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Tournament championship picks: March 26

It’s the final round at the Frozen Four in Lake Placid and the all-West showdown between Wisconsin-Stevens Point and St. Norbert is an epic and worthy final. One game left to decide the national championship between two very familiar opponents.

Friday night’s semifinal round NCAA picks went 0-2-0 (.000) as my Eastern title hopes were dashed by strong play and a bit of puck luck from the West. Kudos to my writing partner Brian Lester for picking both correctly and setting the stage for a Wisconsin backyard brawl The season record now stands at 74-41-10 (.632) and with just tonight’s game remaining, I can only hope to finish the season on a one-game winning streak.

Here are the championship game picks:

Tim Costello

If there was ever a team on a mission, it is the Pointers, who are in their third consecutive title game looking to win the elusive championship. The team showed off its relentless speed and team defense in shutting down a high-powered Geneseo offense in the semifinal and now has the opportunity to avenge an early season loss against the Green Knights, who played late into the night going double overtime with UMass-Boston. There is no being tired for the final and this game may need extra time to decide and complete the mission.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point 3, St. Norbert 2.

It is a great venue for college championship hockey in Lake Placid and one team culminates a long season by skating off with a hard earned NCAA title tonight — drop the puck!

Brian Lester

We’ve reached the end of the road of the Division III hockey season, with Stevens Point and St. Norbert the only two teams still standing.

Stevens Point is on a mission and after dominating Geneseo on Friday, the Pointers made it clear they want this season to end with a championship trophy in their hands.

The Pointers, winners of four in a row, feature one of the top offenses in the country, punching in 140 goals. They will go up against a St. Norbert team that has been nearly as effective on the offensive end of the ice as the Green Knights have tallied 128 goals on the year.

The last time these two teams met for the championship, St. Norbert skated away with a 3-1 win in 2014. The two teams played in the regular season this year as well and the Green Knights dominated that game en route to a 5-2 victory.

Stevens Point is due for a win and I expect the Pointers to get it, avoiding the outcome of being the national runner-up for a third consecutive year.

Stevens Point, 5-3.

Tournament semifinal picks: March 25

It’s the semifinal round at the Frozen Four in Lake Placid and both games feature the talent and level of play to complete the required weekend two-game win streak and hoist the national championship trophy.

All efforts are focused on Friday and the need to win to play further on the weekend.

Last week’s quarterfinal round NCAA picks went 2-2-0 (.500) with misses on the highly-seeded Statesmen and Bulldogs. Picking the winner and exact score of the Geneseo-Williams game made me feel a little better, but now is the time to sweep the weekend picks.

The season record now stands at 74-39-10 (.642) and with just two games pitting East vs. West, I am going to make it interesting for Mr. Lester by picking my boys in the East in both games – got to give some props to the Beacons and Knights!

Here are my picks across the semifinal-round NCAA games on Friday:

Geneseo vs. Wisconsin-Stevens Point

If the game is only half as good as the storylines leading up to it, this one is destined to be a tournament classic. The Pointers are seeking just one rung higher than last year’s finish, while the Knights are on a mission for a fallen teammate. The big sheet creates room for a little more offense and that goes the way of the New York-based team – Geneseo 4, Wisconsin-Stevens Point 3

Massachusetts-Boston vs. St. Norbert

First time vs. long time in game two on Friday night and while the Green Knights have all the credentials, somebody forgot to tell the Beacons they are just “newbies” and should be happy to be here – UMB 3, St. Norbert 2 (OT)

Semifinal picks – Brian Lester

Stevens Point vs. Geneseo

Stevens Point has won three consecutive games and is eager to punch a ticket to the title game once again. The Pointers have been the national runner-up the last two years.

They have struck for 140 goals on the year while allowing 66 and Joe Kalisz leads the attack with 13 goals and 27 assists. Kyle Sharkey has come through with 18 goals and 17 assists and Lawrence Cornellier has tallied a team-best 22 goals to go along with 12 assists.

Max Milosek has been solid in goal this season, winning 17 times, including two by shutout. He owns a 2.08 GAA.

The Pointers have been clutch as of late, with three of their last five games being decided by one goal.

Geneseo is riding a five-game win streak and is in the final four for the second time in three years. The Knights have scored four or more goals four times during the stretch while giving up only five goals.

Stephen Collins leads the offense with 22 goals and 25 assists. Trevor Hills has tallied 22 goals as well to go along with 18 assists. The Knights have scored 121 goals in all and have given up 77 goals. Devin McDonald is 17-2-5 with a 2.35 GAA.

Both teams have been here before, but I’m giving the edge to Stevens Point in a tight battle.

Stevens Point, 5-4

St. Norbert vs. UMass Boston

The Green Knights have won four national titles and are in the final four for the 10th time in program history. They have won five of their last six and will look to win the title for the first time since 2014.

They have scored 128 goals on 178 assists and Erik Cooper leads the way with 12 goals and 21 assists. Four other players have scored at least 13 goals, including Riley Christensen, who has also tallied 13 assists. St. Norbert has allowed only 40 goals, with Tony Kujava fashioning a 15-1-1 record.

