The regular season is over.
Since February has played out like it’s already the playoffs and virtually nothing was locked up entering the weekend, the unofficial playoffs called the regular season in February came to a conclusion on Saturday, and now the intensity and stakes go up considerably entering the real conference tournaments. So here is a look at the individual conferences, action this weekend, and the match-ups for next weekend in the conference quarterfinals.
In the ECAC East, the top spot has a familiar team, as Norwich had a 2-0 weekend against Connecticut College and Tufts and maintained its slim two-point advantage over second place Castleton. The Spartans won two road games against Williams and Middlebury and maintained their second place position in the standings.
The battle for the final two home ice berths came down to three teams fighting for two spots. Massachusetts-Boston took the third spot on the basis of splitting with Hamilton and Amherst while Skidmore and Babson could manage just one point and 0 points respectively in their NECAC match-ups. Skidmore’s taking a tie at Middlebury was enough for earning the final home playoff berth while Babson earns a first round road trip to face the Thoroughbreds next weekend.
The sixth, seventh and eighth spots were pretty much established and this weekend just confirmed the order. Southern Maine took three points in beating Wesleyan in OT and tying Trinity on Saturday to secure sixth place. The Huskies showed they may be up to one of their end of year runs and got some needed offensive production from Zach Joy, whose natural hat trick on Friday included two third period goals as well as the overtime winner. His five points on the weekend may have jump-started the offense the Huskies need on the road against UMB this upcoming weekend. New England College remained in seventh and unfortunately not only lost both games to Colby and Bowdoin but did not score a goal in the 1-0 and 3-0 losses. The Pilgrims played things tight, but are going to need some scoring if they expect to move on next weekend.
The eighth and final spot belongs to UNE, wh,o despite a 14-1 loss at Wesleyan to end the season, beat Trinity on Friday night for its third win over an NESCAC opponent in the second half of the season. Over the past five games, the Nor’easters have scored 23 goals and they will need offensive output if they are going to upset Norwich at Kreitzburg Arena.
So the match-ups next week find UNE at Norwich, NEC at Castleton, Southern Maine at UMB, and Babson at Skidmore, with the quarterfinals playing in the final four at the home rink of the highest remaining seed.
Over in the NESCAC, things were very unsettled entering the weekend, with so many teams battling for every position from top to bottom. The road-hardened Continentals did what they needed to do by taking four points with wins over UMB and Babson to secure their first ever regular season title and the number one seed for the conference playoffs. Forward Michael DiMare scored two goals in each game over the weekend and Anthony Scarpino added a hat trick on Friday night to lead the offense for the Continentals, who finished 11-2-1 away from home this season. Hopefully, they won’t mind the reward of winning the top seed and a quarterfinal home date with a Wesleyan, team that defeated them by a 3-2 score way back in the first weekend of the season in November.
Other key contenders for the top spot and home ice berths didn’t match the success of Hamilton, but did just enough to hold off resurgent Bowdoin and Colby, who just missed out on playing at home next week. Williams split over the weekend, dropping a close game with Castleton on Friday before winning the season finale at home against Skidmore to lock-up second place.
Third place ended in a tie between Middlebury, Amherst, and Bowdoin, which was ultimately decided on the basis of head-to-head tiebreakers to determine the final seeding and last two home-ice berths. The Panthers entered the weekend tied for first, but managed just one point in a tie with Skidmore and a close 3-2 loss to cross-state rival Castleton. Amherst split its weekend games by beating Babson before suffering a 7-2 loss at UMB. Bowdoin made up for its late-season slide by winning both games against St. Anselm and NEC, but still lost both head-to-head tiebreakers to Middlebury and Amherst, so the third and fourth seeds reside in Middlebury and Amherst.
Sixth, seventh and eighth positions pretty much remained status quo based on some surprising results across the board. Colby did what they needed to in winning both games to stay ahead of hard-charging Trinity. Since mid-January, coach Jim Tortorella’s team is 11-2-1, with one of the losses coming against their quarterfinal opponents from Middlebury. Trinity lost some momentum when they suffered a surprise loss at home to UNE on Friday, but rallied to take one point from Southern Maine and maintain the seventh spot. After Friday night’s game where Conn College lost, Wesleyan, despite an overtime loss to USM, was guaranteed the final playoff position and then scored two touchdowns to beat UNE 14-1 on Saturday.
Travel partners Conn College and Tufts saw their seasons come to an end this weekend, as only the top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament. It surely is a disappointing outcome for the Camels and Jumbos, who combined finishing the second half of the season going 6-24-3 sealing their fate outside a playoff berth.
So the very intriguing match-ups for this weekend include Wesleyan at Hamilton, Trinity at Williams, Colby at Middlebury, and Bowdoin at Amherst. In three of the four quarterfinal match-ups, the visitors have won the prior game, so all of the contests are going to be very interesting and exciting hockey games, with the unfortunate outcome of seeing four quality teams having their season come to an abrupt conclusion.
The regular season has been a blast, and this past weekend was a microcosm of the playoffs to follow. Anything can and just as well may happen. I will need the week to come up with this week’s game predictions so stay tuned. Conference hardware is up for grabs.
Play like you don’t want to go home – drop the puck!
The regular season is over.