There were three games last weekend, including the defending national champion and three first-time participants in the national tournament, that all finished with perhaps a bit less drama than expected.
Two first-timers won their matchups and this year’s tournament will see a new national champion as Trinity exits in the first round at the hands of Massachusetts-Boston.
Here is the wrap-up on the three first-round games:
Massachusetts-Boston @ Trinity
The Beacons, in their first NCAA tournament game, built a 3-0 lead through two periods on goals from Mike Thomson, Derek Colucci and Zach Lindsay, and then rode 17 third-period saves from goaltender Billy Faust on their way to a 4-0 win over the defending national champions.
Colucci added an empty-net goal to finish with two goals on the night and Trinity outshot the visitors by a 37-30 margin, but could not solve Faust.
Salem State @ Williams
Apparently, the week off from play awaiting their at-large bid did not hurt Williams as the offense exploded behind Colby Cretella’s goal and two assists in a 7-1 drubbing of Salem State in the Ephs’ first NCAA tournament game.
George Hunkele got the home team on the board with less than a minute remaining on the clock and Williams opened up the game with four goals in the second period, including Hunkele’s second of the game and additional goals from Joe Welch, Cretella and Matt Werner’s first of the season. The Ephs held Salem State to just 19 shots with Michael Casale being the only Viking to solve goalie Michael Pinios in the third period.
Salve Regina @ Geneseo
Geneseo’s Anthony Marra and Trevor Hills did in just 33 seconds what no team in their prior three games did to Salve Regina when they scored on goalie Blake Wojtala and started an offensive show for the pair that totaled 10 points between them in the Knights’ 7-1 win over the Seahawks.
Marra scored a hat trick and added three assists, while Hills scored twice and added a pair of assists for Geneseo, who went 3-for-6 with the man advantage and cruised to the first-round win. Devin McDonald made 28 saves for the Knights, surrendering just a single power-play goal to Jonathan Felteau in the second period.
Colby Cretella, Williams – scored one goal and added two assists in Williams’ 7-1 first-round win over Salem State.
Anthony Marra, Geneseo – recorded six points on three goals and three assists for Geneseo in their 7-1 win over ECAC Northeast champion Salve Regina on Saturday night.
Derek Colucci, Massachusetts-Boston – scored two goals for the Beacons as they knocked off defending champion Trinity 4-0 in their first NCAA appearance.
The quarterfinals are now set for Saturday, March 19, with Williams at Geneseo, Massachusetts-Boston at Hobart, Augsburg at St. Norbert and Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Adrian.
Way back in October, this was a weekend circled on the calendar that coaches and teams aspired to be playing meaningful hockey on – the time has come and now opportunity meets talent and desire with the hope of winning a conference championship and maybe playing for more on a bigger stage in the national tournament.
Ah, but first things first – the completion, intensity and pressure will all be magnified this weekend and the teams that take it all in and handle it the best are likely to emerge victorious.
Last week’s playoff picks went 5-3-1 (.611) with the NE-10 championship game postponed (and later awarded to Stonehill). That brings the season record to 65-34-10 (.642) and my hope this week’s picks will bring out my best when needed most.
Here are my picks across Eastern semifinal and championship games this weekend:
Saturday, March 5
Tufts @ Trinity – the hosts won’t be taking the Jumbos likely based on last week and last year. It is unlikely the defending national champions want to leave their fate in the hands of the selection committee, so winning the auto-bid is first and foremost in their mind. Tufts won’t be an easy out as the Sean Kavanaugh-led defense in front of standout goalie Mason Pulde will look to shut down the Bantams like they stopped Williams last week. Don’t think history repeats itself, but it takes an ENG to decide it – Trinity 3, Tufts 1
Amherst @ Middlebury – the defending champions from Amherst exploded for six goals in the third period to take down Bowdoin last week, while their hosts have found ways to throttle their offense twice this season already. This one just has that overtime feel and that means one bounce could turn it either way but experience will decide this one and that favors the team in purple- Amherst 2, Middlebury 1
Babson @ Massachusetts-Boston – This one is extremely tight and maybe more than any other game the first goal matters a lot here, especially for the home team. The visitors have a history of playing well at the Clark Center and great in championship games as the visitor. Would not be surprised at an overtime deciding goal – Babson 3, UMB 2
Utica @ Hobart – the home team looks to extend their home perfection and claim the ECAC West title but will not take the young and talented Pioneers lightly. Look for a fast start from the Statesmen who will want set the pace and pressure Utica early – Hobart 5, Utica 2
Geneseo @ Plattsburgh – this is another game that is a repeat of a final regular season weekend match-up that ended inconclusively with a tie. The Cardinals weren’t playing for much then but certainly are now and that likely earns them the deciding goal late in the third period of a hard fought game. Home ice is the difference in this one and the rabid home fans that come with it – Plattsburgh 4, Geneseo 3
Plymouth State @ Salem State – it is the matchup everyone expected with No. 1 playing No. 2 and is a repeat of last year’s championship game won by the Panthers. Turnabout is fair play and this time the Vikings get it done in front of the raucous crowd at “The Rockett” backed by conference Player of the Year Marcus Zelzer in goal – Salem State 4, Plymouth State 3
Salve Regina @ Endicott – the ECAC Northeast battle also pits two teams in search of their first conference title. Both teams split the season series as visitors, so that would appear to favor the Seahawks, but don’t dismiss the poise factor of the Gulls and whether Blake Wojtala can outplay the conference’s Goalie and Rookie of the Year Kevin Aldridge in their respective creases. The first win in program history was against Salve Regina and a fitting cap to the season would be a bookend victory – Endicott 3, Salve Regina 2
Don’t be overwhelmed by the moment and be sure to enjoy the experience of playing for a championship – drop the puck!