In its last five wins, St. Norbert has tallied at least four goals while not allowing more than a goal in any of those victories.

While St. Norbert is familiar with the final four, Mass.-Boston is in unchartered territory. The Beacons are in the national semifinals for the first time and come in on a five-game win streak.

Matt Lemire has come through with 14 goals and 29 assists to pace the offense while five other players have scored at least 10 goals. The Beacons have racked up 125 goals in all and have allowed 61. Billy Faust is 14-2-3 this season in goal.

Both of these teams are capable of scoring goals in bunches, but St. Norbert has the experience.

St. Norbert 5-3

The games will be great and we will have just one more pick to make for Saturday, but first things first. You have to win on Friday to play in the big game – drop the puck!

Tournament quarterfinal wrap

Senior Billy Faust made 42 saves, including 15 in the third period, to back Massachusetts-Boston's 2-0 upset win over Hobart on Saturday night. (Paul Brandon Photography)

Senior Billy Faust made 42 saves, including 15 in the third period, to back Massachusetts-Boston’s 2-0 upset win over Hobart on Saturday night. (Paul Brandon Photography)

The field is set for this weekend’s Frozen Four in Lake Placid.

Lots of great stories among the four entrants that include perennial national title contender St. Norbert, last year’s finalist looking for a better outcome in Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a team with a cause in Geneseo and this year’s first-time participant, Massachusetts-Boston.

All four earned their way in against high-caliber competition, so here is a summary of Saturday night’s quarterfinal action.

Geneseo keeps roll going, downs Williams

The game played out as billed by the coaches — a tight defensive game that was not likely to feature a lot of scoring, largely based on the strong play of freshman goaltenders Michael Pinios for Williams and Devin McDonald for Geneseo.

While the big guns for both teams were largely held in check, it was secondary scoring that made the difference for the Knights as Arthur Gordon scored twice in the first period with a pair of assists from linemate Brodie Tutton and the two goals stood up as enough behind McDonald’s 31 saves for a 2-1 win.

Geneseo's Arthur Gordon scored two first-period goals that held up in the Knights' 2-1 win over Williams in NCAA quarterfinal action on Saturday night. (Keith Walters)

Geneseo’s Arthur Gordon scored two first-period goals that held up in the Knights’ 2-1 win over Williams in NCAA quarterfinal action on Saturday night. (Keith Walters)

McDonald yielded just one goal in the third period as Williams furiously battled to level the score, launching 14 shots in the final period. McDonald, despite being run into the net and the back boards on a crease collision defending a Williams breakaway, shook off the obvious pain and finished strong after surrendering Colby Cretellla’s goals just four seconds after the Ephs’ final power play expired midway through the third period.

Pinios finished with 24 saves for Williams and kept his team in it with several big saves in the final 40 minutes but the power play finished 0-for-3 and the third period assault on McDonald couldn’t net the equalizer. The win for the Knights earns them their second trip to the Frozen Four in the last three seasons.

“I can’t wait,” said Geneseo coach Chris Schultz. “The first time is a really special event. You don’t know what to expect. Everything is new. With this being our second time in three years, it’s a different mission now. We’re going to go to win. Last time we were kind of enjoying the process. The players we have in our room and the amount of adversity they faced this year, there’s more to it than just going to the Frozen Four. It’s going there to win hockey games.”

(Ed. Note: Special thanks to USCHO’s Russell Jaslow for the post-game quote from Schultz)

Massachusetts-Boston blanks Hobart

Every tournament needs and loves a Cinderella story and the Beacons would be happy to find the slipper fits following their 2-0 upset road win over Hobart on Saturday night.

The Beacons were outshot 42-29 for the game, including 16-4 in the third period, but took advantage of a power-play goal from leading scorer Matt Lemire in the second period and a third period insurance goal from Mike Thomson for the two-goal cushion that senior Billy Faust made stand up for the win and first ever trip to the Frozen Four in their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.

“I thought we came out nervous in the first period,” noted UMass Boston coach Peter Belisle. “I went into the locker room at the break and said we had come to far this season to play nervous now and I thought we really responded in that second period and outplayed them.”

Faust was solid all game as he has been in the post-season. In the two games of the NCAA tournament, the senior has a combined 79 saves and a perfect save percentage in recording back-to-back shutouts over Trinity and Hobart in the two road wins.

While Hobart was unable to cash in on a first period power-play opportunity, the Beacons scored the only goal they ultimately would need. With Jon Neal serving a minor for interference, Lemire cashed in at the nine-minute mark of the second period with assists from Albee Daley and Frankie DeAugustine.

“The coaching staff was talking before the game how big it would be if Matty [Lemire] could score early for us,” said Belisle. “It wasn’t early, but that goal was a big lift for Matt and a huge lift for our team — you could see the energy on the bench right away. I thought Matt was one of the best players on the ice for us all night and that goal was huge for him and the team.”

