WILLIAMSTOWN >> Henry Ford once said that "Competition is the keen cutting edge of business." Williams College hockey coach Bill Kangas would certainly agree.
That's because the competition between senior goalie Noah Klag and freshman Michael Pinios has helped push the Ephs to the top of the NESCAC standings.
"It's been great. Having Michael's been awesome," said Klag. "Having Sean [Dougherty] before too. Every practice is a battle. When we do practices, we have a lot of battle games, so it's always a nice competition to try to beat Michael or Steve [Morrissey], whoever is in the net."
Klag and Pinios have helped lead the Ephs to a national ranking and a 13-4-1 overall record. The Ephs, ranked ninth in the USCHO.com national poll and 11th in the D3hockey.com poll, are in second place in the NESCAC standings and sit a point behind league-leading Trinity.
Williams will have an opportunity to adjust that tonight when the Ephs travel to Hartford, Conn., for the first game of a weekend road series against Trinity. The Bantams (14-3-1, 10-2-0) are ranked fourth in the D3hockey.com poll and seventh in the USCHO.com rankings.
The Ephs beat Trinity 3-2 in Williamstown back on Jan. 9, and then beat Wesleyan 3-1 at home the next day. This weekend, the Ephs will travel to Wesleyan (2-9-7, 2-4-6) on Saturday afternoon.
"It's very competitive in practice, just like the whole team. Everybody's trying to battle for the top spot," said Pinios. "Splitting the weekends has been great. You focus on that one game and you win it for the team. Then you encourage your partner and it's worked tremendously for us."
Except for one weekend, Pinios and Klag have split the workload. Kangas has shuffled the decks a bit so one goalie doesn't always start the first of the weekend games and the other gets the second. The only exception came when this weekend's opponents came to Williamstown.
When Williams hosted Trinity and Wesleyan, Pinios started both games. The freshman goalie, who is a veteran of Canadian junior hockey and American prep schools, is quick to pass the puck when asked about his success.
"I would say that most of the success comes with our great team defense," said Pinios. "I know we're getting the puck very easily out of the zone. Guys are blocking a lot of shots this year, which has helped both Noah and I tremendously.
"If a shot gets through and we give up a rebound, our D's are right there to send it to the corner. That's made my life extremely easy."
The two Williams goalies are, statistically speaking, among the best in the nation.
Pinios has the best goals-against average in Division III at 1.20 goals per game. Klag is fifth in the country at 1.49. When it comes to save percentage nationally, Pinios trails only Evan Buitenhuis of Hamilton. Buitenhuis' save percentage is .957 and Pinios' is .955. Klag is tied for fourth with Tyler Green of Wisconsin-Eau Claire at .948.
Both Pinios and Klag have had big shoes to fill. Dougherty, who graduated in June, had played in 73 games over the previous three seasons for Williams.
For his part, Kangas said he's been happy with what he's gotten out of his two goalies. But when asked if he saw this coming, the veteran coach said the focus has just been on getting better.
"I really haven't had time to think about where I expected them to be," said Kangas. "It just happened that both of them were given the chance to play on the opening weekend and since then, they've been working on their game and doing a really good job.
"Obviously, we've leaned on them quite a bit throughout the year."