First they ran the gauntlet. Then, they ran the table.
Curry entered conference play in January coming off a brutal stretch of nonconference games that included four ranked teams. They understandably struggled, winning only one game during that six-game period.
However, the Colonels ran off a 10-game unbeaten streak since then and have clinched the top spot in the ECAC Northeast, regardless of what happens in Thursday’s makeup game with Wentworth.
A 4-1 win at Johnson and Wales last Thursday clinched the title for Curry, who after rallying against the pesky Wildcats in last year’s championship game had to fight them off down the stretch for the league title. The Colonels’ only conference loss came in their first conference game of the year against Western New England on Nov. 18.
Wentworth, who claimed the regular season title before being upset by JWU in the semifinals last year, will get the No. 2 seed with a win. A tie or loss would hand the second seed and a first-round bye the Wildcats, who closed the season by losing two in a row.
Whoever gets the third seed will host Western New England Saturday at a time to announced by the conference.
The Golden Bears made it to the playoffs thanks to Dan Monahan’s overtime goal against Suffolk Saturday. The score ended the Rams’ season and assured WNEC of advancing to the playoffs.
The only quarterfinal game set for Saturday is fourth-seeded Becker hosting fifth-seeded Nichols.
Becker (7-4-3, 10-12-3) swept the season series 2-0, while Nichols endured a five-game losing streak down the stretch before ending the regular season with a win over JWU.
The Hawks finished five points ahead of Nichols (6-8, 12-12-1), but only had one more win on the season.
Neither team boasts a distinct advantage on special teams, but Nichols does lead the conference with seven short-handed goals, while Becker ranks last while on the power play.
Branden Parkhouse (4-12) and Korby Anderson (7-8) led the Hawks in conference scoring, while Jake Rosenthal played a league-high 831:57 in net, but saw his numbers drop a bit from last season.
For Nichols, freshman Dylan Woodring has started the last three games in place of Jacob Rinn. Woodring has come up with some big saves over the last few games, including 35 in the win against JWU, and isn’t afraid of coming out to play the puck.
Offensively, the Bisons have four players with double digit points in conference play, led by Zach Kohn (3-14) and Will Munson (5-11).
Look for an uptempo game on Becker’s home ice. Woodring stopped 14-of-15 shots in relief of Rinn during the team’s first meeting on Nov. 17 A strong performance by the freshman would certainly go a long way in Nichols’ upset bid.
Check back later for playoff times, as well as a breakdown of Saturday’s other quarterfinal game.
Elsewhere in the ECAC Northeast
Western New England swept the conferences weekly awards, as Alan Martin was the player of the week while Eric Sorenson was honored as the top goalie and Monahan was named top rookie. They haven’t been announced yet, but here’s my stab at the yearly conference honors.
Player of the Year: Jeremiah Ketts, Johnson and Wales. Ketts is a playmaker on one of the league’s most explosive teams. There’s no doubt there’s talent around him, but there’s also no doubting the junior’s numbers. He led the ECAC Northeast with 27 points and 15 goals, with a league-best 11 coming on the power play.
Goalie of the Year and Rookie of the Year: Chris Azzano, Wentworth. It’s been a bit of a down year in the conference for goalies, but Azzano stepped in for injured starter Mike Jarboe in December and ensured the Leopards didn’t miss a beat. The freshman is second in the league in save percentage and third in goals-against-average. JWU’s Matt Cooper could make a run for the top goalie as well. Both Robert Dawson and Robert Owens at Curry have put up good numbers in conference play, but splitting time in net hurts their chances.
Azzano should be a lock for Rookie of the Year as well, with Becker forward Korby Anderson making a case, as well as Wentworth forward Cory Lillie, or Western New England’s Dan Monahan.
Coach of the Year: Erik Noack, Johnson and Wales. After making a run to the conference tournament game as the sixth seed, the Wildcats spent much of this season atop the conference before being knocked off by Curry. Improved defense has been the key for JWU this season, with Noack bringing in help for goalie Matt Cooper. Other possibilities include Wentworth’s R.J. Tolan, or Western New England’s Greg Heffernan.
While virtually every other D-III conference is beginning the postseason this week, the MASCAC is prepping to wrap up the regular season this weekend.
Similar to last year, there’s a jumble of teams fighting for position entering the playoffs.
Salem State, Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and Plymouth State are currently separated by three points at the top, while Westfield State and Framingham State are tied for the sixth seed and final playoff spot. With a slate of games scheduled for Thursday, the outlook should be clearer heading into Saturday’s season finale. Check back Friday for a breakdown of the final day of the regular season.
Special thanks to Nichols Sports Information Director Hillary Haynes for the scouting report on Woodring… The plan is to try and cover one of the quarterfinal matchups this weekend…keep an eye on the blog and Twitter for updates Saturday on both the playoffs and MASCAC regular season finale.