With the Statesmen pressing for the equalizing goal, Thomson took advantage of a Hobart turnover and beat netminder Lino Chimienti on a partial breakaway at the 12-minute mark of the third period for a much-needed insurance goal. The goal came just after a Hobart shot rang off the crossbar on a deflection in front of Faust.

That is all Faust needed as he stopped all 16 Hobart shots in the final period and the Beacons celebrated knocking off the top-seeded team in the East.

“Billy is just so calm in there,” stated Belisle. “During that first timeout, he came over to the bench and was laughing and joking with our team manager on the bench. He is just very composed and in a zone and I think the team feeds off that relaxed confidence.”

Green Knights cruise past Auggies

For the 10th time in program history St. Norbert is headed to the final four.

The Green Knights secured the bid with a dominating 6-1 win over Augsburg Saturday night in a national quarterfinal game at the Cornerstone Community Center.

St. Norbert will play UMass Boston in a national semifinal game Friday, looking to clinch a spot in the championship game for the first time since 2014, which is also the last year the Green Knights won the title.

 (Steve Frommell/Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

(Steve Frommell/Steve Frommell, d3photography.com)

Augsburg, in the tourney for the first time since the 1997-98 campaign, led 1-0 early on a goal by Trevor Stewart.

But it was all St. Norbert after that.

Pijus Rulevicius tied the game at 1-1 and eventually scored a second goal, pushing his season total to 15 goals.

Ross Pavek broke the 1-1 tie to put St. Norbert in front for good. Pavek scored a second time in the game as well and also dished out an assist. Riley Christiansen also struck for a pair of goals while also tallying two assists in the win.

The Green Knights dominated offensively, outshooting the Auggies 40-16 as they improved to 24-3-2 on the season. Tony Kujava did his part on defense as he made 15 saves and improved to 15-1-1 this year.

St. Norbert went 2-for-6 on the power play, while Augsburg came up short on all four of its power-play chances. The Auggies, the champions of the MIAC this season, finish the year with a 17-9-2 record.

Pointers head back to final four, beat Adrian

Stevens Point has been the national runner-up the last two seasons. The Pointers want to finish the job this time and will get another shot at the title this weekend after knocking off top-ranked Adrian 5-2 Saturday night.

The Pointers are in the final four for the third consecutive year and for the 12th time in program history. The win was their third in a row.

Stevens Point trailed 1-0 early after a goal by Taylor McCloy, his 12th of the season.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point goaltender Max Milosek makes a save with Adrian's Daniel Lisi and the Pointer's Nathan Harris in front. (Mike Dickie Photography)

Wisconsin-Stevens Point goaltender Max Milosek makes a save with Adrian’s Daniel Lisi and the Pointer’s Nathan Harris in front. (Mike Dickie Photography)

Jono Davis tied the game at 1-1, but Adrian went back in front 2-1 in the first period after another goal by McCloy.

Lawrence Cornellier tied the game at 2-2 and it was all Pointers after that.

Jacob Barber broke the tie with just 11 seconds left in the second period before Stevens Point scored a pair of empty-net goals late in the third to seal the deal. Cornellier and Kyle Sharkey both scored to finish off the win for the Pointers, who are now 22-5-2 on the season. The road win was their 13th of the year away from home.

Max Milosek made 40 saves to pick up his 16th win of the year. Kevin Entmaa, who came in as the only undefeated goaltender in college hockey, tallied 35 saves. He finishes his first season with the Bulldogs with a 14-1 record.

Adrian had its seven-game win streak snapped and lost its first home game of the season. The Bulldogs, who won the NCHA championship, end the year with a 24-4-1 record.

Friday’s matchups in Lake Placid are set with Geneseo facing Stevens Point in one semifinal, while UMass Boston faces St. Norbert in the other semifinal — four teams all with a chance to win the national championship in a place where the biggest of dreams can happen.

Tournament quarterfinal picks: March 18

It’s the quarterfinal round and all four games feature matchups that are great for fans who like great offense, strong team defense and terrific goaltending.

The winning teams will need to have all on display to advance to next week’s Frozen Four in Lake Placid.

Last week’s first round NCAA picks went 2-1-0 (.667) with my miss on the big win by Williams over Salem State. That brings the season record to 72-37-10 (.647) and with just two games in the East, I am branching out to the West quarterfinals and challenging my writing partner for prognostication supremacy.

Here are my picks across the quarterfinal round NCAA games on Saturday:

Massachusetts-Boston @ Hobart – “To be the champ, you have to beat the champ” and the Beacons pulled that off on the road against Trinity last week. Now, they face the No. 1 seed in the East and a team unbeaten on home ice this season. Game comes down to the wire and maybe even some extra time to decide who plays next weekend – Hobart 4, UMB 3

Williams @ Geneseo – The two teams played in the regular season back in late November and neither coach is putting much stock in that result being representative of the teams today. NESCAC Rookie of the Year Michael Pinios will be one difference from the first game, but not the outcome – Geneseo 2, Williams 1

Wisconsin-Stevens Point @ Adrian – The teams split the two games played in the regular season with each winning at home. The Bulldogs have been unbeatable on home ice and that may be just the edge they need to sneak by the Pointers – Adrian 3, Wisconsin-Stevens Point 2

Augsburg @ St. Norbert – The Auggies certainly earned their trip to the NCAAs and now face a ranked team on the road to advance from the quarterfinals. As the visitor, they are winless against nonconference foes this season and the Green Knights have lots of experience in reaching the Frozen Four – St. Norbert 4, Augsburg 1

Brian Lester’s picks:

Only eight teams are still standing in college hockey and four will be fortunate to keep their national championship dreams alive.

