MILTON, Mass. — In a way, Saturday’s ECAC Northeast championship game was a microcosm of Curry’s season.
Each featured a bevy of early obstacles; the Colonels hit the toughest part of their schedule with a rash of injuries and lost five of six games in late December and early January to some of the nation’s top teams.
Saturday against Wentworth, Curry was forced to kill off a host of early penalties and found itself down, 1-0, thanks to a short-handed goal by Skylur Jameson.
However, as they rallied to capture the league title during the regular season, Curry did the same Saturday to emerge with a 2-1 win when Payden Benning tipped in John William’s initial shot at 14:14 in overtime to give the Colonels their second conference title in as many years at Max Ulin Arena in Milton, Mass.
“It happened so fast,” said Benning, who scored the Colonels other goal while shorthanded. “One of our guys just threw it on net, and I delayed a little bit waiting for an open spot and just slipped through.”
The goal came just under a minute after Curry coach Rob Davies called a timeout.
“[Wentworth] had their number one line out,” Davies said. “They were probably gassed, but they can make a play and end the game. I’ll be sorry if it didn’t go well and I didn’t use the timeout.”
As the overtime period dragged on, Davies said he reminded his players to stick to the basics.
“I think you can improve your odds if you just go back to the keys of the game,” he said.
Each side began to show fatigue during the extra period, as both teams generated several odd man rushes throughout the period.
“You could definitely tell both teams were getting tired by the overtime,” Benning said. “We tried not to give them anything, and we knew if we didn’t, we could get one eventually.”
A wild opening period featured 10 penalties, seven of them against Curry, and a brief three-on-three situation following a roughing call on the Colonels’ Steven Mohler at 17:09.
Curry returned to full strength following the conclusion of Mohler’s penalty and went on the power play thanks to Patrick Rice, who was still serving the tail end of a five minute facemasking major.
Just seconds after Dawson denied Cameron Gibson on a short-handed breakaway, Jameson picked up the loose puck near center ice and cruised down the slot, outracing a trailing Colonels defender and beating the sophomore at 19:30.
The second period opened with Curry generating a flurry of activity around Azzano, but the freshman was up to the task, sliding around the net to thwart several scoring chances.
Curry’s attack was stalled when Connor Hendry was slapped with a five minute major for a hit to the head. Hendry also received a game misconduct on the play, leaving the Colonels minus their third line center for the duration of the game at 5:25.
Just as Wentworth did earlier, Curry struck while short-handed. Benning took a Joshua Pineiro pass and motored down ice in similar fashion to Jameson, beating Azzano to tie it at 7:28.
“I was actually going for a change and someone hit me with a pass,” Benning said. “I think the goalie was thinking I was going to pass it, so it opened up the one side for me.”
The Leopards couldn’t take advantage of a brief five-on-three power play to start the third. Back at even strength, Curry’s Michael Curran split two WIT defenders, taking a pass and driving to the net. His progress was impeded by Kyle Richardson, who in the process of forcing Curran to the outside was whistled for hooking.
Wentworth once again mustered a short-handed rush, as Rice drove towards the Curry net just 18 seconds into the penalty kill, but was denied by Dawson.
The Leopards had a goal waved off at the nine-minute mark, then weathered a volley of Colonels shots in the waning minutes.
With a horde of traffic in front of the net, Ryan Warsofsky took a pass alone just inside the blue line and launched a shot that dinged off the right post and fell away from the net.
Azzano’s spectacular diving save denied Curry a chance to take the lead in the final minute. The freshman reached up and snagged an Ian DeLong shot from the left faceoff circle, falling straight on his back as he did.
“He had a great game,” WIT coach R.J. Tolan said of Azzano, who recorded 61 saves on the night, second most in program history.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
“I’ve been coaching long enough that you’re ecstatic and happy for you guys,” Davies said. “But I feel bad for Wentworth and especially Chris. It’s sad that someone had to lose.”
“Next year is a long way away,” Tolan said.
Dawson finished with 35 saves for Curry, who will wait to find out their opponent in the NCAA tournament, which will be announced on Monday.
“Around Christmas, we had a lot of injuries and a lot of tough games,” Benning said. “But I think it really helped us come together as a team.”
Fitchburg State 6, Salem State 5. (OT)
Saturday’s other championship game went to overtime, as the fourth-seeded Falcons rallied from two goals down late in the third period to capture the MASCAC title at Rockett Arena in Salem, Mass. Thomas McAleer scored the game-winner for Fitchburg, who was coming off a double overtime win against Massachusetts-Dartmouth in Thursday’s semifinal game.
The Vikings roared back from an early deficit with three second period goals, capped off with Mike Genovese’s strike at 19:43 to give them a 4-3 lead in a rematch of last year’s championship, which saw Salem knock off top-seeded Fitchburg in overtime.