ECAC East/NESCAC wrap: Feb. 14

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you hopeless romantics out there! If your social calendar is a little light and your Facebook page isn’t popping with friend requests, status updates or notifications on the trendiest party, then maybe your fondness and affinity for your favorite hockey team will help their cause this week entering the final two games of the regular season. After all, all is fair in love and war, and this week will see both after another interesting weekend of games.
While in some cases all seems right and normal with the world, there is reason to wonder what exactly the playoff universe is going to look like come Saturday afternoon. With Norwich taking care of business against Castleton on Friday night and another Middlebury weekend sweep carrying them to a tie for the lead in NESCAC, it would appear that the seasonal norm has returned yet again. Don’t think that’s the case? Well I agree, and here are just a few highlights and things to look for that could have a long lasting impact in determining the conference championships.
In the ECAC East the big battle for No. 1 took place at Castleton, where Norwich used a solid first period of play in posting a 3-0 lead to push the Spartans down into second place with a 5-2 win that avenged an earlier nonconference loss at home. Ironically, Castleton, which lost for only the third time this season, has lost all three on home ice. While Norwich is very comfortable at home and has hosted every final four in the conference in recent memory, there have been upsets, and the Spartans definitely like the atmosphere of playing on the road, where they have just one tie blemishing their record.
The battle for the final two home-ice berths has been a situation where no team has stepped up to grab the brass ring. Both Babson and Massachusetts-Boston lost both games this weekend on the road while Skidmore split the weekend’s games at home, leaving three teams separated by just a single point with two games remaining. One team is going on the road in the quarterfinal round, so this week’s match-ups with NESCAC schools for all involved are going to be important to grab points to gather some momentum for the playoffs.
NEC and Southern Maine are just a point apart in sixth and seventh, and while the Huskies split last week, the Pilgrims lost twice, so the only sure thing at the bottom of the standings is the University of New England.
UNE also split this weekend, and seems to like match-ups with NESCAC teams, as they lost a tough 6-5 game at Tufts before surprising Connecticut College on Saturday by 6-3 score. Brad Holt’s squad has really kicked the offense into high gear, and whoever is playing the Nor’easters in the first round best not take them lightly ot else face the prospect of losing like Amherst and Conn College in recent weekend action.
Essentially, the ECAC East is still a battle for first and second, third through fifth and sixth and seventh. I would say that qualifies as opportunity for lots of different match-ups and even a difference at the top, based on the results of the final two games.
In NESCAC, to be blunt, anything can happen and probably will. Going into Friday night, Bowdoin held a tenuous one-point lead for first, only to drop back-to-back games to Trinity and Wesleyan. The no-point weekend at home dropped the Polar Bears from first to fifth, but there is solace in that they are still very much in the hunt for home-ice or more.
Trinity was the big mover on the weekend, taking both games on the road trip behind the exceptional goaltending of senior Wes Vesprini, who stopped 72 of 75 shots between the win over Bowdoin and Colby on Saturday. His getting hot couldn’t come at a better time for the Bantams, as all three members of NESCAC hailing from Connecticut are fighting for just two playoff berths.
With Tufts officially eliminated after its loss to Southern Maine on Saturday, Trinity made a move by winning both games while Wesleyan split and Conn College could only take two points, suffering an upset to UNE on Saturday at home. Add a Colby team that has had a very good second half that is just ahead of Trinity, and the battle for sixth through eighth is going to be wild.
As if the lower half of the standings are not crazy enough, how about the top five teams being separated by just three points and three teams tied at the top entering the final week of play. Hamilton, Middlebury and Williams lead the pack, with the latter two teams finishing their seasons on home ice against Castleton and Skidmore. Hamilton and travel partner Amherst travel to face Babson and Massachusetts-Boston which has a potential impact on both races. Both schools swept the four points this weekend to keep pace with the top troika, but five teams don’t fit into four home-ice berths.
So what do we know in the NESCAC? We know that literally every position in the standings is up for grabs and could see significant change. Bowdoin’s drop from first to fifth in one weekend certainly could be duplicated again this weekend by someone, and depending on the final travel partner game on Tuesday night between Trinity and Wesleyan, things may even be tighter, if that is possible.
Scoreboard watching this weekend isn’t going to matter much. Teams are really going to have to stay focused and take care of the only thing they can control – the game they are playing in. This past weekend was just the start of the craziness, so in the spirit of the Cupid holiday – just love the action.
And remember, no player-hating – drop the puck!