Below is a quick look at the matchups and my predictions for the weekend.

Stevens Point vs. Adrian

Stevens Point wants another crack at the national title after finishing as the runner-up the last two seasons. Adrian is playing as well as anyone right now and is eager to win its first title in program history.

The Pointers have won nine of 11 and are led by Lawrence Cornellier, who has tallied 20 goals. Max Milosek has been sensational in goal with a 16-4-2 record.

The Bulldogs have won their last seven and are looking for another trip to the final four. They have eight players who have scored 10 or more goals, including Mathew Thompson and Trevor Boyd. The two have scored 16 goals apiece. Adrian also features the lone unbeaten goaltender in the country in Kevin Entmaa, who is 14-0 and has given up just 30 goals.

Goals will be tough to come by, but my money’s on Adrian.

Adrian, 3-2.

St. Norbert vs. Augsburg

The Green Knights are determined to win their first title since 2014 and Augsburg is the first obstacle to overcome on the road to the championship. The Auggies are in the tourney for the first time since the 1997-98 campaign.

St. Norbert has just one lost in its last 12 and has thrived behind the play of Erik Cooper, who has tallied 12 goals and 20 assists. Four others have scored at least 11 goals. Tony Kujava is 14-1-1 with a 1.28 GAA.

Augsburg has won 10 of its last 12 and has been led by Nate Flynn, who has racked up 16 goals and 14 assists. Jordyn Kaufer is one of the top goaltenders in the nation, sporting a 16-5-1 record and a 2.01 GAA. He has recorded three shutouts this season.

St. Norbert is no doubt the favorite, but I’ll pick the upset in this one just for the heck of it.

Augsburg, 4-3.

Geneseo vs. Williams

The Knights crushed Salve Regina 7-1 in its tourney opener, running its unbeaten streak to seven games. Anthony Marra scored three times and dished out an assist, while Trevor Hills tallied two goals and three assists. Marra has nine goals and 27 assists and Hills has come through with 22 goals and 18 assists overall. Devin McDonald is 16-2-5 with a 2.41 GAA and has helped anchor a defense that has allowed only four goals in the last four games.

The Ephs defeated Salem State in its NCAA tourney debut, getting two goals from George Hunkele, who has nine goals and nine assists on the year. Williams set a school record with its 19th win last weekend and will be seeking revenge after falling 3-0 to Geneseo in November. The Ephs have lost only once in their last 11 games and are led by David Italiano, who has tallied eight goals and 14 assists. Michael Pinios is 13-3-1 with a 1.59 GAA.

Geneseo, 4-2

Hobart vs. Mass.-Boston

Hobart had a bye in the first round and can break the record for wins in a season with a win this weekend. The Statesmen average a little more than four goals per game and have won their last four overall. Brad Robbins leads the way with 19 goals and 13 assists. Hobart features two solid goaltenders in Lino Chimienti (11-2-2, 1.68 GAA) and Frank Oplinger (10-2-0, 1.81 GAA). Either one is capable of getting the job done on any given night.

Mass.-Boston is riding a five-game win streak and made quite an impression in its NCAA tournament debut, knocking off defending champion Trinity by a 4-0 score. The Beacons average more than four goals per game as well and are led by Matt Lemire, who has come through with 14 goals and 29 assists. Billy Faust is 15-3-3 with a 2.04 GAA.

Don’t be surprised if the Beacons pull off another win and continue on to the final four.

Mass.-Boston, 5-4.

The quarterfinals determine who is on the way to Lake Placid and the Frozen Four.

Can’t look past Saturday and start making travel plans; you have to earn this trip – drop the puck!

First round tournament wrap: March 13

Derek Colucci’s two goals ensured a successful maiden voyage in the NCAA tournament for Massachusetts-Boston, who knocked off the defending national champions from Trinity and advance to face Hobart in the quarterfinals (photo: SportsPix).

There were three games last weekend, including the defending national champion and three first-time participants in the national tournament, that all finished with perhaps a bit less drama than expected.

Two first-timers won their matchups and this year’s tournament will see a new national champion as Trinity exits in the first round at the hands of Massachusetts-Boston.

Here is the wrap-up on the three first-round games:

Massachusetts-Boston @ Trinity

The Beacons, in their first NCAA tournament game, built a 3-0 lead through two periods on goals from Mike Thomson, Derek Colucci and Zach Lindsay, and then rode 17 third-period saves from goaltender Billy Faust on their way to a 4-0 win over the defending national champions.

