Nichols Bison (25-3-0 overall, 16-1-0 in ECAC Northeast)
â€œItâ€™s an exciting time. Itâ€™s obviously uncharted waters for Nichols College and itâ€™s created a lot of excitement around campus.â€
That was how Nichols College coach Lou Izzi responded when asked what it was like to be playing at this point in the year.
â€œWeâ€™re in the tournament, and thatâ€™s been our goal,â€ he continued. â€œIt was our goal ever since we lost the game last year against UMass-Dartmouth in the last seconds to get back to a championship game this year. We worked all year to get that.â€
Nichols will take on Hobart College on Wednesday evening in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Bison arrived there via three postseason wins.
In the quarterfinals, they had routed Westfield State, 8-1, then registered victories of the closer variety: a 4-2 win over Fitchburg State in the semis before an historic 4-3 nail biter over Wentworth in the finals, earning the No. 14 Bison their first ever ECAC Northeast title and automatically qualifying them for the national tournament.
Izzi feels this will be a great experience for his troops.
â€œI think going on the road and getting the NCAA experience is a good thing for everyone associated with Nichols,â€ he said. â€œWe know itâ€™s going to be a tough game for us, but at the same time, we won 25 games this year, and weâ€™re a good hockey team.â€
For Nichols, the 25 wins were the most in the programâ€™s history.
Hobart College received an at-large bid into the 11 team national tournament after finishing second in the ECAC West tournament. Hobart is currently ranked sixth in the country; this is the first time the Statesmen and Bison will have met since the 1982-83 season, when Hobart won by two touchdowns, 14-0.
Given the fact that Izzi, finishing up his fifth year, has never faced his next opponent, he wouldnâ€™t be expected to have a firm knowledge of what heâ€™s up against.
â€œI checked around, obviously theyâ€™re a strong team, and Iâ€™ve heard they have outstanding goaltending, and just really solid up and down the lineup, very well coached. Their record speaks for itself, and they beat many, many quality teams this year. Weâ€™re expecting to see a very strong hockey club.â€
For Nichols, Izzi feels it has been a collective effort to amass such a sterling record, but feels his goalie has been a huge part of this great season.
â€œEverybodyâ€™s played really well to get to this point,â€ Izzi said. â€œOur freshman goalie, Jacob Rinn, has been extremely solid, and very consistent. Heâ€™s come up with big save after big save when we needed it the most. Heâ€™s been a guy that once he went in the line-up we just couldnâ€™t take out. Heâ€™s been very solid.
â€œHe beat Curry, he beat Wentworth twice, he beat UMass-Dartmouth, and Fitchburg. He beat all of the top teams in the conference, and that speaks volumes for a kid that came right out of high school. To step in, and play those kinds of minutes, and be that successful, heâ€™s obviously been one of the keys to our success.â€
Rinn, a freshman out of Rhode Island, backstopped the Bison to their three postseason wins so far, yielding only six goals. He is unbeaten in his last four starts, and was 9-1 overall this year.
Izzi also knows there have been others playing well in front if Rinn.
â€œWe have a number of guys both at forward, and defense, who have contributed in many ways. Weâ€™ve just been playing very well as a team. I think that when you look at us compared to other teams, individually we may not be as flattering, if you will, be when you put us together, and the style we play, and how hard our guys work, and the grit and the toughness and the determination they have, when you put all that together, we come up pretty good.â€
Finally, Izzi will be looking for leading scorer Ryan Gervais to help get the attack going. The senior forward has five points so far in the postseason. Sophomore forward Will Munson has been hot also, with three goals in the playoffs and a six game overall point scoring streak.
Hobart Statesmen (19-6-2 overall, 9-4-2 in ECAC West)
The Statesmen have been on a roll during the second half of the season, posting a 10-2-2 record since the middle of December. Both of the losses during that time span came to the Neumann Knights, one in overtime during the regular season and the other last Saturday in the ECAC West championship game.
In the championship game last weekend, Hobart had battled back to tie it 2-2 with five minutes to go in the third period, but lost when Neumann scored the game winner with only 4.2 ticks left on the clock.
Despite the stunning loss, Hobart earned the NCAA Pool B bid and faces a quick turn-around to host Nichols in the NCAA play-in round.
â€œI said to the guys after Saturdayâ€™s game, we really wanted to get the championship game but we didnâ€™t. That happens,â€ said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. â€œThe way we approached it was that was game 6, and now here is game 7. I embrace a Wednesday game. I think it is better for us.â€
This is the fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in the last six years for Hobart. Three years ago, the Statesmen defeated the Norwich Cadets in the quarterfinal round before losing to St. Norbert in overtime in the semifinals. That victory over Norwich marks the only NCAA tournament win in school history, but the current seniors remember the feeling of that victory and are trying to get back to the final four.
Last season, Hobart lost to Plattsburgh in the NCAA semifinal round. The game was tied 1-1 at the end of the first period, but then the Cardinal steamroller got going and the Statesmen couldnâ€™t withstand the storm, eventually losing 5-2.
â€œWeâ€™ve been here before,â€ said Taylor. â€œWe know how important every single game is throughout the season. You have to play your best hockey every single game. You canâ€™t dwell on what just happened.â€
This is the first time that Hobart has faced Nichols since the 1982-83 season, when Hobart stampeded the Bisons, 14-0. Compared to that game 26 years ago, these are two very different teams now, having built successful programs over the last few seasons.
Hobart and Nichols may not know much about each other heading into Wednesdayâ€™s game but they both know that only good teams make it this far.
â€œNichols is having a great season,â€ said Taylor. â€œThey have won a lot of tournaments this year, have had a great year, and have a lot of momentum behind them. They have a hot young goalie and some forwards and defensemen that are having a great year.â€
The preparations are complete, the last tape has been watched, and now it is time to start the NCAA tournament and have the players decide it on the ice.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to focus on playing our best hockey,â€ concluded Taylor.
â€œOf course, you have got to know some factors about the other team, but weâ€™ve got to focus on our best hockey. This is another game where you have to play your best. The game we have to keep laying down is all Aces from here on in.â€