed by a 10-game slide that just ended with this past weekend’s 7-1 win over Post University of Waterbury, Conn. has them at 4-20 overall with two to play on Feb. 26-27.

"I think the schedule has been a grind," Eagles coach Eric McCambly said. "We’ve had 18 away games. It’s definitely a grinding schedule for a group of young guys, but I know it’s a good start. They grasp the concept of mental toughness and the guys know they have to compete.

"Early on we caught a few teams by surprise who didn’t think we’d be as competitive as we are. A lot for us is adjusting to the speed and the quickness of the game."

One college coach had said recently that Division III men’s hockey is basically the speed of Division I without the size, and the Eagles are trying to improve on their speed and ability to defend it. Fourteen of their losses since the first losing streak began in early December have been by three goals or less.

"And a lot of the two-goal losses were with empty net goals at the end," McCambly said. "We feel we could be 16-8 if we were able to get the scoring to win some of those. We’re basically in one-goal games for about 47 minutes but there’s no stamina to take it over the hump.

"This year, it’s a different level altogether."

Remember, the Eagles played mostly a non-varsity schedule a year ago, their first year under McCambly with the elevation of the program to varsity status.

"The goal," McCambly said, "was to raise the expectations, raise the level, wnad also compete. We’ve successfully done that throughout the course of the season. … Before I used to have to beg teams to put us on their schedule, now teams are calling us for games. I take that as a sign of respect that we’re doing things the right way."

What’s been the statistical problem? Scoring goals.

The Eagles have had scorers in the past, including Merrimack’s David Downie, but this year they are struggling. The Eagles are averaging, at last look, 1.6 goals per game.

"In the past we could get away with big turns, stickhandling through people," McCambly said. "Now we’re playing teams with guys who have been top players on their junior teams. … The fundamentals are different."

For example, Zach Paisley leads DWC with just 10 points. Their goals leader is Ryan Murray with six, followed by Dan Bellafiore and Jeremy Hannah with four. Downie has a pair of goals and three assists for five points. An incredible difference from a year ago when he was a 20 goal scorer with 34 points.

But McCambly likes the way Downie, who had a goal and an assist the other night, is playing.

"He’s been doing really well," he said. "He struggled early while adapting to the speed. When he was a dominant player, some of his moves vs. teams that would work in the past don’t necessarily work now. The second half of the season he’s been pushing himself a lot harder in practice. He’s really getting it."

McCambly also likes the leadership the Eagles have been getting from junior defenseman Matt Rasimowicz-Howell out of Tyngsborough, Mass.

But he knows what he’s looking for on the recruiting trail.

"We need to plug in some key guys, some guys who have played a high level of junior hockey," he said.

"Guys who can add a little more offense, are more used to the transition game. We’ll look to add a couple of guys on defense as well. We need guys who can finish, who can handle the puck and be a little bit faster and stronger."

Off the ice, McCambly says his team’s spirits are good, that they have held on to the competitive spirit.

"From that aspect, it’s been pretty good," he said.

It’s just that on the ice, the Eagles will need to get better.

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Rivier Univeristy men’s volleyball junior Tyler Blank is fast becoming one of the school’s better athletes. Last week he was named the Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Player of the Week.

The Rochester, N.Y.native paced the Raiders to a 3-0 record in the recent Live Free or Die Invitational, quarterbacking the Raiders offense to a team hitting percentage of .314 and had 67 assists and a team high six blocks in a five-set win over MIT.

It’s the 14th time a student-athlete from Rivier University has garnered Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week honors, with the most recent coming from Aaron Almario on Feb. 4, 2014.

Meanwhile, Blank also earned a more local award as he was named the Rivier Male Student-Athlete of the Month for January.

Last month he was named to the Clash at Kean All Invitational Team and he led the GNAC with 11.07 assists/set. He was also named the GNAC Corvais Offensive Player of the Week on February 1st, for the final week of January as the setter averaged 11.50 assists and 2.50 digs per set while helping the Raider offense to a .252 hitting percentage. One of his best performances was a 50-assist, 16-dig performance against nationally-ranked Baruch.

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Don’t look now but Rivier men’s lacrosse is set to open up its season on Feb. 27, just a week from this Saturday, at Raider Field up on the hill. UMass-Boston will provide the opposition for the 1 p.m. game. The Raider women open up soon after,with a March 2 home game vs. Becker – at 7 p.m. Brrrrr…..

While Daniel Webster standout Jillian Gillman recorded the program’s first triple double (27 points, 22 rebounds, 14 blocks) since 2011 in a game vs. Southern Vermont, Eagle teammate Amanda Dargie (Melbourne, Fla.) had a career high 21 points in a loss to Newbury last weekend in the team’s home finale…

The struggling Rivier men’s basketball team picked up a huge win, 62-61, over Suffolk on the road, led by Anthony Simmons’ 12 points. Riv is 4-19 overall, 4-12 in the GNAC and may still be alive for a tourney berth.