Colucci added an empty-net goal to finish with two goals on the night and Trinity outshot the visitors by a 37-30 margin, but could not solve Faust.

Salem State @ Williams

Apparently, the week off from play awaiting their at-large bid did not hurt Williams as the offense exploded behind Colby Cretella’s goal and two assists in a 7-1 drubbing of Salem State in the Ephs’ first NCAA tournament game.

George Hunkele got the home team on the board with less than a minute remaining on the clock and Williams opened up the game with four goals in the second period, including Hunkele’s second of the game and additional goals from Joe Welch, Cretella and Matt Werner’s first of the season. The Ephs held Salem State to just 19 shots with Michael Casale being the only Viking to solve goalie Michael Pinios in the third period.

Salve Regina @ Geneseo

Geneseo’s Anthony Marra and Trevor Hills did in just 33 seconds what no team in their prior three games did to Salve Regina when they scored on goalie Blake Wojtala and started an offensive show for the pair that totaled 10 points between them in the Knights’ 7-1 win over the Seahawks.

Marra scored a hat trick and added three assists, while Hills scored twice and added a pair of assists for Geneseo, who went 3-for-6 with the man advantage and cruised to the first-round win. Devin McDonald made 28 saves for the Knights, surrendering just a single power-play goal to Jonathan Felteau in the second period.

Weekend Biscuits

Colby Cretella, Williams – scored one goal and added two assists in Williams’ 7-1 first-round win over Salem State.

Anthony Marra, Geneseo – recorded six points on three goals and three assists for Geneseo in their 7-1 win over ECAC Northeast champion Salve Regina on Saturday night.

Derek Colucci, Massachusetts-Boston – scored two goals for the Beacons as they knocked off defending champion Trinity 4-0 in their first NCAA appearance.

The quarterfinals are now set for Saturday, March 19, with Williams at Geneseo, Massachusetts-Boston at Hobart, Augsburg at St. Norbert and Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Adrian.

Tournament picks: March 11

Just 11 teams remain at the D-III level and all have the desire to win that coveted NCAA title.

This year, the schedule breaks down more favorably for those teams playing first-round games as the mid-week games are all moved to Saturday with the quarterfinals to follow a week later. That means some welcome rest and healing for teams coming off tough conference playoffs and a chance to recharge before going after the next big thing.

Picks – Tim Costello

Last week’s championship-round picks went 5-2-0 (.714) with a pair of top seeds being toppled on home ice counting for the losses. That brings the season record to 70-36-10 (.647) and with just three games on the docket on Saturday, I am looking for a clean sweep.

Saturday, March 12

Massachusetts-Boston @ Trinity – the Cinderella first-time Beacons travel to face the defending national champions in the first-round game on Saturday. The teams met last season with the Beacons topping the Bantams by a goal. I do believe in history repeating itself and facility guys at the Clark Center, don’t take the ice down just yet – UMB 4, Trinity 3

Salve Regina @ Geneseo – the ever-intriguing battle of offense vs. defense is showcased here, but alas, the home team can do it on both ends maybe a little better than the Seahawks, who have made every ranked opponent sweat it out. No difference in this game as both teams put on a show – Geneseo 2, Salve Regina 1

Salem State @ Williams – This one is extremely difficult to pick as both coaches are terrific as are their respective teams. The Vikings have been at this place before, but not so for the Ephs, who have been waiting to play a game for a couple of weeks. The Vikings have no rust and Marcus Zelzer steals one on the road for the visitors – Salem State 3, Williams 2

The neat thing about the final 11 teams is I believe that any one of them can string three or four wins together to take the NCAA title – drop the puck!

Picks – Brian Lester

The NCAA tournament begins this week and six teams will be in action, including reigning national champion Trinity.

Geneseo (18-4-6) vs. Salve Regina (17-10-1)

Geneseo just won its first conference crown since 2006 and is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance. The Knights reached the final four in their last appearance.

Geneseo has won its last three and is 10-1-3 on its home ice. Stephen Collins leads the Knights in goals scored (22) and points (45). Trevor Hills has 20 goals on the year. Devin McDonald is 15-2-5 with a 2.48 GAA.

The Seahawks are in the NCAA tourney for the first time. They skate into this showdown riding a three-game win streak and goaltender Blake Wojtala is coming off back to-back shutouts. He is 13-7 on the year with a 2.17 GAA. Pat Thompson leads the scoring attack with 13 goals and has dished out five assists as well.

Geneseo, 4-2.

Williams (18-5-2) vs. Salem State (22-5)

The Ephs are making their first NCAA tournament appearance this week and are coming off their best-ever regular season in NESCAC play (14-2-2). Williams is playing well entering the tournament, winning 13 of its last 16 games.

No Williams player has scored in double digits in goals. David Italiano is the points leader with eight goals and 13 assists. Tyler Young has struck for eight goals as well to go along with 11 assists. Michael Pinios has played in 16 games in goal and is 12-3-1 with a 1.62 GAA. He has recorded two shutouts.

