Freshman Blake Wojtala made 43 saves, completing a playoff shutout hat trick in backing Salve Regina to its first ECAC Northeast title and automatic berth into the NCAA tournament (photo: Edward Habershaw).
What a weekend it was in the East.
All of the conference titles have been decided and just as the entire season has shown, don’t take anything for granted when it comes to the final outcome on the ice. While some favorites proved why they were just that, others saw their conference title aspirations dashed by teams peaking at just the right time and taking home the coveted conference title and national tournament qualification.
Here’s a look at the weekend’s action:
Either way it went, one of Endicott in its first year as a program or Salve Regina would be celebrating their very first conference title. The Gulls hosted the championship game against the third-seeded Seahawks and ran into the hottest of goaltenders in the final, leading to Salve Regina’s 4-0 championship win.
Freshman Blake Wojtala was clearly the tournament MVP as he recorded his third consecutive shutout in the conference playoffs and made 93 total saves, including 43 in the final, to backstop Salve Regina into the NCAA tournament. Kevin Clare and Tommy Evangelista gave Wojtala and the stingy defense all the scoring they would need in the first two periods and two third-period short-handed goals sealed the win for Salve Regina, who now await their seeding and schedule for the national tournament.
The conference has no auto-bid, so sending the right message to the selection committee was of paramount importance to both Utica and the host team, Hobart.
It took a little while for the Statesmen to take control, but a dominant first period, where they outshot the Pioneers by an 18-7 margin, was rewarded late in the period as Hobart scored three goals in a one-minute span to take control of the contest. Brad Robbins scored twice in 30 seconds and Booby Sokol added the third goal half a minute later to give Hobart a commanding 3-0 lead after 20 minutes. Vincent Russo and Andrew Silard added goals in the second and third period, respectively, while Lino Chimienti made 30 saves for the shutout in the 5-0 championship win.
Look for Hobart to earn an at-large bid with their 21-4-2 record on the season.
The championship game was as expected with the two top seeds going at each other in a repeat of last season’s title game. This time, Salem State, as was the case in the regular season, got the best of Plymouth State by a 5-0 score to win the conference title and punch their ticket to the national tournament.
Conference Player of the Year Marcus Zelzer was as advertised in making 25 saves and earning the shutout in the Vikings’ 4-0 win. After a scoreless first period, Salem State scored three times in the second period, including tallies from Keaton Cashin, Brandon Platt and Daniel Campbell, to take a commanding 3-0 lead after two periods of play. Cashin’s goal, his first of the season, proved to be the game winner for the Vikings, who added a final marker on Cam Moniz’s 19th of the season to close out the third period.
In a battle of two nationally-ranked teams, the first NEHC title game played between Massachusetts-Boston and Babson lived up to its billing as a great championship game with the unfortunate aspect of one team having to lose out.
The Beacons earned their very first conference title and trip to the NCAA tournament with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win in front of a raucous home crowd. Sophomore Colin Larkin banged home a rebound with just over seven minutes left in the overtime session to send the Beacons into elation. The Beacons twice came back from one-goal deficits in the contest and sent the game into the extra session on a goal from Alex Demchuk in the third period.
Babson goalie Jamie Murray made 42 saves in a losing effort and the Beavers await their fate as an at-large candidate for the NCAA tournament.
Saturday’s semifinal games saw the defending champions from Amherst and host of the final four, Trinity, advance to Sunday’s championship game.
Amherst again proved to be a tough road team as they knocked off Middlebury by a 4-2 score behind two goals from John Festa and 26 saves from goalie Connor Girard. Middlebury had won both regular-season games from Amherst, but fell behind 2-0 after 40 minutes and could not stage a third-period rally as Patrick Arena and Festa closed out the scoring for Amherst in the win.
Trinity faced last season’s demon in a Tufts team that has grown a reputation for knocking off top seeds like Williams last weekend and the Bantams last season in the quarterfinals. The game was not without some drama this year as a 4-1 lead was quickly eroded by the Jumbos in the final minute to a 4-3 score that was finally settled by Trinity’s Sean Orlando’s empty-net goal for the 5-3 win. Alex Morin picked up his 13th win of the season making 25 saves for Trinity.
In the championship game on Sunday, Michael Hawkrigg scored two goals and set up two more as the Bantams cruised to a 5-1 win over Amherst. The Bantams finished 2-for-5 on the man advantage as Amherst uncharacteristically took 10 penalties for 31 minutes, including a match penalty. The defending national champions now get a shot at defending their crown based on earning the school’s third NESCAC crown.
The Geneseo-Plattsburgh championship game figured to be another epic matchup, but sometimes the paper version of the game is not what happens on the ice.
The Knights have demonstrated some prolific offense of late, including last weekend’s semifinal road win over Buffalo State by a score of 6-1 and they weren’t done scoring goals as they routed the Cardinals by a 7-1 score to take the SUNYAC crown and NCAA auto-bid that comes with it.
