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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The second half of New England Hockey Conference play begins this weekend, as the Skidmore College ice hockey team hosts Castleton and Norwich at the Saratoga City Rink. A stretch of three league home games in four begins this Friday, as Skidmore hosts Castleton in the annual 'Youth Hockey Night' contest at 7 p.m. This contest serves to honor and support all the local youth hockey programs in the Saratoga region. The first 50 youth hockey players will be entered into a giveaway and there will be a youth hockey contest played during intermission. On Saturday, Skidmore will host Norwich at 4 p.m. "We are excited to get back into league play this weekend against two very good opponents in Castleton and Norwich," said head coach Rob Hutchison. "We'll see two very different styles of play and will need to make some adjustments to our game plans throughout the weekend to be successful. Our top priority is staying connected for 60 full minutes each night and maintaining the level of focus we have shown at points during the fall and start to this semester. We also have the opportunity to honor and recognize the local youth hockey programs on Friday night." Skidmore (8-6-1, 4-3-1 NEHC) sits in fifth place in the conference standings at the season's midway point. They are one point behind Hobart and New England College, and currently hold a tie breaker and have a game in hand over NEC. Skidmore will play a home-and-home series with ninth-ranked Hobart on Jan. 18-19. In their last game, the Thoroughbreds wrapped up non-conference play with a 5-1 loss at Utica last Friday. Will Steelescored the Thoroughbreds' lone goal early in the first period, assisted by Kyle DelMaestro and Avery Steele. Before the Utica game, Skidmore was riding a season-high four game win streak, outscoring opponents by an 18-9 margin. Some of the strengths of the Thoroughbreds this season continue to be their balanced scoring efforts and their work killing off opposing power plays. Offensively, nearly every Skidmore skater has scored a goal this season, and every player has contributed a point after 15 games. Nine skaters have tallied three or more goals this season. Leading the way is Matt Muzyka with nine points, adding nine assists for a team-leading 18 points. Tim Allen is second on the team in goals (five) and points (12) and he's third with seven assists. (seven). Upperclassmen Owen Campbell (four) and assistant captain Max Hegge (four) are tied for third in goal scoring. Brandon Borges is tied for the team lead with nine assists, and he's second in scoring with 12 points. Austin Rook leads all Thoroughbred freshmen with 11 points, via three goals and eight assists. Despite playing in just nine games, Will Steele shares the freshman lead with three goals. Defensively, Skidmore has been impressive in stymieing opposing power plays. The Thoroughbreds have halted 57 of 65 power-play chances, good for an 87.7 percent rate, 12th in the nation. Brandon Kasel and Brian Kowalski have split time for the most part in net. Kasel leads with a .912 save percentage and a 2.57 goals against average in 10 games (5-4 record), while Kowalski sports an .899 save percentage and a 3.33 goals against average in six games (3-2-1 record). Castleton, Skidmore's old travel partner, comes into the Friday contest with a 3-8-4 overall record and a 1-5-2 mark in NEHC action. They opened the 2019 calendar year with a strong 5-1 victory over old NEHC foe Saint Michael's on Jan. 4. Leading the Spartans is rookie Asa Parker, who has 10 points via four goals and six assists. Glenn Wiswell is second with nine points on four goals and five assists, while Nick Gravina has six points (one goal, five assists). Castleton's top three scorers are all underclassmen. Earlier this season, Skidmore and Castleton battled to a 4-4 tie in Vermont on Nov. 3. Rook, Hegge, Borges, and Corey Morgan tallied goals for the Thoroughbreds in the game. Norwich comes into the weekend with a 7-4-2 record, right behind Skidmore in sixth place in the NEHC standings (4-4 record). The Cadets defeated Newmann and tied Endicott in the Northfield Savings Bank Holiday Tournament, but fell in a shootout to claim second place in the home event. Norwich is an impressive 6-1-1 on the season at home but are 1-3-1 away from Kreitzberg Arena. The Cadets are a solid defensive unit this season, leading the league in scoring defense (seventh nationally), allowing just 1.85 goals per game. Anchoring the Norwich defense is goaltender Tom Aubrun, who has a 2.16 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in 10 games. Rookie Adam Mercer has been solid in his four appearances, with an 0.79 goals against average and a .961 save percentage. Offensively, Félix Brassard leads the team in scoring with 10 points (four goals, six assists). Brett Ouderkirk leads the team with five goals, adding four assists for nine points. Jordan Hall (three goals, six assists) and Gabriel Chicoine (one goal, team leading eight assists) also have nine points. Earlier this season, Skidmore and Norwich batted to a stalemate in regulation, before Norwich scored early in overtime of a 2-1 contest. Muzyka scored Skidmore's goal in the third period to tie the game at one, with Campbell and Borges assisting.

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