Salem State is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 13 in a row, and it is in the tournament for the first time since 2014. Cam Moniz leads the Vikings with 19 goals and 10 assists. Brandon Platt is one of the team’s top playmakers, tallying 21 assists. He has scored seven goals as well. Goaltender Marcus Zelzer is 18-1 and has five shutouts to his credit.

Salem State, 5-3.

Trinity (21-5-1) vs. Massachusetts-Boston (21-4-3)

Trinity begins its quest for a second consecutive national title when it takes on UMass Boston in the opening round of the tourney. The Bantams are averaging 3.59 goals per game and were the top scoring team in the NESCAC. Anthony Sabitsky leads the offense with 12 goals and 17 assists. Goaltender Alex Morin is 14-2 on the year and owns a 1.73 GAA.

UMB is in the NCAA tournament for the first time and has won its last four games. The Beacons are averaging 4.32 goals per game. Matt Lemire leads the way offensively with 14 goals and 29 assists, while Colin Larkin has come through with 10 goals and 25 assists. A total of six players have scored 11 or more goals. Goaltender Billy Faust is 13-2-3 with two shutouts.

Trinity, 5-4.

Conference championships wrap: March 7

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:

ECAC Northeast

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.

ECAC West

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.

MASCAC

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.

NEHC

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.

NESCAC

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.

SUNYAC

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.

Weekend Biscuits

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.

East playoff championship picks: March 4

Matt Lemire and the high-powered Massachusetts-Boston offense will be tested at home by Babson’s team defense and All-American goaltender Jamie Murray at the first NEHC championship game on Saturday night (photo: Sportspix).

Way back in October, this was a weekend circled on the calendar that coaches and teams aspired to be playing meaningful hockey on – the time has come and now opportunity meets talent and desire with the hope of winning a conference championship and maybe playing for more on a bigger stage in the national tournament.

Ah, but first things first – the completion, intensity and pressure will all be magnified this weekend and the teams that take it all in and handle it the best are likely to emerge victorious.

Last week’s playoff picks went 5-3-1 (.611) with the NE-10 championship game postponed (and later awarded to Stonehill). That brings the season record to 65-34-10 (.642) and my hope this week’s picks will bring out my best when needed most.

Here are my picks across Eastern semifinal and championship games this weekend:

Saturday, March 5

Tufts @ Trinity – the hosts won’t be taking the Jumbos likely based on last week and last year. It is unlikely the defending national champions want to leave their fate in the hands of the selection committee, so winning the auto-bid is first and foremost in their mind. Tufts won’t be an easy out as the Sean Kavanaugh-led defense in front of standout goalie Mason Pulde will look to shut down the Bantams like they stopped Williams last week. Don’t think history repeats itself, but it takes an ENG to decide it – Trinity 3, Tufts 1

Amherst @ Middlebury – the defending champions from Amherst exploded for six goals in the third period to take down Bowdoin last week, while their hosts have found ways to throttle their offense twice this season already. This one just has that overtime feel and that means one bounce could turn it either way but experience will decide this one and that favors the team in purple- Amherst 2, Middlebury 1

Babson @ Massachusetts-Boston – This one is extremely tight and maybe more than any other game the first goal matters a lot here, especially for the home team. The visitors have a history of playing well at the Clark Center and great in championship games as the visitor. Would not be surprised at an overtime deciding goal – Babson 3, UMB 2

Utica @ Hobart – the home team looks to extend their home perfection and claim the ECAC West title but will not take the young and talented Pioneers lightly. Look for a fast start from the Statesmen who will want set the pace and pressure Utica early – Hobart 5, Utica 2

Geneseo @ Plattsburgh – this is another game that is a repeat of a final regular season weekend match-up that ended inconclusively with a tie. The Cardinals weren’t playing for much then but certainly are now and that likely earns them the deciding goal late in the third period of a hard fought game. Home ice is the difference in this one and the rabid home fans that come with it – Plattsburgh 4, Geneseo 3

Plymouth State @ Salem State – it is the matchup everyone expected with No. 1 playing No. 2 and is a repeat of last year’s championship game won by the Panthers. Turnabout is fair play and this time the Vikings get it done in front of the raucous crowd at “The Rockett” backed by conference Player of the Year Marcus Zelzer in goal – Salem State 4, Plymouth State 3

Salve Regina @ Endicott – the ECAC Northeast battle also pits two teams in search of their first conference title. Both teams split the season series as visitors, so that would appear to favor the Seahawks, but don’t dismiss the poise factor of the Gulls and whether Blake Wojtala can outplay the conference’s Goalie and Rookie of the Year Kevin Aldridge in their respective creases. The first win in program history was against Salve Regina and a fitting cap to the season would be a bookend victory – Endicott 3, Salve Regina 2

Don’t be overwhelmed by the moment and be sure to enjoy the experience of playing for a championship – drop the puck!

West playoff championship picks: March 4

Playoff games typically bring out the best in teams and that should be the case this weekend in the MIAC, NCHA and WIAC.

