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Wow!  What a great last weekend of the first half for the teams that had meaningful hockey games to play this past weekend.  Norwich and Plattsburgh played a seesaw game that ended in a 4-4 tie, and the round robin among the top three teams in NESCAC ended up going the home team’s way, as Amherst swept Williams and Middlebury to take the outright lead at the break atop the standings.

ECAC East
The rematch between Plattsburgh and Norwich turned out to be a very entertaining and offensive game. The first period ended in a 2-2 tie, as the Cardinals responded quickly in answering the Cadets with goals to erase two one-goal deficits in the period. The second period was one of opportunism for the Cardinals, as they scored twice on just four shots on goal for the period to take a 4-2 lead into the third period. Norwich took advantage in the third by scoring twice to level the score, which stood up in through the overtime for a 4-4 tie. The Cadets finish the first half at 8-0-1, and should remain atop the national rankings.

At New England College this weekend, a two-game set with Cortland ended with a split from a pair of 4-3 results. Both games were nearly mirror images of each other, as the eventual winners built a 4-2 lead into the third period and held on for the win. In the Friday night game, there were three short-handed goals scored between the two teams, with Cortland potting two. The Saturday game saw no special teams goals and the shots still heavily favored NEC, 46-29, but the Pilgrims couldn’t build on a 4-2 second period lead.  Cortland netminder Jeff Molner made 17 saves in the third period to give his team a chance, but a late goal to close the gap to 4-3 was all the Dragons could muster. NEC goaltender Matt Mule earned his first win of the season, making 23 saves.

NESCAC
The Amherst/Hamilton and Williams/Middlebury round robin lived up to billing with some great hockey over the weekend. While Amherst was the big winner, going 2-0, Williams and Hamilton split their two games to gain points. Middlebury suffered two key league losses and dropped to third in the league standings following a difficult overtime loss at Amherst on Saturday.

While the three top teams came in with stellar defensive numbers and great goaltending, the two games among the three teams featured 16 goals in two one-goal decisions. Friday night’s game between Williams and Amherst was a 5-4 final that literally came down to the final seconds. After building a 5-2 lead in the third period, the Lord Jeffs took a couple of unnecessary penalties that the Ephs turned into a power-play goal and later, yet another extra-attacker goal to pull within one with two minutes to play. With the goaltender pulled, Williams had two Grade ‘A’ chances that Amherst goaltender Jonathan LaRose snuffed out with a terrific left skate save at the far post and a diving blocker save on a point blank shot from the slot with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game.  Saturday, LaRose was again on his game when it mattered most, as Brian Safstrom’s goal just over 30 seconds into overtime completed the weekend sweep for Amherst.

Up in Maine, Bowdoin showed off its offensive muscle in scoring 12 goals in wins over Tufts and Connecticut College. The wins pulled Bowdoin up to fourth in the standings, and created some positive momentum following a hard-fought, 3-1, nonconference loss at Southern Maine earlier in the week. Colby was at the opposite end of the spectrum, going 0-2 for the weekend despite outshooting both Tufts and Connecticut College. The offense could only muster three goals, and the losses have Colby looking up at the rest of the conference with a 1-5-0 record at the break.

Tufts now sits alone in fifth place with a 3-3-0 record after splitting its games in Maine. Almost as expected, Scott Barchard made 42 saves on Saturday, and the Jumbos stole one at Colby to end the first half on a positive note. Connecticut College used a four-goal first period to set the tempo in a 5-2 win over Colby and move to a tie for sixth with Wesleyan in the league.

Both Trinity and Wesleyan shared a common opponent over the weekend with mixed results. Manhattanville from the ECAC West took care of business with a 5-1 win on Friday over the Bantams at home and then traveled to Wesleyan for a Saturday night game to close out the first half of the season. The Cardinals were clearly the rested team and skated to a penalty-filled, 4-1 win to finish the first half with a solid 5-3-0 record.

The first half of the season is over, and for some the break comes at the perfect time. Santa will be checking out the final wish lists from the coaches this week, and we’ll see next week what everyone needs to have a successful second half in 2012.

For the players and student fans, I hope finals go well. For coaches, players, parents, and other fans, I wish to all a very Joyous Holiday Season!

Santa’s checking his lists twice — drop the puck!