WATERVILLE — The similarities to last winter’s history-making season are there.

After beginning January with just one win in its first eight games, going 1-6-1 over that stretch, the Colby College men’s hockey team has rounded into form. The Mules have not lost in regulation in the five league games since (3-1-1), even while facing each of the top four teams in the league. The run was punctuated with a 4-1 win over New England Small College Athletic Conference-leading No. 10 Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon on the road.

The Cardinals had not lost in NESCAC play this season prior.

“This is the time of year where a team either comes together or starts falling apart,” Colby sophomore Justin Grillo said. “Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted to, we played the way we wanted to on Friday night (in an overtime loss at Trinity). It carried over into Saturday. We’ve just got to keep that going. The sky’s the limit right now, we’ve just got to keep it moving forward.”

A season ago, Colby began January by losing six of its first seven games in the month. The team rebounded in a big way, closing out the year with a nine-game unbeaten streak that ran all the way to the national semifinals.

It’s still early — and the Mules still have a home weekend coming up against NESCAC basement dwellers Connecticut College and Tufts to complete the regular season — but this year’s Colby edition can see the similarities.

“There’s just a lot of believablity and confidence right now,” Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald said. “I think you gain your confidence from the hard challenges. … In our last four games against the top four teams in our league, our special teams are off-the-charts good and we’ve amplified our shots on net. Now we’re believing we can play with anybody 5v5, 4v5, 5v4, and we feel like we’re well-equipped to handle any of those situations.”

Colby has improved draatically in a few areas throughout the season.

The team’s power play over its last five league games has been lethal, converting at a 31.8 percent success rate. Had the Mules performed at that percentage the entire year, they would boast NCAA Division III’s best man advantage. The penalty killing has been equally strong, at 81.8 percent (18 for 22) during the stretch, and the Mules have averaged 29 shots per game and 3.4 goals per game over the five games.

Colby has cleaned up the little things and focused on what wins hockey games — special teams and spending less time in your own zone.

“I can’t stress this enough, but we lost 10 players last year that played in every game, including our goalie and three defensemen,” MacDonald said. “For these guys to get themselves in a place to be really competitive and playing well going into playoffs is a credit to the seniors and their leadership and work ethic.”

Senior center Nick O’Connor leads the NESCAC in scoring in conference-only games with 20 points, and his 14-12-26 totals overall have the Canton, Massachusetts native in a three-way tie for the overall scoring lead.

But scoring has come from several different sources beyond O’Connor’s line lately for Colby, with no better illustration than junior Paddy Daley’s first career goal against Wesleyan — a shorthanded breakaway which put the exclamation point on the Mule’s most significant win of the season.

“I wouldn’t say that was my best game, but I got a goal out of it,” Daley said. “As a fourth line guy, you know your role. It’s getting pucks low and working it, and it’s great to hand off a good shift. To finally solidify that, getting a good shift handed off to me and putting one in for the first time, it was a good feeling.”

Colby will not host a NESCAC quarterfinal game this year, but the certainty of playing on the road in the postseason has done little to faze the Mules. The familiar mantra around Alfond Rink remains dedication to “the process,” and the process is producing results.

Last year, Colby won six straight games on the road, beginning with the regular season finale and carrying all the way through the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Mules beat four teams ranked nationally inside the top 10 during the run.

“We like being on the road,” Daley said. “We’ve known the entire year that it’s coming along, but it’s a process. It’s a long season. Seeing it happen in practice and translating into games was definitely huge for us. It’s visible, especially the last few weeks.”

Drawing comparisons to last year isn’t only for outside observers. In the Mules’ own dressing room, they see it, too.

“It definitely looks exactly the same,” Grillo said. “That’s what we’re striving for. If it’s different, it’s different, but right now we’re just going to take it one game, one practice at a time, and hopefully we can get the same results.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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