The margin for error will be slim. In fact, when Adrian and St. Norbert played in the regular season, both games were decided by a goal. The same goes for the two regular-season meetings between Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-River Falls.

A lot will be riding on all three title games as the MIAC and NCHA both have automatic bids up for grabs while at the very least, the winner of the WIAC title game should get a bid to the tournament.

St. John’s (13-9-4) at Augsburg (16-8-2)

The Johnnies are unbeaten in their last 10 games. The Auggies are the regular-season conference champs and want the tourney crown as well as they aim to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years.

St. John’s won the regular-season meetings by the scores of 5-3 and 4-2 and has one of the top goaltenders in the game in Saxton Soley, who is 49-29-10 in his career. Huba Sekesi leads the offense with nine goals and 16 assists.

Augsburg is playing for its first title since the 1997-98 campaign and has a pretty solid goaltender as well in Jordyn Kaufer, who has 15 wins and has recorded three shutouts this year. Nate Flynn is the leader of the offense, racking up 16 goals and 13 assists.

It’s worth noting St. John’s has been tough on the road, going 9-2-1. Augsburg is 8-4-1 at home.

Augsburg, 5-4.

St. Norbert (23-2-2) at Adrian (23-3-1)

The top two teams in the nation square off for the conference title. Adrian is the defending Harris Cup champion and owns a 13-0 record on its own ice. St. Norbert is 14-0-2 away from home.

The two teams split in the regular season, with the Bulldogs winning 5-4 before the Green Knights earned a 2-1 win in the second game of their series.

Adrian has the lone unbeaten goaltender in the country in Kevin Entmaa, who is 14-0 on the season. The Bulldogs aren’t bad offensively either, scoring 150 goals, including 16 apiece from Mathew Thompson and Trevor Boyd.

Erik Cooper is a tremendous threat for the Green Knights, tallying 12 goals and 20 assists. He has scored at least one point in 19 consecutive games. Tony Kujava has won 14 games in goal.

Adrian has won six in a row. St. Norbert has a four-game win streak. Something will have to give.

Adrian, 4-3.

Stevens Point (20-5-2) at River Falls (16-6-5)

Stevens Point beat River Falls 4-3 in their second meeting of the regular season. River Falls earned in a 3-2 win its first showdown with the Pointers.

The Pointers are 11-3-1 on the road and have struck for 131 goals, including 19 by Lawrence Cornellier. Joe Kalisz leads the team in points with 13 goals and 27 assists.

The game will feature two of the best goaltenders in the nation against each other as well. Max Milosek has 15 wins, including two shutouts, for the Pointers, while Tanner Milliron has won 14 games and has kept four opponents off the scoreboard this season.

Expect a title battle from start to finish between these two WIAC rivals.

Stevens Point, 3-2.

Weekend East playoff wrap: Feb. 29

Anthony McVeigh’s two goals, including the overtime winner, completed Utica’s comeback and upset over Manahattanville in the ECAC West playoffs on Saturday night, earning the Pioneers a date in the final with top-seeded Hobart (photo: Jeff Pexton).

Well, it was most certainly a Super Saturday in all of the conference tournaments that saw favorites win, shocking upsets, overtime thrillers and a championship game postponed due to an outbreak of Mumps.

There was lots of excitement and drama and for the teams remaining, one step climbed in pursuit of a conference title and more.

Here is the recap for the East.

ECAC Northeast

The semifinals are set following the weekend’s quarterfinal games that saw the seedings almost hold to form. Wednesday’s matchups will see top-seeded Endicott hosting Wentworth and Nichols hosting Salve Regina.

Alex Larson recorded his first shutout of the season and five different Bison scored in Nichols’ 5-0 win over Becker. The first line of Paul Prescott, Frank Butler and Tyler Beasley combined for two goals and three assists to lead the way for the defending champions.

The goalies stood out in the Rhode Island war between Salve Regina and Johnson and Wales. Joey Ballmer made 38 saves in surrendering just one goal, but was outdueled by the Seahawks’ Blake Wojtala, who made all 24 saves needed to earn the shutout in the 2-0 win.

Suffolk and Wentworth kept the drama on the final entrant alive into Sunday evening as the Leopards upset the fourth-seeded Rams by a score of 4-3 in overtime. Wentworth’s Jake Flynn notched the overtime winner and added an assist as well, while goalie Joel Miller made 31 saves in the win.

ECAC West

The championship round will see top-seeded Hobart hosting third-seeded Utica next Saturday in the championship game.

Hobart continued its home-ice dominance with a convincing 3-0 win over Neumann on Saturday night. Tanner Shaw scored two goals for the home team, while Frank Oplinger picked up his tenth win of the season and the shutout, making 27 saves.

Utica pulled off the upset of second-seeded Manhattanville by coming back from a 3-1 deficit entering the third period. Trent Samuels-Thomas and Anthony McVeigh scored to tie the game in regulation before McVeigh added the overtime winner for the Pioneers.

