GENESEO, N.Y. — When the ECAC Northeast was first given an automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs, there were howls of protest from many longtime fans, who felt that the conference did not deserve a spot, and that its teams would be nothing more than embarrassing cannon fodder for the better leagues.
No one is howling anymore. Mass.-Dartmouth not only won the first national playoff game for the ECAC Northeast, it won big with an 8-2 pounding of Geneseo.
“We’re thrilled to be the first ones, naturally,” Mass.-Dartmouth coach John Rolli said. “But we’ve had some teams that were knocking on the door in the past. Just a matter of time before some team in our league was able to break through.”
Kyle McCullough led the way with a hat trick and two assists.
“I think it says a lot for our league,” he said. “We don’t really get a lot of credit nationally. The top four teams can play with anybody.”
The first period, Geneseo came out strong, outshooting the Corsairs, 12-6, and generally outplaying them. However, Mass.-Dartmouth stuck to its game plan — pack the defense in tight, get in the shooting lanes, and rely on Jon Dryjowicz-Burek to make the big saves — 29 on the night And then, like usual, kill every penalty they take (they’ve only let up 10 power-play goals all year).
“I think in the first period the key for us was the penalty kills,” Rolli said. “What we wanted to do was stay in the game in the first period and then try to make something happen from there.”
They didn’t just stay in the game in the first period, they scored the only goal. On the power play no less.
“For a team that hasn’t had a good power play all year, we moved the puck well and were able to cash in on it,” Rolli said.
Move the puck they did on their first power play. McCullough passed it from the left point to Jeff Grant at the right faceoff circle. He wristed a shot to beat Derek Jokic.
Before that goal, they had two golden opportunities when they were killing a penalty. First Eric Frank went in on a clean breakaway, but Jokic made a great leg save and then Frank hit the outside of the post on the rebound. Seconds later, Jeff Grant had a breakaway, but it was not as clean, being harassed from behind. Thus, he was unable to get a good shot off.
“I think the story in the first period was there’s shots on net and there’s quality scoring opportunities,” Rolli said. “I thought we had good quality scoring opportunities on the breakaways. Maybe we didn’t cash in on some of those opportunities, but that gave us some confidence, hey look we can play with this team.
“Coming out in the second period, we actually were a little disappointed we didn’t score a couple of more goals,” Rolli said. “We had some shorthanded breakaway opportunities that we didn’t cash in on.”
All night, Mass.-Dartmouth was coming down with breakaways and odd-man rushes.
“Definitely the most breakaways all year in one game,” Jokic said. “I just tried to do whatever I could. They were opportunistic. They were blocking shots and hanging a guy up high.”
Despite the score, with Geneseo controlling play and having a speed advantage over Mass.-Dartmouth, it seemed it was only a matter of time before the Ice Knights would gain control of the game.
The exact opposite happened.
Mass.-Dartmouth thoroughly dominated the second period. So much so, they outshot Geneseo 24-3. In that one period, Mass.-Dartmouth got more shots than they did the entire game in either of their last two league playoff contests. Three goals in the first half of the period for a 4-0 lead essentially put the game away.
Rolli knew what the difference was for Geneseo: “Fatigue. You can’t discount the fatigue factor.”
Geneseo coach Jason Lammers said about fatigue effecting his team, “Maybe a little bit. I think the hardest part for us is that you have such an emotional, physical series against a team in your league and its going to be tough to rebound. I thought the guys had a decent practice yesterday and would be ready to roll, but it didn’t happen that way.”
“We play Wednesday-Saturday, Wednesday-Saturday schedule all season long, so this was game night for us,” Rolli said. “It’s a credit to them they played as hard as they did. They had to be absolutely exhausted. Four games in six nights is too much for anybody to overcome.”
McCullough scored the first in the second when the puck wouldn’t stop taking strange bounces. Jokic stopped the initial shot by Jim Foley. The rebound took a strange bounce as Jokic lost sight of it. The first Corsair to get to the puck fanned on it. However, the puck continued to bounce every which way, and Jokic once again lost sight of it. This time McCullough swooped in and knocked it into the net.
Peter Lindner made it 3-0 on the power play when, with his back to the net, he deflected the long shot by Frank past Jokic.
Fatigue really played a factor on the fourth goal when Geneseo failed to clear the puck with any energy. Tyler Crocker stopped it at the right point and took a shot. Jokic let out a fat rebound, and Ray Kirby, left unmarked on the side of the net, fired it over the outstretched leg of the goalie.
The third period was simply a matter of going through the motions to finish the game off. Frank scored an unassisted breakaway goal while skating four-on-four. His moves were so quick to beat Jokic, by the time he shot the puck, all he had to do was gently put it into the open net.
“I was 0 for 14 coming into tonight on breakaways,” he said. “Finally on the third one, I got the goal. I think I made the same move on 13 out of 14, so keep going until it works.”
With the score 5-0, Geneseo finally scored, something they weren’t able to do for the last five periods of NCAA playoff hockey (they were shutout last year in the quarterfinals against Trinity, 4-0). Steve Jordan’s waist high shot from the top of the right faceoff circle found a tiny hole between the goalie and the near post.
Past the midway point, Geneseo got on the power play, and Lammers chose to pull his goalie for a six-on-four advantage. Though the Ice Knights applied a lot of pressure, it was McCullough who made a nifty move to get out of his zone, and then shoot it all the way down the ice into the empty net.
Minutes later, McCullough completed the hat trick when he simply walked it in and put it through the five-hole while on the power play. Eighteen seconds later, Foley was also able to walk right in and score.
Ram Sidhu got a meaningless goal for Geneseo in the waning minutes.
“I thought they really competed hard and deserved everything they got,” Lammers said of his opposition. “We didn’t have it tonight and they did an awesome job of defending and stopping pucks. Credit goes to them.”
Geneseo ends their season at 19-9-2.
“It was an awesome season,” Lammers said. “I thought we had an awesome group of guys. Just really impressed with the effort and the way they rebounded and were resilient this year. It didn’t work out tonight.”
Mass.-Dartmouth improves to 25-4-0, maintaining a 21-game winning streak. Their reward for beating Geneseo is to travel to Middlebury and play the might Panthers Saturday night.
Do the Corsairs have any chance against Middlebury? Most people would probably laugh at that notion.
Just like they laughed at the thought of an ECAC Northeast team ever winning an NCAA playoff game.