You can no longer ignore it, and with just three games left in this ECAC Northeast season, it might as well be time to embrace it. Let’s face it, this league has played out like a sports cliche all season, and you can pick your poison as to which one:
Expect the unexpected. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night. You can throw the records out when they play. Right on down the line.
Last weekend was proof positive. In the first round of the conference tournament, both games resulted in upsets, both teams with home-ice advantage were sent packing, and now as the semifinals are upon us, you have the Nos. 5 and 6 seeds alive and well. And the Nos. 1 and 2 teams on upset alert.
Perhaps we should have expected nothing less from a conference that produced six teams with double-digit wins, yet no team with better than a .660 winning percentage overall. Is that competitive balance or just plain, old mediocrity from a league that didn’t net a ranked team all year? That’s up to you to decide. In the interim, let’s take a look at Wednesday’s two semifinal match-ups that feature a pair of home favorites and a pair of anxious upstarts.
WHO: No. 5 Salve Regina at No. 2 Nichols
WHEN: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Bison (16-8-1, 9-4-1 in conference) might have played the most consistent hockey of anyone down the stretch. They didn’t lose in regulation across their final eight games, and posted a four-game winning streak from Feb. 2-16. They enjoyed a bye over the weekend. The Seahawks (9-13-3, 5-7-2), meanwhile, are scrapping and clawing their way through February, and it’s paid off. They are just 2-2-2 in their last six, but defeated Western New England with authority in the playoffs Saturday, 8-4, setting up this unexpected tilt.
ONES TO WATCH: Welcome to the postseason, Cameron Gaudet. The Salve Regina freshman forward had a hat trick in the upset over the Golden Bears, and has five power-play goals on the season. Nichols, meanwhile, is best known for its depth. The Bison get contributions from all of their lines, but freshman forward Tyler Beasley is a standout. He had eight goals and 16 points in conference competition, including four tallies on the power play.
SEASON SERIES: Nichols, 2-0
THE SKINNY: The Bison should be well rested, and should be eager to play in front of a home crowd against a team they have already proven their prowess over. But keep this in mind: Both Nichols’ wins over the Seahawks were of the one-goal variety — 4-3 on Nov. 10, and 1-0 on Jan. 23 — and Salve Regina has clearly proven to be a tough out. Nothing will come easy, and while the Bison can play the home-ice card, the Seahawks can rely on the fact that their momentum is surging based of their season’s biggest win just a few days ago.
WHO: No. 6 Johnson and Wales at No. 1 Wentworth
WHEN: Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Leopards (14-8-3, 10-2-2) woke up and won four of their last five games, all of them were in conference play. WIT, the preseason choice to win the league, peaked at the right time, locked up the top seed and watched the upsets from afar last weekend. The Wildcats (10-15-1, 5-8-1) meanwhile, have won two in a row for just the second time all season, and secured this surprising bid to the semifinals by knocking off Curry, 6-4, on the road last Saturday.
ONES TO WATCH: How’s this for a postseason splash? Johnson and Wales junior forward Ian DePasquale scored three goals in the first period and changed the tenor of the game vs. Curry instantaneously. Less than 16 minutes in, the Wildcats were up 3-0 and on their way to the semis. Wentworth senior defenseman Shaun Jameson had five goals and 26 points this season, and this week was named the conference player of the year. He had two power-play goals, one game-winning goal, and was the driving force behind a strong Leopards’ comeback, as they shook off a slow start to finish where most felt they belonged all along: first place.
SEASON SERIES: Wentworth, 2-0
THE SKINNY: WIT coach R.J. Tolan has battled some inconsistency this season, and many games were closer than they should have been, but the facts are the facts, and the Leopards did win the regular-season title, did battle through a tough nonleague slate, and have only lost once since Jan. 16. They have the power and precision to again win it all, like last year. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are brimming with confidence. They have scored 11 goals in the last two games, and only allowed 23 shots on net to Curry last weekend.
The league final is set for Saturday, with the highest remaining seed having home ice for that one.