MASCAC

The semifinal round is now set following Saturday’s quarterfinal games that saw Westfield State and Fitchburg State advance to take on Salem State and Plymouth State, respectively, on Tuesday night.

The Owls won on the road, downing Massachusetts-Dartmouth by a 4-2 score with Jackson Leef setting up two scores and Jonathan LoParco making 36 saves in the win.

The Falcons knocked off Framingham State by 4-0 score with Charles Jakobsson making 25 saves earning the shutout and John Celli supplying all the offense LoParco would need with two goals and an a assist.

NE-10

The scheduled championship game between Stonehill and St. Anselm was postponed due to an outbreak of mumps on the campus of St. Anselm and with several of the members of the hockey team. The NE-10 will schedule a new date for the game and that date is still pending.

NEHC

The final for the conference championship is now set as both top seeds advanced in semifinal play on Saturday. Massachusetts-Boston will host Babson next Saturday for the first NEHC title.

Albee Daley led the way for the Beacons on home ice on Saturday, recording a hat trick for the Beacons in their 6-3 win over the University of New England. Andrew Crawford also added a goal and an assist from the blueline for the winners, who outshot the Nor’easters by a 48-28 margin.

Babson hosted Norwich in the other semifinal and much like the first game on home ice back in December, throttled the Cadets in a 5-0 win. Rob Devaney scored a goal and added two assists for the Beavers, who got 24 saves from goalie Jamie Murray in the shutout.

NESCAC

Apparently, home ice doesn’t mean too much in the NESCAC tournament as three of the four quarterfinal games were won by the road team, including another Tufts upset from the eighth-seeded position.

The Jumbos used 36 saves from Mason Pulde and goals from Sean Kavanaugh and Keith Campbell to upset Williams 2-1. The Ephs now must wait and hope their regular-season record will be enough to gain them a bid to the national tournament.

As mentioned in my preview last week, someone in the Hamilton-Middlebury game was going to have to do something in extra time that hadn’t been done in the regular season where the conference games ended in ties. Liam Moorfield-Yee made 40 saves for the visiting Panthers and Jake Charles scored the game winner just over seven minutes into overtime for the 2-1 win

Amherst and Bowdoin figured to be a tight defensive and goaltending show, but someone forgot to tell the teams that as Amherst scored six goals in the third period to come back from a 4-2 deficit after 40 minutes of play and post an 8-5 win in Terry Meagher’s last game behind the Bowdoin bench. Austin Ho scored twice for Amherst, including the game-winning goal in an eventful first seven minutes of the third period that saw five goals from the two teams combined, including one goal from each team just seven seconds apart in the first two minutes of the third period.

Second-seeded Trinity achieved something they had not been able to do as a top seed the past two seasons as they downed Colby to win their quarterfinal matchup by a score of 3-1. Michael Hawkrigg scored a goal and set up the other two in the Bantam win.

SUNYAC

The championship game hosted by Plattsburgh next Saturday pits the top-seeded Cardinals against Geneseo.

Geneseo traveled to second-seeded Buffalo State, who had been on a strong six-game winning streak, and showcased some high-powered offense in a 6-1 win over the Bengals. David Ripple posted four points, while SUNYAC Player of the Year Stephen Collins and linemate Trevor Hills added a goal and two assists each for the winners.

Plattsburgh renewed its long-standing rivalry with Oswego and just like the two regular-season games, the outcome was decided in overtime. Michael Radisa potted the game winner just over 10 minutes into the extra session to send the 20-3-3 Cardinals on to the championship round.

D-III Independents

The two-game set went to the visitors from Canton by virtue of a 4-3 overtime win on Friday and a 4-4 overtime tie on Saturday. George Curry scored the game winning goal on Friday for the Kangaroos, while Saturday’s star was Eagles’ goalie Anthony D’Urso who made 49 saves as Canton outshot Daniel Webster by a 53-26 margin, but had to rally from a three-goal deficit to earn the tie.

Weekend Biscuits

David Ripple, Geneseo – the forward scored two power-play goals and added two assists as the Knights downed second-seeded Buffalo State on the road to set up a championship matchup with Plattsburgh next Saturday.

Mason Pulde, Tufts – the goaltender made 36 saves as the eighth-seeded Jumbos knocked off top-seeded Williams on the road by a 2-1 score. The eight seed beating the one seed was the second year in a row that Tufts has pulled off the feat, after beating Trinity last season.

Albee Daley, Massachusetts-Boston – scored three goals in the Beacons’ 6-3 win over UNE. Daley scored on the power play, shorthanded and added an empty-net goal to post the hat trick in the NEHC semifinal win.

Anthony McVeigh, Utica – the Pioneers forward completed the comeback from a two-goal deficit against Manahattanville, scoring the game-tying goal in the third period before adding the game winner in overtime.

Jake Flynn, Wentworth – scored a goal and added an assist in Wentworth’s overtime quarterfinal win over Suffolk on Sunday night. Flynn’s overtime winner came just over 10 minutes into the extra session and advanced Wentworth to a semifinal game with top-seeded Endicott.

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