Western New England coach Greg Heffernan looks at the final week of the regular season in one way: This is the best time for his team — or for any team — to create consistency, with the playoffs approaching.
“This season has been about emotional highs and lows for us,” Heffernan said. “We had some success early, followed by a little bit of a lull, and now some recent success. Now we want to plateau and do it with success and consistency, and we want to take that into the postseason.”
At 13-11, the Golden Bears are having their most successful season since 1999-2000, when the team finished 11-12-2.
With 16 points in the ECAC Northeast after Wednesday’s 4-3 win at Suffolk, the focus is singular for the Golden Bears, who close the regular season Saturday at home against Nichols.
“You’ve got really the fight for No. 1 and for the last playoff team, and the rest of us clawing at us to see who’s going to go on the road,” Heffernan said. “We’re the team that has the most difficult challenge ahead of us, in terms of mental toughness.”
The top six teams in the ECAC Northeast qualify for the single-elimination conference playoffs. The first- and second-place teams earn first-round byes, while the third-place team hosts the sixth-place team and the fourth-place team hosts the fifth-place team.
However, Western New England’s recent surge — the Golden Bears have won four of their last five games — is indicative of the parity among the top five teams in the ECAC Northeast.
“What you’re seeing is a lot of coaches working hard at the recruiting process, working on and bringing in guys that can be difference-makers,” Heffernan said. “Louie Educate (at Nichols) is a tremendous, tremendous hockey player. We’ve got some very good freshmen as well, and I think that you look at Wentworth and they have a tremendous freshman (Mike Domsodi). Guys are really working hard to build programs with the right people.”
In his own camp, Heffernan points to his goalies as a key to his program’s success this season.
Sophomore Eric Sorenson entered the week second in the ECAC Northeast with a 2.75 goals-against average and third in the conference with a .915 saves percentage. Sorenson, Tim Carr and T.J. Fatse have combined for a .911 save percentage and a .303 goals-against average.
“We’ve been lucky to have great goaltending from all our goalies all year long,” Heffernan said. “We had a little hiccup in that area last Wednesday (February 8) versus Johnson and Wales (a 10-3 loss), but our goalies have given us a chance to win games that they may not deserve to win.”
With playoff positioning on the line on Saturday against Nichols, it’s a desirable situation for the Golden Bears — and for any team with the postseason in its sights.
“That’s what you want in any college conference,” Heffernan said. “You want to have control of your own destiny. The fans like to know that if we’re playing Nichols, no matter what happens on Wednesday, it’s going to have some impact on the standings. It’s an exciting time for everybody. For our guys, the major thing is to keep the focus on one game at a time.”
Here’s an updated schedule for the MASCAC playoffs (the league gave USCHO the wrong information on playoff dates):
Saturday, Feb. 25: Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Feb. 29: Semifinals
Saturday, March 3: Championship (at higher seed)
All games will be hosted by the higher-seeded team. The MASCAC playoff bracket will be released February 22, the day after the final regular-season conference games.
Two MASCAC teams close the regular season on Thursday, February 23 with nonconference games: Worcester State at Assumption and Southern New Hampshire at Framingham State.