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College Hockey:
ECAC East/NESCAC picks: March 2

It’s for hardware this weekend, it’s for pride, but most of all it is for history. It is the chance for staking a claim as the best team in the conference and winning that all important auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. No coach is going to be saying anything about the national tournament just yet. There is lots of work to be done, and winning the league may be the only way to guarantee a spot at the “big dance.”

Last week’s quarterfinal round saw my picks at 6-2-0 with a clean sweep of the NESCAC games and a .500 split on the ECAC East matchups. I am picking both semifinals in each conference and based on those outcomes, the championship games for the following day. It all starts on Friday afternoon, so enjoy the best of high-stakes hockey and the electric atmosphere that comes with the playoffs.

Friday, March 2, 2012
Southern Maine vs. Norwich
Last week, I bucked history in predicting that Babson would make amends for its sole loss down the stretch run and turn the tables on Southern Maine at home; I was wrong. So guess what?  This week, I am staying with history that saw Norwich handle the Huskies not once, but twice, by the same 5-1 score. The Cadets are pretty tuned up and just have too much firepower for Southern Maine, so any guesses on the score? Yup, history repeats itself. Norwich 5-1

Skidmore vs. Castleton
The two teams played each other just two weekends ago to wrap up the regular season with a home-and-home series that saw the visiting team win both games. The Spartans won a 9-1 blowout while Skidmore eked out a 1-0 win to secure the important fourth seed for home ice last week. So what happens this week on neutral ice? It’s playoff hockey, so expect it to be tight and low scoring. The Spartans have much more to play for than the last meeting in Rutland, and prove they can win the close ones too.  Castleton 2-1

Saturday, March 3, 2012
Castleton vs. Norwich
Both regular season contests went to the Cadets, and while Castleton aspires to be ECAC East champs, Norwich has been there and this team has done that. I still believe there is value to a team in having been there before, and that is the intangible that makes the difference on Saturday. Don’t let the final score fool you; it’s closer than that on the ice. Norwich 5-2

Williams vs. Amherst
The first NESCAC semifinal pits two teams that also saw each other on the final weekend of the regular season. Amherst swept the season series, including the game two weeks ago in Williamstown. When the NESCAC Player of the Year happens to be the starting goalie for Amherst and you’re the best defensive team in the country, you know that goals will be at a premium for the Ephs. Add to that the fact that the Lord Jeffs are unbeaten at Orr Rink this season and you have a recipe for moving on to the championship game. Amherst won’t score a lot either, but it is more than enough. Amherst 3-0

Middlebury vs. Bowdoin
This may be the most exciting game of the weekend, and yes I do believe it will take extra time to decide the outcome. Both teams traded big wins over each other at home during the regular season, and the Panthers appeared to be dead during that January stretch of games that included the loss in Brunswick. This time, the game will be low scoring, but not for the lack of aggressive play and speed game that both teams possess. Both teams have clutch players that show up large in these kinds of games, but look for the game-winner off the stick of a senior looking for one more shot at a second title in his college career. Bowdoin 3-2 (OT)

Sunday, March 4, 2012
Bowdoin vs. Amherst
It is the age old comparison of offense vs. defense and which can earn the championship. These two teams split the regular season, with Bowdoin issuing Amherst its only league loss in Brunswick in a wide open 7-4 score. Amherst returned the favor, winning at home, 3-1, in the second game, so now the question is what happens in round three between these two conference heavyweights. The game is in Amherst, and the Lord Jeffs have barely given up seven goals in their last five games. In this case, it’s defense that wins. After all, it has been winning all season. Amherst 3-1

So, I may not be going out any kind of limb here picking the top seeds to win their respective conference titles. The fact is that these two teams have not only played the most consistent hockey over the course of the regular season, they are playing great hockey when it counts the most, and that is a combination that wins championships. However the games come out this weekend, I want to congratulate all of the teams on their outstanding seasons and wish the winners the best of luck in the NCAA Tournament starting in less than a week. The road to Lake Placid starts this weekend. Enjoy the ride!

The championships and conference glory are on the line — drop the puck!

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