Arthur Gordon scored twice and the Knights chased Cardinals netminder Spencer Phinney in the second period on their way to a 7-0 lead before Nick Belger broke Devin McDonald’s shutout bid in the third period. McDonald made 42 saves for Geneseo as the Knights were outshot 43-30, but built an early lead and kept the offense rolling.
Blake Wojtala, Salve Regina – completed his shutout troika in style notching 43 saves in the championship game against Endicott after earning quarterfinal and semifinal shutouts over Johnson and Wales and Nichols, respectively. The freshman was a perfect 93 for 93 in the playoffs and should cause some concern for any team Salve faces in the NCAA tournament.
Marcus Zelzer, Salem State – the MASCAC Player of year made 25 saves and posted a shutout in raising his record to 18-1-0 on the season in the Vikings’ 5-0 championship win over Plymouth State.
Colin Larkin, Massachusetts-Boston – the sophomore scored the decisive overtime goal in the Beacons’ first conference championship and NCAA tournament bid in their 3-2 win over Babson.
Michael Hawkrigg, Trinity – recorded four points with a pair of goals and a pair of assists to launch Trinity past Amherst for the NESCAC title and an opportunity to defend their national championship in this year’s tournament.
WEST WRAP – Brian Lester
Auggies win MIAC thriller
Nothing came easy for Augsburg in its MIAC championship game showdown against St. John’s Saturday night, but in the end, the Auggies skated away with the trophy.
Mack Ohnstead scored 2:53 into the third overtime to lift Augsburg to a 5-4 win over the Johnnies in a thrilling battle for the MIAC tournament title.
With the win, Augsburg (17-8-2) assures itself of a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1997-98 campaign. It will be the Auggies’ third appearance in program history.
The Johnnies (13-10-4) had their 10-game unbeaten streak snapped.
Augsburg trailed by two twice in the game, including staring up at a 4-2 deficit in the third period. Eric Brenk and Rory Vesel both scored to tie the game and force OT.
The Auggies also trailed 2-0 before tying the game in the second period thanks to goals by Max Pernham and Luke Dietsch.
Shots weren’t in short supply as Augsburg took 65 in the game while St. John’s tallied 52. Jordyn Kaufer made 48 saves for the Auggies while the Saxton Soley racked up a career-best 57 saves for the Johnnies in what turned out to be the third longest game in NCAA Division III history (102:53).
Andrew Commers had a solid game in defeat for St. John’s scoring three goals. He is the first St. John’s player to have a hat trick since November of 2014. It’s the first postseason hat trick for a St. John’s player since 1999. Commers scored two of his goals in the first eight minutes of the game. Sam Valerius also scored for St. John’s.
Bulldogs repeat as NCHA champs
Adrian is the Harris Cup champion for the second consecutive year after topping No. 1 St. Norbert 4-1 Saturday night.
The Bulldogs (24-3-1) scored twice in the final three minutes to pull away from the Green Knights (23-3-2) in a title game showdown that featured the top two teams in the nation. Adrian clinched the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament with the win.
Adrian celebrates its 2016 Harris Cup championship after a 4-1 win over St. Norbert last Saturday night on home ice (photo: Mike Dickie Photography).
Kevin Entmaa made 23 saves but was forced to leave with an injury. He came into the game as the only undefeated goaltender in the country. Tyler Parks played the final 28 minutes of the game to earn the win. It was his eighth victory of the year. Parks racked up 15 saves.
Jeremy Olynik scored a goal and dished out an assist while Bryan Yim, Taylor McCloy and Connor Armour also scored for the Bulldogs. Tanner Froese scored the lone goal for the Green Knights, who had their 11-game unbeaten streak snapped. St. Norbert is still expected to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Adrian won its seventh consecutive game and is 14-0 on the year at home. The Bulldogs improved to 6-5 all-time against the Green Knights.
Pointers survive overtime battle with Falcons to take WIAC
Wisconsin-Stevens Point didn’t win the regular-season WIAC title but it did come away with the league tournament crown after surviving a double-overtime thriller against Wisconsin-River Falls Saturday night.
Lawrence Cornellier scored the game winner off an assist from Kyle Sharkey to deliver the Pointers their first playoff crown since the 1992-93 season.
Stevens Point (22-5-2) looked like it was going to cruise to the win on this night as it built a commanding 3-0 lead. Alex Brooks, Drew Graves and Sharkey all scored goals to give Stevens Point the edge against the Falcons (16-7-5). The goal by Sharkey was his 17th of the season.
Goals by Christian George, Zach Schrotenboer and Danny Hamburg gave the Falcons new life.
The Pointers held a 45-27 advantage in shots and Max Milosek made 24 saves, with 11 of those saves coming in the the first OT period. Tanner Milliron tallied 41 saves for the Falcons.
Stevens Point and River Falls split during the regular season, with both games being decided by a goal. Saturday’s win was the 12th road victory of the year for the Pointers, who are hoping to be selected for the NCAA tournament and have a shot to get to the national title game for the third consecutive year. Stevens Point has been the national runner-up the last two years.