It’s a tough call between the NESCAC and NCHA for the best tournament field. Both leagues have all four semifinalists getting votes in the latest USCHO.com Division III poll.
According to Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney, you can’t ask for a better group of teams than Bowdoin, Colby, Trinity and his host Panthers.
“It’s going to be a great tournament,” he said. “You have four of the best teams in the country, and I think the best four teams in the NESCAC. I don’t think Colby’s win over Hamilton should be considered an upset. Colby is a very good team.”
So are the Middlebury Panthers (22-1-1). They enter the semifinals ranked number-one and well rested, thanks to a first round bye.
According to Beaney, the key to the Panthers’ success is simple.
“Between the pipes.”
Panther netminder Christian Carlsson leads the nation in GAA — a miniscule 1.30. That’s just 29 goals allowed in 1338 minutes of play.
“He’s very athletic,” said Beaney. “He’s got great size (6-3) and good technique.”
The junior from Linkoping, Sweden, had an average freshman year as backup to Jon Marsh, but came back for his sophomore season ready to win the starting job.
“He fell in love with Middlebury and decided he really wanted to be the goalie, so he worked very hard in the off season.
“He’s become a leader both on and off the ice.”
To make things even harder for the opposition, the Panthers don’t allow many scoring chances. They have outshot their opposition almost two to one (876 to 447) and are first in the NESCAC in both goals scored and goals allowed.
Ready to challenge the Panthers in the semifinals is Colby, which has put together two wins in a row for the first time since mid-January. The White Mules lost 4-0 to Middlebury in the team’s only meeting this season.
Freshman Nick Bayley leads the team in scoring with 39 points in 24 games. The White Mules (15-6-3) were third in the league in goals scored this season, and fifth in team defense.
Getting the first goal will be key in what will probably be a low scoring game — Colby has only lost once when scoring first.
The other semifinal will feature the best offensive player in the league against one of the top goaltenders in the conference.
Bowdoin’s Mike Carosi leads the NESCAC in scoring with 38 points, 46 overall. The senior from Warwick, RI was named NESCAC Player of the Year earlier this week.
Another player named to the All-NESCAC team was Trinity goaltender Geoffrey Faulkner. The senior from Westerville, OH played in all but three games for the Bantams, finishing with a 12-5-1 record.
Faulkner is second to Middlebury’s Carlsson in both goals against and save percentage, but faced a lot more shots (438 to 293). Like Carlsson, Faulkner’s play will go a long way in determining the success or failure of his team this weekend.
Trinity lost to Bowdoin 2-1 earlier this season.
The Polar Bears (18-3-3) can strengthen their hold on an at-large bid with a win over the Bantams on Friday. Middlebury is in no matter what. The Panthers will either claim the NESCAC title and the automatic qualifier that comes with it, or one of the two at large Pool C berths.
Does knowing that Middlebury is in no matter what affect coach Beaney’s team?
“Time will tell,” he said. “We’re not focused on (the NCAA tournament). We’re concentrating on keeping our NESCAC champion streak alive.
“But along with that comes home ice in the first round of the NCAAs.”