WATERVILLE — Yogi Berra wasn’t wrong. It feels like deja vu all over again at Alfond Rink.

Two seasons after stepping on campus to become Colby College’s starting goaltender as a freshman, Andrew Tucci is back in a familiar spot. Supplanted by All-New England goalie Sean Lawrence last winter, the Toronto native will be between the pipes Friday night when the Mules open their New England Small College Athletic Conference season against Middlebury.

Tucci is raring to go, and he has no plans to yield the nets to anyone else this time around.

“In the back of my mind, I’ve kind of had that (thought) going into this year,” Tucci said of re-taking the No 1 job. “Freshman year really helped with my confidence, knowing I can definitely play at this level. I don’t think I look back at last year as anything other than motivation going into this year.”

Lawrence came to Colby in December of 2017 after two seasons at NCAA Division I Quinnipiac University. He split time with Tucci — who started the first eight games of the season — through the second half of the year and started Colby’s lone playoff game.

Last winter, Lawrence started all but four of Colby’s 30 games in backstopping the Mules to the Division III Frozen Four. He finished tied for second in the nation with a .940 save percentage, making 30 or more saves in all six postseason games for Colby, including the NESCAC championship and the national semifinals.

“It was difficult,” Tucci said of his rollercoaster first two seasons on Mayflower Hill. “It’s not always great being on the bench watching your team. You’ve got to make the most of it. I supported everyone, I supported Sean. It’s hard to complain when you’re winning, right? You’ve just got to do your best and be a part of the team.”

To Tucci’s credit, his teammates appreciated what he was going through and how he handled it.

“He played it great,” said Colby captain Nick O’Connor, a senior center. “He’s a voice in the locker room, whether he’s in the net or opening the (bench) door. He’s always there to help you out. I don’t have enough good words to say about him as a teammate.”

Tucci’s numbers were very good as a rookie goaltender. He went 5-2-1 in the first half of the season, including a pair of wins over rival Bowdoin College that December.

The 5-foot-8 goalie finished the 2016-17 season with a 2.31 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He was even better in conference play, boasting 2.17 and .921 totals, respectively.

“I rely a lot on my speed. As a smaller guy, if you’re not quick, it’s kind of hard,” Tucci said. “On top of that, I think I’m really composed in the net. Good rebound control, I’m not a sloppy goalie when I play, and I like to talk to my team a lot. I feel like I’m a good calming presence, and I think that will work in our favor with a younger team and having younger (defensemen), helping them feel like they belong out there.”

“From the second he stepped on campus, he’s had the talent to be a starting goalie in this league,” O’Connor said. “I call Tucci a gamer. When the lights shine, that’s when he’s ready to go. Everyone in this locker room has all the confidence in the world in him.”

From an on-ice perspective, Colby coach Blaise MacDonald hopes the time serving as Lawrence’s understudy benefits Tucci’s growth as a player. From a mental standpoint, MacDonald believes there is a fire burning inside of Tucci which will benefit his Mules.

“Internally, the inner voice is the key to performance for everybody, and sometimes it’s nice to play with the distinct purpose of proving other people wrong,” MacDonald said. “That may be fuel for him.”

Chris Hall was MacDonald’s top assistant coach for six seasons, and he recruited Tucci out of prep school Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut — and through three separate Canadian junior league teams. Everywhere Tucci went he was fighting for playing time, long before he got to Colby.

“That kid had to earn everything,” said Hall, who is now an assistant coach for the Merrimack College women. “There’s not a minute of hockey he didn’t have to earn. I knew he was ready to start as a freshman, because of what he’d been through.”

It was Hall who had to call Tucci and let him know that Lawrence was coming in. Tucci, who had a .935 save percentage at that time through the first eight games of his collegiate career, never flinched.

“It stems from a lot of the adversity I’ve faced in my hockey career,” Tucci said. “Everywhere I’ve played, I’ve had to battle my way to a starting position. I’ve never really come in and been ‘The Guy.’ The team’s winning and you want to do your best to be supportive of everyone, so you come to practice every day and you’re just working as hard as you can to improve my game and improve the team’s game.”

“One of things with Tooch is his mindset and mental approach,” Hall said. “He doesn’t get rattled. Goals don’t bother him. Environments don’t bother him. Playing on the road doesn’t bother him. Crowds don’t bother him. He just stops pucks.”

MacDonald believes Lawrence and Tucci, from the technical standpoint of being able to stop pucks, are similar. One overlooked area of Lawrence’s game was his ability to play the puck from his position — stopping the hard dump-ins behind the net and moving the puck up ice to begin Colby’s transition game.

Tucci has been working hard on that aspect of the position.

“(Lawrence) had a couple of elements that were more outwardly expressed in terms of competitiveness, whereas Andrew’s is more inwardly kind of driven and harder to see in terms of that competitiveness. But it’s there,” MacDonald said. “He knows the value of being a more offensive goaltender and skating the position well, and he’s worked at that.”

Fairly or otherwise, Tucci’s upcoming season will be measured against Lawrence.

“The goalie position is so hard. It’s the one spot where only one guy can play,” Tucci said. “I look at myself as a very different goalie than Sean was. He was fantastic, and I gained a lot of knowledge from watching him play. But we do have different strengths. I think what I can bring to the table is going to be just as good as what he brought to the table, but in a different way.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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