An 11-1 loss at home to Millersville University isn’t quite the way the Seton Hall club ice hockey team had hoped to close out the fall semester as they approach a hiatus for the winter recess. Still, the 4-8-1 Pirates find themselves right in the thick of things.
The team has struggled mightily in non-conference play, winless in all seven contests. Though, while the out-of-conference schedule has been unkind to the Pirates, seeing them outscored by opponents 51-24, the conference schedule sees the blue and white with a 4-2-1 record, sitting atop the conference standings and a chance to have home advantage in the post-season, with six games remaining.
The two losses in conference play have come against the only teams seeded ahead of them in the standings. A 7-4 loss to West Chester University on Oct. 26 and an 11-1 loss to Millersville University in the team’s last game before the break on Nov. 22 have been the only blemishes in conference. Wins over state-rivals NJIT, TCNJ and Princeton along with a win over the University of Pennsylvania and a 5-5 tie at TCNJ have put the Hall in good position when their season resumes on Saturday, Jan. 17 when the team heads to the historic Hobey Baker Rink to take on Princeton.
First-year head coach Gary Biggs noted that despite a record that might otherwise indicate a poor season (4-9-1), the team’s play in their own conference has been impressive.
“We’ve been competitive,” Biggs said. “Every night in our league, any team can win, and we’ve found ways to win. We’re starting to get that on a more consistent basis.”
The nearly two-month break comes just as the Pirates were starting to find some of that consistency, but Biggs said it couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time.
“We were starting to get dinged up a bit with injuries,” he said. “We’re going to come back and it’s basically going to be playoff time—every game matters. That break will let guys rest up and be ready to go.”
While co-captains and seniors Carl Meixsell and Jeff Kuper, along with sophomore defensemen and assistant captain Bryan Nagy make up some of the solid leadership core, but it’s been freshman Charlie Mule’ leading the way offensively. The forward leads all scoring stats including goals, assists and points, this coming in spite of the fact that the forward has missed three games this season.
“I’ve liked how he’s came in as a freshman and is putting up points,” Biggs said. “We really rely on him.”
Senior and team captain Meixsell also praised the freshman’s production.
“It means a lot whenever a freshman can come in and help the team out,” Meixsell said. “He leads by example. He shows even the sophomores and juniors how to play.”
One area the Pirates know will have to be good when they return to play their final six games of the season is goaltending. Junior Zack Peras and freshman Brian Uzzo have split starts this season. Peras has gone 3-4 on the season with a .590 save percentage. Uzzo has gone 1-4, despite having a solid .890 save percentage. For the coaching staff who starts is dependent on which one has the hot hand, Biggs said.
“Sometimes Zack is on, sometimes Brian is on,” he said. “We’re going to play the hot hand, especially toward the end. We need these wins. We need our goaltending to be very consistent.”
The coach added that he’s liked the response from the two net minders after some struggles to open the season.
“Early on, they were a little bit rusty, they didn’t really know how to handle things,” Biggs said. “They’re starting to really come into their zone.”
Approaching the long break, Biggs is still focused on the final stretch of the regular season and with the conference play looking good his team appears to be in good shape. There are still areas of improvement though.
“We’re looking to play more of a complete game,” Biggs said. “We can skate with any team in the league, it’s just whether or not, on any given night, we’re going to give our A-game.”
Neal McHale can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @nealmchale.