This Week in the ECAC Northeast: Feb. 28, 2002

The playoffs got underway last week. All I have to say is — how great are they? Most everything you could ask for has happened already, and it’s not over yet.

There has been a blowout. Lebanon Valley’s 6-1 dismantling of Plymouth State speaks for itself.

There has been an upset in the form of Salve Regina’s 4-3 defeat of UMass-Dartmouth. There is something about Salve in the playoffs, isn’t there? For the second straight year they came out and beat one of the top-rated teams in the conference as a bottom seed. Unbelievable. Salve moved to 2-0-1 on the year against the second-seeded Corsairs. It’s too bad that the Seahawks ran out of magic against LVC, because they are a team that has, as an old coach of mine used to say, pumpkins in their jockstraps. It is becoming cliched to say this, but watch out for Salve next year.

There have been tight checking, hard fought games. Wentworth and Fitchburg battled all the way to the end, with Wentworth pulling it out behind two third period Dave Zelasko goals. Gotta love it.

There have been dramatic, high scoring affairs. The best example of this may be the opening round match between Johnson & Wales and Curry. It was an up and down game featuring momentum swings, tough play, great goals, four JWU power-play goals, a pulled goalie, a late comeback attempt by Curry: the list goes on and on. The 6-5 final was a thriller indeed.

There have been marvelous comebacks. What I like to see in a hockey game, team, or season, is a refusal to quit. You have to admire a team any time they simply will not be beaten. The aforementioned Dave Zelasko show was only a prelude to what happened on Wednesday night, when Wentworth exploded for four goals to get themselves back into it with JWU before Shawn Metheral scored an overtime goal to steal the victory. Great stuff.

Nothing but kudos should be given to Johnson & Wales. The team put all the useless controversy behind them and made a fantastic playoff run and, most importantly, they did not quit when the chips were down.

It would have been easy for the team to coast into the playoffs and mail it in. In fact, there were some observers who expected this to happen. But the Wildcats didn’t make excuses and they wore their hearts on their sleeves. The 6-5 victory over Curry showed guts and determination and, by all accounts, their effort against Wentworth was one for the ages. Congratulations to everyone involved in the effort.

There were controversial calls. Oh, were there controversial calls. The biggest came in the JWU-Wentworth game. Wentworth’s game winner was ruled good by the goal judge, then temporarily waved off by the official before being called a goal. Since there is no instant replay it is counterproductive to argue the call. All that matters is what went into the books. Nonetheless, it is too bad there is a little bit of controversy surrounding this fantastic game.

Last but not least, LVC and Wentworth battled a year ago for the league title; they will go at it again this year. LVC (23-3-1) and Wentworth (22-5-0) owned the best overall records throughout the year and each was either ranked or on the bubble of the top ten for the majority of the season.

These teams are eerily similar. They both have snipers. Brian Yingling (26-27–53), who one coach referred to as the best overall player in the league this year, is a great example of what LVC brings to the table. Tim Yakimowsky (27-14–41) is about as pure a goal scorer as there is.

Each team features a rock solid defensive corps. Zach Wotherspoon , Chris Hartly and Mike Nicoletta patrol the blue for the Leopards.

Ben Kwon (9-25–34), Mike Sarro, Chris White, Adam Bonenberger, Matt Fishbone (who delivered some of the most solid checks I saw all year against SNHU), et al are some of the defensemen manning the point for the Valley. Ben Kwon, the number-one scorer on the number-one scoring defense in the league, is invaluable on the point for LVC. The defenseman finished second in the league amongst defensemen in scoring this season and he is unusually gifted and smart with the puck. He is a vital cog in the LVC power play as well.

Both teams have a solid supporting cast of forwards. Perhaps this is an unfair characterization of this group on both teams, afterall, nine forwards on Wentworth and eight forwards on LVC finished with double digit points.

Solid goaltending is the backbone of both of these teams. Raj Bhangoo and Lincoln Matlock are at the top of virtually every goaltending statistic in the league. And all Kevin Block did to help the Dutchmen is receive ECAC Northeast Goaltender of the Year honors.

Both teams have lethal power plays. LVC had the best in the league, clicking at 31.4 percent on the year. Wentworth was right behind, functioning at 27.6 percent.

