Feb. 4, 2010

With the 2010 Winter Olympics right around the corner, the hype has already begun about which countries will be favored to medal in this year's games. Every four years, it's around this time when athletes all over the world come together to cheer on their homeland brethren while they compete at the highest international stage. It's a dream for many to participate in such ceremonies while representing their country. Just ask UMass Boston Men's Ice Hockey player Eric Tufman (Abington, PA) who got to do just that while skating for Team USA last summer at the 2009 World Jewish Ice Hockey Championships.

Tufman, a junior forward for the Beacons, was a member of a very select group of American skaters to travel overseas to Metulla, Israel to represent the United States in the second bi-annual World Jewish Ice Hockey Championships. The squad was made up of several professional hockey players that compete in the American Hockey League (AHL), mostly NCAA Division-I skaters, and then a handful of NCAA Division-III skaters like Tufman.

"It was quite the experience to represent the United States," said Tufman. "It's one thing to be a college athlete but to wear that USA sweater was something else."

With fierce competition coming from the Canadian, French, Israeli and Russian teams, the USA squad had its work cut out to bring home a medal.

Similar to the format of the Olympic Games, the Championships had preliminary rounds before the top two teams would advance to the actual championship game. Team USA finished the prelims with an impressive 5-0 record, with its only close call coming in a 3-2 overtime victory against Team Canada.

"The team was only able to practice one time together before we left for Israel, so everyone was still learning each other's skating styles during the prelim rounds," said Tufman. "Everybody knew that we were expected to do well and that we should be in contention throughout, but nothing was going to be easy."

After finishing the prelims with a 4-1 record, team Canada would have its shot at redemption against the Americans in the Championship game.

On July 15, in front of nearly the entire city of Metulla, Team USA was able to capture its second straight World Jewish Ice Hockey Championship victory, defeating team Canada 6-0 in the final to earn the gold medal. Tufman ended the six-game tournament with 10 points on three goals and seven assists. His ability earned him a significant amount of ice time on both the power play and penalty kill units while his point total was the 12th-highest among all players at the World tournament.

The forward was overjoyed with the experience to play for his country and recalls that, "those were two amazing weeks that I will never forget. Winning the gold medal was unreal. The moment that will stay with me forever was after the championship victory when they raised the United States flag and played the National Anthem, it was really special to be a part of that."

Back on the home front, Tufman and his UMass Boston teammates are eager to root on Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Although none of his teammates from last summer's Championships are members of this year's Olympic squad, the junior knows exactly how it feels to be out there wearing the Red, White and Blue.

"I'm incredibly excited to watch the Olympic Hockey action this year. Team USA will probably be an underdog but you can never count them out," said Tufman.

Kind of like how you can never count out UMass Boston Men's Ice Hockey team. Over the last three seasons, Tufman has been a big part of a program that has seen tremendous growth at the helm of head coach Peter Belisle.

Coach Belisle has helped put UMass Boston hockey back on the map in only four short years. During his first three seasons, he helped the Beacons win more games than the program had won in its previous six campaigns combined. He was able to lead them to the ECAC East Tournament Finals last season for the first time in program history. More importantly, he has the Beacons competing every single time they take the ice, no matter who their opponent.

"Over the past three seasons, Coach has been very consistent with his philosophy and beliefs. Work hard and you will get better. Play hard and the results will show," said Tufman on Belisle's coaching style. "He's a very knowledgeable coach with a great supporting staff. It helps that the core members of our team continue to come back each year so that we can grow as a unit. This season we are finally starting to see the damage we're capable of when we play to our full potential."

The Beacons 2009-10 record currently stands at 9-8-1, but does not do justice to the caliber of hockey they're playing.

On January 29, UMass Boston took on the perennial hockey powerhouse, Norwich University, in an ECAC East match up. Entering the game, Norwich was ranked second in the Division-III polls receiving two first place votes. The Cadets had won or tied 19 of their last 20 games, with the only loss coming at the hands of the Beacons in the quarterfinals of the ECAC East tournament last year in a 1-0 overtime thriller.

The Beacons skated even with the Cadets during the first and third periods, even outshooting them in the first stanza, 9-8. Two break-downs in the second period led to a pair of scoring opportunities which Norwich was able to capitalize on, but by no means did the UMass Boston squad leave the Clark Athletic Center feeling ashamed by their efforts. In fact, they left with a bitter taste in the mouths knowing that they had just missed out on a chance to beat such a worthy opponent.

"We always look to turn negatives into positives," said Tufman. "Losing to Norwich showed us that we can play with absolutely every team in the country. We used to go into games thinking that we had a chance to win; now we go into every match up knowing we can win. Down the stretch it's going to be all about putting together 60 minutes of hockey, just playing a complete game. When that happens, we're going to be able to do some damage. "

As Tufman and the UMass Boston Men's Ice Hockey team prepare for the stretch run, their goals will be simple: win every period, play their own style of hockey and not down to the level of any opponents, and put together and play a full 60 minutes.

If the Beacons can accomplish those goals, anything is possible, especially come playoff time.