Playoff games typically bring out the best in teams and that should be the case this weekend in the MIAC, NCHA and WIAC.
The margin for error will be slim. In fact, when Adrian and St. Norbert played in the regular season, both games were decided by a goal. The same goes for the two regular-season meetings between Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-River Falls.
A lot will be riding on all three title games as the MIAC and NCHA both have automatic bids up for grabs while at the very least, the winner of the WIAC title game should get a bid to the tournament.
St. John’s (13-9-4) at Augsburg (16-8-2)
The Johnnies are unbeaten in their last 10 games. The Auggies are the regular-season conference champs and want the tourney crown as well as they aim to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years.
St. John’s won the regular-season meetings by the scores of 5-3 and 4-2 and has one of the top goaltenders in the game in Saxton Soley, who is 49-29-10 in his career. Huba Sekesi leads the offense with nine goals and 16 assists.
Augsburg is playing for its first title since the 1997-98 campaign and has a pretty solid goaltender as well in Jordyn Kaufer, who has 15 wins and has recorded three shutouts this year. Nate Flynn is the leader of the offense, racking up 16 goals and 13 assists.
It’s worth noting St. John’s has been tough on the road, going 9-2-1. Augsburg is 8-4-1 at home.
St. Norbert (23-2-2) at Adrian (23-3-1)
The top two teams in the nation square off for the conference title. Adrian is the defending Harris Cup champion and owns a 13-0 record on its own ice. St. Norbert is 14-0-2 away from home.
The two teams split in the regular season, with the Bulldogs winning 5-4 before the Green Knights earned a 2-1 win in the second game of their series.
Adrian has the lone unbeaten goaltender in the country in Kevin Entmaa, who is 14-0 on the season. The Bulldogs aren’t bad offensively either, scoring 150 goals, including 16 apiece from Mathew Thompson and Trevor Boyd.
Erik Cooper is a tremendous threat for the Green Knights, tallying 12 goals and 20 assists. He has scored at least one point in 19 consecutive games. Tony Kujava has won 14 games in goal.
Adrian has won six in a row. St. Norbert has a four-game win streak. Something will have to give.
Stevens Point (20-5-2) at River Falls (16-6-5)
Stevens Point beat River Falls 4-3 in their second meeting of the regular season. River Falls earned in a 3-2 win its first showdown with the Pointers.
The Pointers are 11-3-1 on the road and have struck for 131 goals, including 19 by Lawrence Cornellier. Joe Kalisz leads the team in points with 13 goals and 27 assists.
The game will feature two of the best goaltenders in the nation against each other as well. Max Milosek has 15 wins, including two shutouts, for the Pointers, while Tanner Milliron has won 14 games and has kept four opponents off the scoreboard this season.
Expect a title battle from start to finish between these two WIAC rivals.
Stevens Point, 3-2.
Well, it was most certainly a Super Saturday in all of the conference tournaments that saw favorites win, shocking upsets, overtime thrillers and a championship game postponed due to an outbreak of Mumps.
There was lots of excitement and drama and for the teams remaining, one step climbed in pursuit of a conference title and more.
Here is the recap for the East.
The semifinals are set following the weekend’s quarterfinal games that saw the seedings almost hold to form. Wednesday’s matchups will see top-seeded Endicott hosting Wentworth and Nichols hosting Salve Regina.
Alex Larson recorded his first shutout of the season and five different Bison scored in Nichols’ 5-0 win over Becker. The first line of Paul Prescott, Frank Butler and Tyler Beasley combined for two goals and three assists to lead the way for the defending champions.
The goalies stood out in the Rhode Island war between Salve Regina and Johnson and Wales. Joey Ballmer made 38 saves in surrendering just one goal, but was outdueled by the Seahawks’ Blake Wojtala, who made all 24 saves needed to earn the shutout in the 2-0 win.
Suffolk and Wentworth kept the drama on the final entrant alive into Sunday evening as the Leopards upset the fourth-seeded Rams by a score of 4-3 in overtime. Wentworth’s Jake Flynn notched the overtime winner and added an assist as well, while goalie Joel Miller made 31 saves in the win.
The championship round will see top-seeded Hobart hosting third-seeded Utica next Saturday in the championship game.
Hobart continued its home-ice dominance with a convincing 3-0 win over Neumann on Saturday night. Tanner Shaw scored two goals for the home team, while Frank Oplinger picked up his tenth win of the season and the shutout, making 27 saves.
