NCAA D-III First Round: UMass Dartmouth vs. Trinity

UMass-Dartmouth (18-8-1 overall, 13-3-0 in ECAC Northeast)

This magical season continues to roll on for UMass-Dartmouth.

Fresh off the heels of their exciting 5-3 win over Nichols Saturday night to capture their third straight Eastern College Athletic Conference Northeast tournament championship, it was announced that the Corsairs will host Trinity (CT) on Wednesday at the Stephan Hetland Memorial Ice Arena at 7:00 p.m.

This will mark the first time a team from the ECAC NE has hosted an NCAA Div. III playoff game.

Coach John Rolli couldn’t have been happier, and looks forward to the match-up.

“It’s going to be a watershed game for UMass-Dartmouth hockey, and the ECAC Northeast, in that we’re the first Northeast team to host an NCAA tournament game.”

“We’re thrilled that the Division III Selection Committee seeded us in the position to host a tournament game. Unfortunately, we have probably the hottest team, or one of the hottest teams, in the tournament in Trinity. What they did in the NESCAC tournament might be unparalleled. To beat Bowdoin at Bowdoin, Colby at Colby, and then Middlebury in the championship game says it all for the quality of team that Trinity has and the job that David Cataruzolo has done with them.”

Always displaying a sense of class and modesty, Rolli failed to mention that his own team is extremely hot right now. Prior to the tournament, the Corsairs had won five in a row, and they scored five goals in each tournament win.

Since February, they are 9-1, and have outscored opponents 48-24 in that stretch. They come into the game with a record of 18-8-1, while Trinity sports a mark of 15-10-2.

“We certainly need to play a very tight checking, defensive oriented game, and hopefully play well on special teams, and get continued, outstanding goaltending that we’ve received from Jeff Green during our playoff run, and during this eight game win streak that we’re on,” Rolli responded when asked what the Corsairs need to do to keep the season moving along.

Green has been outstanding all year for the Corsairs. Coming into the Trinity game, he has a record of 17-8-1. His goals against average of 1.90 led the conference, and his next win will be his 50th.

Offensively, few teams in the nation could possibly have a pair hotter than Jeff Grant and Joseph Hill. Grant, a senior who leads the team in scoring, has 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points in 27 games so far. During this eight game winning streak, he’s scored eight goals and added 12 assists. He also leads the team win nine power-play goals.

Hill is second on the team in scoring. The freshmen phenom’s line of 15-21-36 in just 27 games is remarkable. He, too, has been hot during the winning streak, adding six goals and nine assists.

Rolli knows that he’ll need more than the efforts of just a few to keep this season moving along.

“I think our whole team is playing very well. We fully understand that we have to take every individual, and we as a team have to take our game to a very high level. NCAA Division III hockey is unlike other sports. The frying pan is on, and it’s hot! In some other sports, there’s 48 or 64 teams to start the tournament, but not in this. As we found out, you just have to play your very, very best. It’s been a thrilling season to this point, now we get to move to the national stage.”

The winner of this game advances to a quarterfinal game at Elmira on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

Trinity (15-10-2 overall, 8-9-2 in NESCAC)

For the Trinity Bantams, their second NESCAC conference championship stemmed from an improbable run on the road.

Playing as a #6 seed in the tournament, they defeated the #3 (Bowdoin), #1 (Colby) and #2 (Middlebury) to advance to the NCAA tournament to earn the conference auto-bid. For first year head coach Dave Cataruzolo, this is a dream come true.

“You know I couldn’t be happier or prouder of this team,” stated a happy but under-the-weather Cataruzolo. “You can dream about it and I honestly am not sure that I really did at the beginning of the year since I knew this would be a process. It was an absolute team effort during this playoff run and we will need to continue that this week against a very strong team with NCAA experience and a terrific coach in John Rolli at UMass-Dartmouth.”

Some keys for the Bantams will be to keep being opportunistic with the puck. While they continue to outshoot their opponents, the Bantams do not have a 20 point scorer or anyone with double digit goals on their roster. The leading scorer is senior Matthew Crum with nine goals and eight assists for 17 points.

“We really aren’t scoring a lot,” commented Cataruzolo. “I have been less concerned with the scoring only because we have continued to generate opportunities. If we weren’t getting chances I would be more worried.”

In goal, the Bantams have been getting exceptional netminding from freshman Wes Vesprini (10-3-1, 2.08 goals against average, .933 save percentage).

“Wes has been outstanding during the late season run and certainly been great during the playoffs. He has given the team that extra confidence in front of him and it shows in the little things guys are doing on the ice that help the cause,” said his coach.

Late in Sunday’s double overtime game against Middlebury, a loose puck in the Trinity zone presented an opportunity for the Panthers. Trinity’s Josh Rich had a chance to beat the attacking player to the puck and potentially clear it out of the zone but not without taking a big time check.

Knowing it was the end of the shift and that his team needed to change personnel, Rich got to the puck first and cleared it out of the zone but took the monster hit that everyone saw coming. This anecdote is indicative of the little things that the players are doing — and have to keep doing — to help Trinity win. Attention to detail that, according to his coach, may have been bigger even than the two goals he scored to propel them to victory.

Late season heroics, a team on a roll believing in each other, and the work ethic to sacrifice for the benefit of the team are all part of Trinity’s success formula into March.

That an just maybe a little superstition. When asked if the number six was now his favorite number — having just won the conference championship as that seed — coach Cataruzolo responded:

“You probably won’t believe me but I have always thought six was my lucky number. My birthday is on the sixth, my high school number was 6 and I wore number 16 in college because six was retired, so yea, there is probably something there.”

Wednesday’s play-in game against UMass-Dartmouth doesn’t have any noticeable number six references in it, but at this point the Bantams are happy to be playing more hockey — and on the road where they have been very successful over the past few weeks.