The ECAC East final four are an interesting mix: the team you expected to be at the top (Norwich), the team no one expected to be there (MCLA), the defending champions (New England College) and the unpredictable dark horse (Salem State).
The semifinals pair Norwich with Salem State, and NEC with MCLA. The top-seeded and host Cadets shut down Salem 4-0 in the teams’ regular season meeting back in early January
“The last game (with Salem State) was pretty good,” said Norwich head coach Mike McShane. “Their goalie played very well.”
Viking goaltender Caleb Christenson made 30 saves in the game. The junior from International Falls, MN is third in the league in goals against (3.14) and fifth in save percentage (.903).
Norwich sports the numbers one and two netminders in the league: freshman Kevin Shieve (1.82 GAA; .919 save percentage) and junior Randy Hevey (2.05 GAA; .908 save percentage).
Norwich’s goalies will have to play up to their potential, as the Cadets defensive corps, which has been plagued by injuries all season, lost another key player when sophomore Chris Fuss was injured in last Saturday’s quarterfinal against Skidmore.
“We’ve lost four real good defensemen this season,” said McShane. “We’ve moved some forwards back (to defense).
“We’re lucky we’ve had the numbers this year. We would have been in trouble other years.”
Norwich is ranked first in the league in goals scored and goals allowed; Salem State is second in both categories.
The Cadets have the top four scorers in the league, including freshman forward Kurtis McLean, who captured both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors. The Kirkland, Ont. native had 34 points to lead the league and is first in the nation in goals scored with 27.
The Vikings have a balanced attack lead by senior forward Chris Stark, who had 17 points in conference play. Three Vikings are tied for the team league in overall points with 22, while Norwich has nine players with at least 22 points.
Which brings us back to Salem State’s Caleb Christenson, who will be called upon to shut down an offense that averaged more than two goals more than any team in the league.
The other semifinal pits defending champions New England and upstart MCLA. The Mohawks finished a surprising third.
“It goes to show what happens when you gave a handful of good players and a very good goalie,” said McShane. “You can win a lot of hockey games.”
MCLA rookie coach Kevin McGonagle was named ECAC Coach of the Year.
“He’s done a great job,” McShane said. “He got my vote.”
MCLA goalie Kevin Kiernan saw a lot of action this season, and a lot of pucks. The senior from Brick, NJ played in all 26 games, making a whopping 778 saves. He was named to the ECAC All East First Team.
New England College comes into the game short three key players who are serving one game suspensions after being disqualified for participating in a brawl that occurred as the second period ended in last Saturday’s quarterfinal with UMass-Boston.
Leading scorer Nick Warriner (33 points), second leading scorer Adam Wallace (29), and John Adderin (17 points) account for over 30% of the Pilgrim’s offense. All will be sitting out Friday’s game.
But, according to McShane, if NEC can win the semifinal, it will have the advantage of having a more rested team in Saturday’s championship game.
“RIT did that to us a few years ago in our tournament,” remembered McShane. “They had a lot of players suspended for the first game, and then came out fresh the next night and pounded us.”
Norwich will be the heavy favorite this weekend, but it was last season, only to be upset by New England. You have to like the Cadet’s chances again this time around, but the ECAC East has been full of surprises this season, so one more isn’t out of the question.