Utica pulled off the upset of second-seeded Manhattanville by coming back from a 3-1 deficit entering the third period. Trent Samuels-Thomas and Anthony McVeigh scored to tie the game in regulation before McVeigh added the overtime winner for the Pioneers.
The semifinal round is now set following Saturday’s quarterfinal games that saw Westfield State and Fitchburg State advance to take on Salem State and Plymouth State, respectively, on Tuesday night.
The Owls won on the road, downing Massachusetts-Dartmouth by a 4-2 score with Jackson Leef setting up two scores and Jonathan LoParco making 36 saves in the win.
The Falcons knocked off Framingham State by 4-0 score with Charles Jakobsson making 25 saves earning the shutout and John Celli supplying all the offense LoParco would need with two goals and an a assist.
The scheduled championship game between Stonehill and St. Anselm was postponed due to an outbreak of mumps on the campus of St. Anselm and with several of the members of the hockey team. The NE-10 will schedule a new date for the game and that date is still pending.
The final for the conference championship is now set as both top seeds advanced in semifinal play on Saturday. Massachusetts-Boston will host Babson next Saturday for the first NEHC title.
Albee Daley led the way for the Beacons on home ice on Saturday, recording a hat trick for the Beacons in their 6-3 win over the University of New England. Andrew Crawford also added a goal and an assist from the blueline for the winners, who outshot the Nor’easters by a 48-28 margin.
Babson hosted Norwich in the other semifinal and much like the first game on home ice back in December, throttled the Cadets in a 5-0 win. Rob Devaney scored a goal and added two assists for the Beavers, who got 24 saves from goalie Jamie Murray in the shutout.
Apparently, home ice doesn’t mean too much in the NESCAC tournament as three of the four quarterfinal games were won by the road team, including another Tufts upset from the eighth-seeded position.
The Jumbos used 36 saves from Mason Pulde and goals from Sean Kavanaugh and Keith Campbell to upset Williams 2-1. The Ephs now must wait and hope their regular-season record will be enough to gain them a bid to the national tournament.
As mentioned in my preview last week, someone in the Hamilton-Middlebury game was going to have to do something in extra time that hadn’t been done in the regular season where the conference games ended in ties. Liam Moorfield-Yee made 40 saves for the visiting Panthers and Jake Charles scored the game winner just over seven minutes into overtime for the 2-1 win
Amherst and Bowdoin figured to be a tight defensive and goaltending show, but someone forgot to tell the teams that as Amherst scored six goals in the third period to come back from a 4-2 deficit after 40 minutes of play and post an 8-5 win in Terry Meagher’s last game behind the Bowdoin bench. Austin Ho scored twice for Amherst, including the game-winning goal in an eventful first seven minutes of the third period that saw five goals from the two teams combined, including one goal from each team just seven seconds apart in the first two minutes of the third period.
Second-seeded Trinity achieved something they had not been able to do as a top seed the past two seasons as they downed Colby to win their quarterfinal matchup by a score of 3-1. Michael Hawkrigg scored a goal and set up the other two in the Bantam win.
The championship game hosted by Plattsburgh next Saturday pits the top-seeded Cardinals against Geneseo.
Geneseo traveled to second-seeded Buffalo State, who had been on a strong six-game winning streak, and showcased some high-powered offense in a 6-1 win over the Bengals. David Ripple posted four points, while SUNYAC Player of the Year Stephen Collins and linemate Trevor Hills added a goal and two assists each for the winners.
Plattsburgh renewed its long-standing rivalry with Oswego and just like the two regular-season games, the outcome was decided in overtime. Michael Radisa potted the game winner just over 10 minutes into the extra session to send the 20-3-3 Cardinals on to the championship round.
The two-game set went to the visitors from Canton by virtue of a 4-3 overtime win on Friday and a 4-4 overtime tie on Saturday. George Curry scored the game winning goal on Friday for the Kangaroos, while Saturday’s star was Eagles’ goalie Anthony D’Urso who made 49 saves as Canton outshot Daniel Webster by a 53-26 margin, but had to rally from a three-goal deficit to earn the tie.
David Ripple, Geneseo – the forward scored two power-play goals and added two assists as the Knights downed second-seeded Buffalo State on the road to set up a championship matchup with Plattsburgh next Saturday.
Mason Pulde, Tufts – the goaltender made 36 saves as the eighth-seeded Jumbos knocked off top-seeded Williams on the road by a 2-1 score. The eight seed beating the one seed was the second year in a row that Tufts has pulled off the feat, after beating Trinity last season.
Albee Daley, Massachusetts-Boston – scored three goals in the Beacons’ 6-3 win over UNE. Daley scored on the power play, shorthanded and added an empty-net goal to post the hat trick in the NEHC semifinal win.
Anthony McVeigh, Utica – the Pioneers forward completed the comeback from a two-goal deficit against Manahattanville, scoring the game-tying goal in the third period before adding the game winner in overtime.
Jake Flynn, Wentworth – scored a goal and added an assist in Wentworth’s overtime quarterfinal win over Suffolk on Sunday night. Flynn’s overtime winner came just over 10 minutes into the extra session and advanced Wentworth to a semifinal game with top-seeded Endicott.