Men’s college hockey: Amherst College buries St. Mike’s in home opener, 5-1

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  • Amherst College sophomore Connor McGinnis, left, and seniors Pieter von Steinbergs, Matteo Mangiardi celebrate a goal by Sean Wrenn, right, to put the Mammoths on the board in the first period of their 5-1 home-opening win over Saint Michael's College at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst College sophomore goal Alex Wisco sets to deflect a shot by Saint Michael's College in the second period of the Mammoths' 5-1 win over the Purple Knights in their home opener at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Amherst College junior defenseman Joey Verkerke, center, stops the progress Case Kantgias, left, of Saint Michael's College in the first period of the Mammoths' 5-1 win over the Purple Knights in their home opener at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. At right is Matt Schreiner for Saint Michael's. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Amherst College junior defenseman Joey Verkerke (14) takes a shot on goal past Connor Redden of Saint Michael's College in the first period of the Mammoths' 5-1 win over the Purple Knights in their home opener at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Amherst College sophomore forward Tyler Bourque, left, gets a stick under the glove of TJ Beaver of Saint Michael's College in the first period of the Mammoths' 5-1 win over the Purple Knights in their home opener at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Amherst College senior forward Nick Bondra, right, takes control of a puck given up by Colin O'Connor, far left, of Saint Michael's College under pressure from Pieter von Steinbergs (11) in the first period of the Mammoths' 5-1 win over the Purple Knights in their home opener at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Amherst College sophomore goal Alex Wisco snags a shot on goal by Saint Michael's College in the second period of the Mammoths' 5-1 win over the Purple Knights in their home opener at Orr Rink on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/23/2021 8:39:21 PM

AMHERST — After nearly two years without playing an official game in front of a home crowd at Orr Rink, the Amherst College men’s hockey team wasn’t going to walk away with anything less than a win.

The Mammoths skated away to a 5-1 win against St. Michael's College on Tuesday evening, earning their first win of the season on home ice.

“It was a little nerve-wracking, to be honest. We have so many new guys on the team that have never played a college game, and then I haven't played a college game in two years,” Amherst senior defenseman Pieter von Steinbergs said. “So it's been a lot of fun getting back out here. We definitely all missed it a lot.” 

Besides the lengthy gap between games (the NESCAC didn’t play sports in the 2020-21 school year), this year’s squad is full of younger players who suited up for their first college game just a couple of days ago. It’s something that head coach Jack Arena knew about going into the season, but that still doesn’t make it any easier when the puck drops.

“It's going to be a pretty steep learning curve. A lot of where we're at in a lot of areas, needs a lot of improvement and a lot of growth,” Arena said. “But that's what we expected coming into this year. And the nice thing is, we do have a lot of room to grow.” 

After scoring just one goal in their opening contest against Hamilton (a 5-1 loss), the Mammoths already showed quite a bit of improvement in Tuesday’s game against St. Michael’s. The offense exploded for five goals, and the majority of those came from seniors that Arena has said the team will rely heavily on. Nick Bondra led the team with two goals and an assist, while von Steinbergs had a hand in four of the team's five goals scored, posting a goal and notching three assists. Sean Wrenn picked up two points with a goal and an assist, and freshman Bobby Luca sealed the game with the empty-net goal late in the third. 

But while it was the seniors like Bondra, von Steinbergs and Wrenn who led the way on offense, it was sophomore Alex Wisco who stood strong in the crease, serving as the team's backbone in net and shutting down any momentum the Purple Knights generated.  

“He actually got a fair number of shots, some hectic situations that he handled well,” Arena said on Wisco's play. “In the second period, they started to take control a little bit and he did a good job, he kept it at 4-1.”

It was a proud moment for Wisco to get his first win in his first start. Though he said he wasn't really nervous going into the game – he just wanted to play and have a good time – this game has been a long, long time coming. 

“It's nice. The past like month or two, you're thinking about your first game and basically all the skates lead up to that. It feels really good to get the questions out of the way,” Wisco said. 

Amherst got things going early in the first period, despite St. Michael's coming out and sustaining some offensive pressure right after the initial puck drop. It was Wrenn who scored the first goal, tipping in a blast from the point by von Steinbergs on the power play 10 minutes into the first frame. Bondra doubled the team’s lead five minutes later, tipping the puck past netminder Marshall Murphy on the right side of the net. 

It was Bondra who struck again in the second period to make it 3-0, this time on a penalty kill that the Mammoths not only managed to kill, but capitalize offensively on. Special teams ended up playing a big role in the contest; the Mammoths took 10 penalties to the Purple Knights five, but managed to successfully kill all but one PP, and scored not only a short-handed goal, but two power play goals as well. 

“Our strength is ‘the beast,’” Bondra said of the team's penalty kill. “We like to just challenge the other team as quickly as possible, just get a lot of pressure on them and ultimately create turnovers and get the puck deep. It all starts with the forecheck, too. We try to get the puck towards the wall and then finish them off and then try to get the puck down the ice as quickly as possible.”

That strategy worked perfectly for Amherst on Tuesday. That said – the Mammoths need to work on staying out of the box, even if their penalty kill is up to the task of fending off the extra attacker.

“There will be some penalties in the course of the game just because of the nature of the game. When you see penalties that are come from not skating, come from a lack of discipline, you've got to put a stop to that right away," Arena said. 

Von Steinbergs made it 4-0 late in the second period, and though St. Michael’s did score to make it 4-1 in the dying seconds of a power play, the Mammoths didn't allow another goal, and Luca scored the empty-netter to seal the game.

Amherst next travels to Utica College for its Thanksgiving Tournament beginning Friday at 7 p.m. The Mammoths don’t play another home game until Jan. 4 against Curry College.




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