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Key Contests Ahead for Fitchburg State Hockey Team

November 14, 2018

Fitchburg State goalie Brian McGrath makes a save during a Nov. 16, 2017, game against Framingham State at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg. McGrath has been named MASCAC Goaltender of the Week after a pair of outstanding performances. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE FILE PHOTOS Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- After a somewhat rocky start to the season, the Fitchburg State hockey team looks to be rounding into form.

Coming off a 1-0-1 week, the Falcons face a pair of tough MASCAC foes this week. Head coach Dean Fuller says that while things went pretty well over the last couple of contests, there’s still work to be done.

“We’re still trying to sort things out,” Fuller said. “It’s still a process. We’ve fluctuated with personnel on the power play, trying to see who’s best in what spot. I think we’re going to get better as the semester goes on.

“Even with a lot of kids back from last season, there are different responsibilities for different guys, so we’re still adjusting.”

Fitchburg State (2-2-1, 1-0-1 MASCAC) plays at Framingham State Thursday night before traveling to Salem State for a 2 p.m. tilt on Saturday.

“This is a big four-point weekend for us,” Fuller said.

The week that was: The Falcons jumped out to a 2-0 lead last Thursday, but were unable to hold on, settling for a 2-all draw with Plymouth State at the Wallace Civic Center. Things could’ve been worse, though, if not for the efforts of sophomore netminder Brian McGrath, who turned aside 52 shots in regulation and overtime to preserve the tie.

Freshman Ryan Murphy and sophomore Sascha Figi (4-4-8) scored in the contest for the Falcons.

There was no sign of fatigue two days later, as the Falcons stormed past Anna Maria, 4-1. Figi potted a pair of markers in the game, while senior Nick DiNicola (2-7-9) reached the 100-point plateau with a a goal and three assists in the victory.

Senior defenseman Josh Victor also potted a goal in the win.

McGrath stopped 29 shots in the win over the AmCats and was subsequently named MASCAC Goaltender of the Week for his efforts in the two contests.

Energy from the third line: Balance will be a key for the Falcons going forward. The first two lines will be looked to for points, but the contributions of the third line -- comprised of Dean Zerby, Patrick Germain and Fitchburg native Brandon Ecklund -- will come mostly in ways that might not show up on the scoresheet.

The line is looked to for getting into the corners, pressuring the opposing defense and providing high energy. And it’s a role the forwards have excelled at.

“That’s what we’re looking for from them: to get pucks deep and forecheck hard and make the opposition work really hard to get the puck out,” Fuller said. “They’re also guys that we use on the penalty kill, so they’re getting a lot of special teams time, working on the PK unit.”

The trio has played in all five games so far this season. To this point, Zerby has a goal and an assist, while Germain has a marker and Ecklund has picked up a helper.

“Our first two lines are lines that are going to be able to put up some points and what we get from Ecklund’s line is a bonus,” Fuller said. “They’re certainly capable of scoring.”

New kids on the ice: While most of last year’s MASCAC tournament title team is back, the Falcons still had a few holes to fill coming into the season. And while that remains a work in progress, Fuller has seen a pair of freshmen jump in and take advantage of sizable roles.

Ryan Murphy, a forward from Wayzata, Minnesota, has a goal and an assist through five games, while Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, native Jordin Holmes is a plus-2 on the season playing on the blueline.

“Murphy has been playing first or second power play, but it’s a learning curve for him,” Fuller said. “And back on defense, Holmes is playing regularly and doing a nice job for us. I’m really pleased with those two and we’re hoping they’ll continue to contribute.

“We’ve got a couple kids who are in and out, getting some experience when we need them.”

Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter @n_mallard.

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