After a very hot start in which they won their first six games, the club hockey team has cooled down, their record now standing at 7-4.
The season began with a 9-1 blowout win at Auburn, followed by back-to-back victories against UNC-Charlotte. Three more wins followed, including a 5-4 overtime thriller at Clemson, before the team suffered its first loss of the year at Charleston. Then the team hit a rough stretch, losing three games in three consecutive nights to Alabama, Florida, and East Carolina. The team now holds the sixth best record out of the 47 teams in their division.
Forward Kenny McCreary is the President of the club team and is currently third on the team with 16 points, scoring five goals and 11 assists.
He and his line mates Matt Zaske and Erik Moore have combined to produce 18 of the team’s 52 goals this year. He is a vocal leader on the ice and shared his thoughts about the team’s season so far, before the team’s most recent two games.
“We started the season hot,” McCreary said. “We beat UNC-Charlotte two games back to back, and they’re a top ten or top five team sometimes in our division. So we started out strong, but with two losses now, this is a big weekend for us because we play three teams that will probably end up in the top ten. Alabama’s a top five team and we have ECU on Saturday and they’re ranked in the top ten now.”
McCreary racked up the assists but had a tough time scoring goals earlier in the year, in part due to the changes in lines from previous years. However, he appeared to hit his stride in the Alabama game, contributing two goals in a 9-5 loss in which his line scored all five goals for the Jackets.
Zaske and Ryan Fritz are tied for the team lead in goals, assists, and points, with 10, 10 and 20, respectively. Both players have been integral members of this team for quite some time, and they are the team’s go-to guys when they need a goal.
“[Against Alabama], we were missing a couple of guys on D from injuries, so we had to put [Fritz] back on D because he has a good hard shot and he’s trustworthy at the point. We get accused by our coach of riding him a little too much sometimes when we need a goal. He’s been one of the best players in our division since he came here,” said goaltender Michael Klein.
“We’re just expecting him to do it,” McCreary said.
Klein has been with the team for five seasons and splits time in net with teammate CJ Layer. It is unconventional for a hockey team to have “dual starters” in net, but Klein says it puts the team at an advantage.
“Me and CJ are both fifth-year seniors, and it’s basically like starting pitchers,” Klein said. “We basically split up the schedule, and it kind of gives us a leg up on other teams because he and I are always rested and they don’t know who they’re going to be facing ahead of time. I really can’t tell you who is better; I think we’re pretty much exactly the same.”
The team now holds the sixth best record out of the 47 teams in their division.
“It’s nice to have that confidence that it doesn’t matter which goalie is playing. We know that he’s going to be stopping pucks,” McCreary said.
The two goaltenders’ different play styles contribute to the team’s success, as opposing teams must strategize differently depending on who is playing.
This can sometimes mean the Jackets must play more alertly as well, as the puck may come whizzing down the ice when they do not expect it.
“CJ is a lot more aggressive than I am as far as playing the puck goes,” Klein said. “He’s a little more adventurous outside the net. I’m a little more stay-at-home than he is as far as our styles go. The only difference I would say is the forwards coming down in our zone got to be ready to catch a pass flying out from CJ cause he’ll send it. I’m usually going to set it up for the D.”
Even after playing goalie for several years, Klein made a slight positional adjustment as the season began that he hopes will improve his game.
“I tweaked something with my glove hand positioning at the beginning of the semester and it’s starting to click,” Klein said. “But it was one of those things at the beginning of the semester [where] I would be thinking about it while people would be coming down on me and I’m like, ‘What am I doing with my hands?’ But now the muscle memory is starting to take over and I’m feeling back to normal and not second guessing myself. … I like to relate myself to Tiger Woods with his swing change: it worked for a long time but it was time for an adjustment. It took a little while but I’m getting used to it.”
One breakout player recognized by McCreary has been freshman Jack Kisor. Freshmen usually have to compete for playing time and receive very little of it, but so far, the team has relied on Kisor whenever one of the veterans is out of the lineup. He has delivered two goals and two assists, making him the highest scoring freshman on the team.
McCreary addressed the concern over the team’s recent losing streak.
“The team as a whole, we really just need to step it up,” McCreary said. “We started out really good then we kind of slowed down these past couple of games and if we want to be where we need to be at the end of the season we have to start taking games more seriously and getting those wins that we need to get.”
“We show up expecting a win a little to a fault I think sometimes, which sometimes can make us play down to the teams that are worse than us, but usually we get out alive,” Klein said.
The team hopes to be back to winning sooner rather than later, as the upcoming games are against relatively top level talent. The team hosts the Citadel and Vanderbilt these next two Fridays before traveling to play Central Florida and South Florida in back-to-back nights. The first game against University of Georgia is also this month, at home on Nov. 22.
“I think it’s just a matter of who we’re playing. When we know we’re playing against a good team we know we have to bring it that night and that makes a big difference,” McCreary said.