In a matchup that pits an experienced and deep Hobart squad that has a clear understanding of what playing on a national stage is all about against a second-year NCAA program earning their first trip to the national tournament, one team may hope experience matters. For Hobart coach Mark Taylor, however, Endicott’s pedigree as a team goes back to a defenseman he recruited and coached as a player at Massachusetts-Lowell many years ago.
“No question we are doing our homework since we haven’t seen RJ’s team play this season,” noted Taylor. “I recruited and coached RJ [Tolan] at Lowell and know the kind of player and now coach he has become through his time as a player and of course during his successful tenure at Wentworth before moving on to Endicott. We know at this point of the season any team playing in the NCAA tournament is there because they are a quality hockey club. RJ has been successful and always has had his teams playing a sound and strong game, so I don’t expect anything different when Endicott comes to town this weekend. You hope that experience matters, but at the end of the day you have to go out and play your game.”
Hobart won the final ECAC West championship last weekend with an overtime win over Utica where they took the title by defeating both the no. 1 and no. 2 seeded teams in the tournament. Seniors Nick Bingaman and Bobby Sokol have been among the leading scorers all season, while sophomore defenseman Jonas Toupal has contributed mightily, recording 22 points overall and posting a hat trick against Lebanon Valley in late January. In goal, Frank Oplinger has returned from a mid-season injury to backstop the Statesmen’s current six-game unbeaten streak. Additionally, backup Alexander Connal is healthy, giving Hobart their top two netminders back for the NCAA tournament.
Endicott makes the trip to Geneva, New York, as the inaugural champion of the Commonwealth Coast Conference, having downed the University of New England in dramatic fashion on Saturday by a 5-4 score. Cam Bleck’s goal with just 8.7 seconds on the clock was the game-winner that gave Endicott its first conference championship and NCAA tournament bid in just its second year as a varsity program.
The Gulls are led by goaltender Kevin Aldridge, who has posted a 20-3-2 record in 25 starts for Endicott. Up front, Tommy Besinger leads the way with 48 points while Bleck leads the way with 21 goals. Defenseman Logan Day brings size to the blue line for the Gulls and some offensive flair with 37 points, six power-play goals, and three game-winning goals to his credit this season. The Gulls are 9-0-1 in their non-league schedule with the tie coming in an opening night game at the nation’s current no. 1 ranked team, Norwich.
“Starts to any game are important,” said coach Taylor. “That is where you hope the experience shows up right away. We want to come out hard and have things going our way early and hopefully build some momentum. At this point of the season, there aren’t any freshmen anymore. After the first semester, you are pretty much a guy on the team and now the seniors want and expect that you are going to help them win the whole thing their last time around.”
The battle between mentor [Taylor] and student [Tolan] will play itself out on Saturday night, with the winner moving on to the quarterfinals and a potential date with Trinity or Plattsburgh.