It is serious now. The playoffs are here, and the season comes down to winning and moving on, or losing and going home. Both conferences have some interesting matchups in the quarterfinal round, and all of the hard-fought games in the regular season to gain home ice will now, hopefully, come to bear on the outcomes of the games this weekend.
For the regular season I finished with a strong 6-1-1 record last weekend that pushed the season total to 60-22-8 (.711) overall. Finally, the elusive 70 percent success rate was achieved, but it took the final games of the regular season to get there. Now there are eight games this “Super Saturday,” and I am feeling relatively confident. Here goes on what I think is the road to the final four in each conference.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
University of New England vs. Norwich
February was a bit up and down for the Cadets, and mostly down for the Nor’easters, but this is playoff time in Northfield, and the road to a third-straight Frozen Four begins by capturing the league first. Coach McShane’s troops aren’t going to be taking anyone lightly in the quarterfinals or any other round, and with Janke, Cotnoir, Lindensmith, Thomas, Forkey and the rest of the front line, the offense will get it done early and often in this one. Norwich 6-1
New England College vs. Castleton
The Pilgrims really struggled down the stretch, and are winless in their last five games, including the season finale to the University of New England. The Spartans haven’t been great in February, but have the home game they wanted and a chance to play upstate next weekend. Just too much inconsistency overall for NEC to win this one. Castleton 5-2
Southern Maine vs. Babson
It is that time of year again when the green and white turn on their playoff game and surprise no one by being right in the battle for the title when it matters most. Since January 14, the Beavers are 6-1-4, with the one loss coming to, you guessed it, Southern Maine, by a 3-1 score on home ice. Like the score, but the other way around this time, just because it is the playoffs. Babson 3-1
Massachusetts-Boston vs. Skidmore
The number four vs. number five is always expected to be the most competitive quarterfinal matchup, and this game will not disappoint. Like Babson, Mass.-Boston has had the chance to be Cinderella at the ball, only to fall just short on a couple of occasions from lower seed positions than this. This one could go either way, depending on the Bendel/Bessey factor. Well there’s that and the fact I don’t think every home team is going to win on Saturday — empty-net goal creates the final score. Mass.-Boston 4-2
Hamilton vs. Amherst
My sincere apologies to Hamilton for jumping the gun on Sunday night and posting Connecticut College’s claiming the number eight seed in the conference based on tiebreakers that ultimately were decided on the basis of the records for each team against the top four in the conference. Glad it didn’t have to go deeper than that. No disrespect to the Continentals, but they are playing a very confident team that is 10-0-0 at home, and have a long bus ride to get there. It will be closer than you think, but the Lord Jeffs move on to host next week. Amherst 3-0
Trinity vs. Bowdoin
Most in the league look at Bowdoin as being the most offensively-skilled team in the conference. They demonstrated that just a couple of weeks ago in spotting the Bantams a first period lead and then put the game away with four unanswered goals and points from nine different players in the remaining two periods. On occasion, history does repeat itself. Bowdoin 4-1
Wesleyan vs. Middlebury
Sunday, the Panthers almost did something only Bowdoin has done this season — beat Amherst in the regular season. After throwing the kitchen sink at Jonathan La Rose for two periods (28-8 in shots), an Amherst rally in the third period gave the visitors a hard fought 2-1 win. Every game with Wesleyan has been a one-goal affair, including Middlebury’s 3-2 win that gave goalie Dan Fullam his first collegiate win. The playoffs seem to be when the Panthers rise most to the occasion, and home ice matters. Middlebury 3-2
Williams vs. Tufts
At the end of January, Tufts took a 3-2 overtime win at Williams that had them skyrocketing toward its first home-ice playoff seeding in school history. Both teams salvaged wins in the final game of the regular season after a stretch of losses and performances that were anything but playoff ready. On paper, this one should be decided by one of the two guys in goal — Barchard or Purdy. Only one team and senior netminder moves on, and it’s the Ephs who have more experience in this realm. Williams 3-1
So, I may be putting too much confidence on the home ice advantage in the quarterfinal round with my picks for only one road team winning in the matchups on Saturday. Emotion and adrenaline will surely have a lot to do with the outcomes, as will experience, on the ice and behind the bench. As noted in my column earlier in the week, it is all about execution now. Play better than the other guy, work harder, and win the one-on-one battles, likely means your team is moving on.
The pressure is on — drop the puck!