Championship central

ECAC Northeast
No underdog stories this time around.

A year after sixth-seeded Johnson and Wales roared their way into the championship game, the top two seeds are all that remains in the final contest before the NCAA Tournament.

Top-seeded Curry knocked off Becker, 5-1, while second place Wentworth ousted No. 3  JWU 4-3 in overtime in a rematch of last year’s semifinal game.

“Curry had a little bit better speed, but I think Wentworth plays a very disciplined and controlled game,” Western New England coach Greg Heffernan said.  “Curry is so deep and probably has the best defenseman in the league in Ryan Warsofsky, but Wentworth has some great players as well, led by the Jameson brothers [Skylur and Shaun].”

While each team can roll out a cache of veteran skaters, they’ve both made it to the championship with relatively inexperienced goaltending.
Wentworth freshman Chris Azzano took over for an injured Mike Jarboe in December and has ensured the Leopards haven’t missed a beat, going 10-3 in conference play.

The Colonels have leaned on a duo of freshman Travis Owens and sophomore Robert Dawson, although it was Dawson drew the start Wednesday against Wentworth.

“I like both team’s experience and depth,” Heffernan said. “With younger goaltending, is pressure going to be a factor? I don’t know.”

With each team so equally matched at even strength, Heffernan pointed to special teams as one of the major factors in the game.

Wentworth’s penalty kill and power play units each ranked first in the ECAC Northeast, while Curry’s checked in at fifth and third, respectively. The Colonels’ six short-handed goals in conference play placed them second to Nichols.

“These are two really well coached teams that have some ideas of what to do on the power play,” Heffernan said. “Not only that, but they can execute what they want to happen.”

Quick Hits (all statistics refer to conference play only)
ECAC Northeast Championship: No. 2 Wentworth (10-3-1) at No. 1 Curry (10-2-2); 4:35 at Max Ulin Arena, Milton Mass.
Head to Head: 1-1
Head Coaches: Curry — Rob Davies ( 12th year); Wentworth R.J. Tolan ( 5th year).
Leading Scorers: Curry — Christopher Atkinson (7-10), Payden Benning (10-7); Wentworth — Skylur Jameson (13-7), Mike Paglino (7-13).
Goaltending: Curry — Robert Dawson (.904, 2.18); Wentworth — Chris Azzano (.913, 2.40)
Power Play: Curry — 20-78, .256, third; Wentworth — 19-62, .306, first.
Penalty Kill: Curry — 55-69, .797, fifth; Wentworth — 58-67, .866, first.
Notable: Davies was named the conference’s coach of the year…Jameson is tied for third in the conference in power play goals with six. Curry led the league in goals per game (4.79), while Wentworth boasted the top defensive unit (2.36 goals per game).

It took some extra time, but in the end, it’s a repeat in the MASCAC championship. Salem State and Fitchburg State each held off their respective opponents in overtime to meet in the championship game for the second time in as many years. Salem won last year’s championship, 2-1, in Fitchburg.

The second-seeded Vikings downed upstart Westfield State, 3-2, on a Mike Genovese goal at 3:26 in overtime. The sixth-seeded Owls had tied the game in the final minute on a short-handed goal by Vince Perreault.

For the second year in a row, Salem enters the conference game as the second seed. After missing much of last season with an injury, senior goalie James Lacour has been a stalwart in net for the Vikings this season, ranking third and fourth in goals-against-average and save percentage, respectively.  Salem ranked second in the MASCAC in scoring defense and killed a league-best 90 percent of a penalties.

The Vikings also boast the league’s top offense, led by Giancarlo Capodanno (11-18) and Casey Terreri  (6-13).

It took double overtime for fourth-seeded Fitchburg State to knock off top seed Massachusetts-Dartmouth, 4-3, on Thomas McAleer’s goal at 8:50 in the second overtime.

“That just a phenomenal game,” Falcons coach Dean Fuller said. “Everybody left everything on the ice. It was the longest overtime game I’ve ever been involved in.”

The Falcons closed the season with wins in two of their last three games before beating Worcester State, 3-0, in the opening round of the playoffs. Prior to that, they had lost four in a row in the middle of February.

“We just had a period of some games where we weren’t really scoring; things weren’t really going our way,” Fuller said. “The kids have really kept on working hard and we finished up the season fairly strong.”

While senior Robert Vorse and junior Bobby Leiser split time in net during the regular season, it’s been Vorse leading the Falcons through the first two playoff games, and that will continue tomorrow, Fuller said.

With the Vikings able to consistently roll out a horde of talented lines, Fuller said the Falcons are looking to stay at even strength as often as they can.

“We’ve got to take away their power play,” he said. “They’ve got talent spread through the lineup; it’s hard to concentrate on one line.”

Outside of that, Fuller is content to leave things as they are.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” he said. “We’re just going to have the kids go out and let them play.”

Quick Hits (all statistics refer to conference play only)
MASCAC Championship Game: No.4 Fitchburg State (9-8-1) at No. 2 Salem State (11-5-2); Rockett Arena, Salem Mass.
Head to Head: Salem, 2-1
Head Coaches: Salem — Bill O’Neill (30th year); Fitchburg — Dean Fuller (27th year).
Leading Scorers: Salem — Giancarlo Capodanno (11-18); Fitchburg — Chris Riggs (9-11).
Goaltending: Salem — James Lacour (.917, 2.19); Fitchburg — Bobby Leiser (.931, 2.42).
Power Play: Salem — 19-100, .19, third. Fitchburg — 20-112, .179, fourth.
Penalty Kill: Salem — 99-110,.90, first. Fitchburg — 84-96, .875, second.
Notable: Don’t walk away while either team is short-handed. Both combined for 10 short-handed goals on the year, and ranked one-two in the conference in that category, with Fitchburg’s Justin Quinn accounting for two of the Falcons’ six. Fitchburg isn’t on the penalty kill very often; they ranked last in the league in penalty minutes per game, while the Vikings were third. Vorse made 36 saves in last year’s championship game, but was undone by a Genovese goal early in overtime.

Loose Pucks
I will be in Milton Saturday, so check for live coverage of the game, as well as updates from Salem. For those who can’t make it, the plan is to post links to live stats and a webcast on the blog tomorrow.

Finally, this is the last traditional column of the year, minus the NCAA previews coming up next week. Special thanks go out to Jim Seavey in the MASCAC and Michael Letzeisen in the ECAC Northeast for providing timely answers to any questions I’ve had through the season.

Also, thanks to each SID I’ve been in touch with through the conferences. As any writer who covers college sports can tell you, the SIDS are often the unsung heroes; whether it’s digging up an obscure stat or getting a coach to call you back, they certainly make a writer’s job much easier.

Enjoy the playoffs!