The bottom line is, if there is any way you can get to this game on Sunday, you should do it. Enough said.

Postseason Honors

It may have gotten lost in the shuffle with the playoffs and all, but in case you missed it, the ECAC handed out awards for the Northeast last week. There are two teams, a Player of The Year, Rookie of The Year, Goalie of The Year and Coach of The Year. It’s hard to argue with these selections. Here they are:

First Team

F-Jeff Brodeur, SR, Fitchburg State
F-Tim Yakimowsky, SR, Wentworth
F-Brian Yingling, JR, Lebanon Valley
D-Ben Kwon, JR, Lebanon Valley
D-Joseph Savioli, SR, Curry
G-Kevin Block, SR, Lebanon Valley

Second Team

F-Tom Brown, SR, UMass-Dartmouth
F-Sean Pero, FR, Curry
F-Jamie Taylor, SR, Lebanon Valley
D-Gino Binda, JR, Salve Regina
D-Jamie Carroll, SR, UMass Dartmouth
G-Raj Bhangoo, SO, Wentworth

Omissions deserving mention in this space are Fitchburg’s Greg Horan (13-24–37) and Assumption’s Josh Tierney (13-15–28),

All Rookie Team

F-Adam Asselin, Salve Regina
F-Manu Mau’u, Johnson & Wales
F-Sean Pero, Curry
D-Gino Binda, Salve Regina
D-Chet Ferreira, Curry
G-Kevin McGowan, UMass-Dartmouth

I would have liked to have seen JWU’s Brock Palazetti, Curry’s Brian Doherty and Matt Wargo, Fitchburg’s Sebastien Corbeil and Robert Zapf on this list, but how can you argue with that team? Maybe a second team is in order next year.

If UMD’s Eric Frank had played an entire season he would have made it. And what about Plymouth’s Michal Bodnar? Maybe a second semester all rookie team would have been good.

ECAC Northeast Player of The Year

Joe Savioli, Curry

Savioli, a converted forward, held his own on the blue line this year. The senior has been through his ups and downs with the Curry program, being one of the lone seniors on the roster. In years past, is play has been overshadowed by players on more successful teams. It’s nice to see him get his due.

ECAC Northeast Rookie of The Year

Sean Pero, Curry

It’s scary to think that Pero is only a freshman. He exploded onto the scene and finished third in the league in scoring with a 20-26–46 line. There is no doubt that he will play a major role in the continuing resurgence of the Colonel program in the coming years.

ECAC Northeast Goalie of The Year

Kevin Block, Lebanon Valley

ECAC Northeast Coach of The Year

Al MacCormack, Lebanon Valley

I remember the first year LVC had a team. They were practically all freshmen and nobody knew what to make of them. Their travel schedule was, and still is, brutal. They had sparkling new uniforms (the best in the league), they had their own portable skate sharpening machine complete with tape dispenser, and most importantly, they had some very good hockey players on the roster. We are seeing the fruits of the labor of the first year. What MacCormack has done at LVC is nothing short of sensational. He is 75-26-5 in his fourth year as coach. Let’s not forget that he started this team from scratch. And LVC was good pretty much right away. There was hardly anything in place when he took the job and now they are ranked in the USCHO top ten and possibly going to the ECAC playoffs for the second year in a row.

Division II Honors

ECAC Northeast participants were honored by D-II this year as well. For the second straight year, Stonehill head coach Scott Harlow was named ECAC D-II Coach of the Year.

Forwards Rob Pascale (Stonehill), Pat Doherty (SNHU) and Chris Russo (SNHU) were honored by Division II, as was defenseman Steve Acropolis, a senior on SNHU.

Congratulations to all who earned their awards.

Vox Populi

I’d like to hear the voice of the people for next week’s column. I want nominations for year-end rewards in all categories, anything you can think of.

I want best uniforms (you already know my vote), unsung hero, most touching story, best game you saw, most underrated defenseman, best travel story, best leader, best save, etc.

I want the humorous, serious, ridiculous, all types of nominations. You, the readers, can click on my name in the bottom left-hand corner of this page and send me nominations; the best of the coherent and thoughtful (not that that’s ever stopped me before) I’ll put in this space next week. Bring ’em on.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Until next week…