The elite teams are rising to the top as the number of participants continues to dwindle down through advanced rounds of the conference playoffs.
There are conference championship games on the horizon along with the highly-coveted NCAA tournament auto-bids that come with the titles.
Here is a recap of the great action across the country in D-II and D-III that has everything in place for a wild finish to conference play everywhere this upcoming weekend and outcomes that may have a huge impact on who gets into the NCAA tournament.
The matchup in the title game that many anticipated is now a reality following semifinal-round wins by both Norwich and Babson.
The Cadets downed fifth-seeded Castleton by a score of 4-3 led by Travis Janke’s goal and an assist. The Cadets spotted the Spartans an early one-goal lead before reeling off four unanswered goals that stood up for the win and the opportunity to once again host the championship game next weekend.
The Beavers spotted Massachusetts-Boston one-goal leads twice in the first two periods of play, but leveraged goals from four different players, including an empty-netter from Nik Tasiopoulos, to seal the 4-2 win and return date with Norwich next Saturday night. Jamie Murray made 25 saves in picking up his 20th win on the season for Babson.
With the top two teams, Nichols and Wentworth, earning byes to this week’s semifinal round on Wednesday, the quarterfinal matchups determined their upcoming opponents.
In a mild upset, Curry defeated Salve Regina by a 4-1 score, despite being outshot by the Seahawks by a 38-18 margin.
Jordan Reed score on a penalty shot in the final minute of the opening period that jump-started the Colonels to a three-goal lead by the five-minute mark of the second period. Derek Mohney, the ECAC Northeast goalie of the year, stopped 37 of 38 shots as the Colonels advance to face top-seeded Nichols.
In the other quarterfinal, Johnson and Wales defeated Suffolk by a score of 7-0. After a sluggish and scoreless first period that saw the Wildcats outshot 8-2, Johnson and Wales kicked its offense into high gear in the second period. Cody Sarmiento scored just 32 seconds into the middle frame and added three more assists as his team put up four goals in the second period and three in the third on just 20 shots on goal. Joey Ballmer stopped 17 shots in earning the shutout. The Wildcats will face Wentworth in the semifinals.
Elmira’s Brian Depp recorded a hat trick for the home team in a hard-fought semifinal-round win over Hobart. Depp opened and closed the scoring for the Soaring Eagles, who needed a three-goal third period rally to overcome the Statesmen by a score of 5-3. Hobart exploded for three goals and outshot Elmira 26-5 in the second period, but the home team returned the favor in the third period, posting a 17-6 shot advantage and scoring three goals themselves to erase a one-goal deficit and earn their spot in the conference final next week.
Manhattanville traveled to face the No. 1 seed Utica Pioneers in the other semifinal played on Sunday afternoon and the Pioneers eked out a 1-0 win with a third-period goal from Jordan Hobiaca just over halfway through the period. Nick Therrien stopped just 16 shots from the Valiants, but made several big stops for the hosts, who now will face Elmira for the conference title next weekend.
Both Plymouth State and Salem State found themselves enjoying well-deserved byes this past weekend while quarterfinal action determined their opponents for the Tuesday night semifinal-round of the conference tournament.
Westfield State got a late first-period goal from T.J. Powers and it held up as the game-winner in a 1-0 win for the Owls over Worcester State. Goaltender Eddie Davey earned the shutout in his 10th win of the season. Westfield State will play Plymouth State on Tuesday night.
In the other quarterfinal, Framingham State took a lopsided 7-1 win over Fitchburg State that was essentially decided in the first 20 minutes of play where the host Rams scored four unanswered goals and cruised to the win. Forward Dean Cavicchi scored two goals and Robert Driscoll added four points for the Rams, who will now play Salem State on Tuesday night.
St. Olaf used a 5-3 win over Concordia (Minn.) on Friday night to earn its way into a semifinal matchup with league leaders St. Thomas on Saturday. The Ollies were a game opponent, scoring first against the nationally-ranked Tommies. St Thomas responded with goals from Tyler Gubb and Alex Altenbernd and 22 saves from Drew Fielding to move on to the championship game against Gustavus Adolphus.
The Gusties were also involved in a close playoff matchup with St. John’s despite outshooting the visitors by a wide margin. Twice the home team had to rally from one-goal deficits, scoring the tying goal early in the third period and then celebrating Andy Pearson’s game-winning goal with just 34 seconds remaining in regulation.
Adrian’s hopes of facing off against St. Norbert in the championship game next weekend were dashed by a resilient St. Scholastica squad that upset the Bulldogs by a score of 4-3. The Bulldogs outshot their opponent by a 44-24 margin, but could not hold off St. Scholastica, who took advantage of a last-second goal in the second period by Dylan Nowakowski and a goal just over a minute earlier by Brandon Nowakowski to take a 3-2 lead at the break. Adrian tied the game early in the third, but St. Scholastica again responded with Alex Valenti’s unassisted goal just over three minutes into the final period that held up as the game-winner. Tyler Bruggeman made 41 saves for the winners, who now will face the nation’s top-ranked team, St. Norbert, in the conference final next weekend.
St. Norbert made it as easy as 1, 2, and 3 against Lake Forest in their semifinal game. The Green Knights leveraged two goals apiece from Joe Perry and Cullen Bradshaw in scoring once in the first, twice in the second and three times in the third period for the 6-0 win.
The quarterfinal round certainly displayed a lot of offense for the winning teams moving onto next weekend’s final four hosted by Trinity.
The Bantams showed off their potent offense yet again in beating Wesleyan by a score of 9-1. Both Jackson Brewer and John Hawkrigg had six points apiece, while Sean Orlando posted a hat trick that helped him surpass the 20-goal plateau for the season.
Amherst rallied from one goal down in the third period and took advantage of late third-period goals by Brendan Burke and Brian Safstrom to earn a hard-fought 4-2 win over visiting Connecticut College.
Sean Daugherty stopped 47 of 50 shots by Colby and added an assist as one of 14 players on the scoresheet in the Williams 7-3 win over Colby.
Bowdoin proved that a road team could win in this conference with a pivotal second period that took control of the game at Middlebury. Colin Downey and Kyle Lockwood scored two goals apiece for the Polar Bears, who won 6-3, and will now take on the top-seeded Bantams next weekend.
In a huge rivalry game, Oswego used two third-period goals from Mike Mantagna and Josh Timpano to erase a 1-0 lead for Plattsburgh and earn a shot at the conference title next week against regular-season champ and top-seeded Geneseo.
The Knights scored twice in the second period and goaltender Nick Horrigan continued his torrid play, posting a shutout for Geneseo in their 2-0 win over Buffalo State.
Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Wisconsin-Stevens Point squared off in one semifinal series with the Pointers taking the first game on Friday night by a score of 4-2 and the Blugolds taking the contest on Saturday night by a score of 1-0 off a first-period short-handed goal by Joe Krause. A mini-game to decide the series took place immediately after the Saturday night game with the Blugolds coming out on top in the single period affair by a score of 2-1.
The defending national champions survive and move on to the championship game with Wisconsin Superior next Saturday night.
In the other semifinal pairing, Wisconsin-Superior swept Wisconsin-River Falls by scores of 2-1 and 4-0 to advance to the title game. Six different players scored for the Yellow Jackets in the wins.
The lone championship game this past weekend went to Southern New Hampshire as it defeated St. Michael’s by a score of 4-1.
The Penmen had previously taken out the four-time defending champion Hawks from St. Anselm in the semifinals and completed the sweep of ECAC East teams with a complete victory over the Purple Knights on Saturday afternoon.
Tyler Holske made 44 saves for the victors, who notched their first ever NE-10 title with the win.