Two years ago, as a sophomore on the Tufts ice hockey team, Scott Barchard earned All-America honors in goal after a brilliant season in which he played 24 of 25 games, led Division 3 programs in saves with 986, and posted a 2.74 goals-against average.
Bigger and better things were on the horizon.
But last year, while making a routine butterfly save in the fourth game of the season against Brockport in the Rutland Herald Invitational, Barchard felt a sharp pain in his right leg.
He thought it was a cramp. Seconds later, during a scramble in front of his net, the pain was worse and Barchard thought: “I’ve got a big problem here.’’
It was a season-ending problem for the Reading resident, who arrived at Tufts after playing at the Rivers School in Weston, Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., and for the Boston Shamrocks of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
He had torn a ligament off his fibula. Two months later, he underwent surgery and spent the rest of the season on crutches watching his teammates struggle through a 6-16-1 campaign.
After nearly nine months of rigorous rehab, Barchard found himself good to go when the Jumbos opened their NESCAC season last month against Trinity. He was, admittedly, apprehensive about returning, but managed to turn aside 30 of 31 shots in a 4-1 win.
At the holiday break, Tufts is 4-5 and Barchard is slowly but surely returning to the form he flashed two years ago. He notched his first shutout with a 35-save effort in a 3-0 win over Becker during, coincidentally, the Rutland Herald Invitational. And in a 3-2 loss to Middlebury, Barchard stopped 41 shots, running his career total to 2,188 to become the program’s all-time leader in saves (at last count, he had reached 2,262).
“I feel like I’m pretty much all the way back physically,’’ said the 6-foot, 200-pound Barchard. “Mentally, I was back a long time ago. It was pretty tough at first, especially making butterfly saves, but eventually I came to trust that everything was going to be all right, and so far it has been.’’
Looking at the numbers (2.69 goals-against average and .925 save percentage), Tufts coach Brian Murphy said Barchard is playing very well.
“It would be hard to expect him to repeat what he did two years ago,’’ Murphy said. “That was just an extraordinary season. Losing him last year affected us at both ends of the ice. It felt, at times, like we needed to score six goals to win. It was difficult. The goalies we used just didn’t have the experience [Barchard] had. Right now, he’s playing well. He had some rust to shake off early on. I think he played his best game thus far this season against Colby.’’
In that effort on Dec. 10, Barchard carried the Jumbos to a 3-1 win with 43 saves.
Barchard has seen plenty of action over the years. In his first start as a freshman against Williams, he made 49 saves, a sign of what was to come. He owns 12 of the team’s top 25 single-game save totals. He’s topped 50 or more seven times, including 63 against Saint Anselm in December 2009 and 60 against the University of New England in February 2010. Most impressive, however were the 59- and 53-save performances in February 2009 on back-to-back nights against Babson and University of Massachusetts Boston.
“I know Coach Murphy would like to see me facing less shots,’’ said Barchard, “but personally it doesn’t bother me. I like to keep busy.’’
He said the saves record “doesn’t mean much to me because we’re in the middle of the season and focusing on winning games. It will probably mean a lot more to me at the end of the season when I can look back.’’
Barchard will have a number of options at the end of the season. He can return to the team for a fifth year because of the medical redshirt he received, or he can look at a pro career, either in the USA or in Europe. He has not been drafted by an NHL team, so he is a free agent.
“Being a goaltender, I have to find the right situation,’’ he said. “Teams only carry two goalies, but I’ll see what works best for me. Time is on my side. I don’t have to make any immediate decision.’’
Despite losing two of his last three starts, Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata of Wakefield continues to impress. He was named Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Week after making 31 saves - 10 on power-play chances - in a 3-1 loss to Union. It was the first time in 14 games he allowed that many goals. He leads all Hockey East goaltenders with a 1.77 goals-against average and .937 save percentage . . . Westfield State freshman Jen Ashton of Beverly earned MASCAC Player of the Week honors for women’s basketball. In wins over UMass Boston and Elms, she averaged 16 points, 10.5 steals, 10 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. She had a school-record 13 steals in the win over UMass . . . Merrimack All-American linebacker Shawn Loiseau of Shrewsbury has been chosen to play in the 87th East-West Shrine game Jan. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Loiseau was the Northeast-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year . . . Lesley senior Jenna Fralick of Woburn has become the school’s first player named All-New England by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Fralick tied a Lesley record this season with 11 assists, and finished her career with 37 goals and 23 assists.John Vellante can be reached at JohnPVel@aol.com.