ECAC East/NESCAC Championship Weekend – Game Predictions – March 4, 2011

Here it is – the BIG weekend in conference play. Conference championships and NCAA automatic bids are on the line starting this afternoon so here are my predictions for who hoists the hardware come the end of the weekend.
Winners in bold.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Southern Maine at Norwich – The first game in today’s double header finds the hosts playing against a familiar rival riding hot goalie.  Braely Torris was a big reason that the Huskies upset UMass-Boston on the road last weekend and he will need to do it again if Jeff Beaney’s squad has hopes of playing on Saturday night.  Norwich is locked on the style of play it takes to be successful at this time of the year and despite their record, there are no assumptions other than winning the conference that gets them into the NCAA tournament and a chance to defend their title.  Home ice, the crowd and depth are all on the side of the Cadets and before you start chanting “Ryan Donovan” in reference to Torris, note that the depth of scoring on this year’s edition of Norwich hockey is something that has a lot of coaches, including Beaney, worried about.  Huskies have heart, Norwich has more talent and that’s enough here – Norwich 5, USM 2.
Babson vs. Castleton – For sure the crowd will be wearing green but as Coach Jamie Rice from Babson notes, “only about 58 of them are going to be rooting for the Beavers.”  In six of seven years behind the Babson bench coach Rice has seen his team reach the final four which is an accomplishment he is quite proud of.  “It says a lot about the program and the commitment of the players here and this weekend won’t be any different in that we will play with everything we have against a very good team that put it to us earlier in the year by a 6-1 score.  Stefan and Harris and Alonzo are a special group and have really had  great seasons which has carried down to other players that are now making contributions to their wins.  This is going to be a challenge as Alex has done a great job at Castleton and they have had a great season.”  Platitudes for the other team won’t get you much at this time of the year but Babson has a knack of being in the hunt and this one is a lot closer than many expect – Castleton 3, Babson 2.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Wesleyan @ Williams – A first time team in the final four against the first time host of the final four adds a bit of spice to this one.  Both teams played an overtime thriller in January where Williams eked out a 3-2 win.  Wesleyan is fresh off their upset of top-seeded Hamilton on the road so why not make it consecutive weeks beating No 1 and No 2.  One word – Purdy.  The LaJolla, California native has been a big reason for the success of the Ephs this year and while they have played in the final fours on a regular basis, they haven’t played in the championship game in a long time and that’s enough motivation for the men wearing purple.  This one will be tight, close and yes, even go into overtime – Williams 3, Wesleyan 2 (OT)
Colby vs. Bowdoin – This is starting to resemble the Rocky movies as we approach Bowdoin-Colby III.  The stakes are clearly higher here and with the teams so close, this may just come down to the law of averages and whether one team can beat an opponent three times in the same season.  Offensively, the advantages go to Bowdoin overall and especially on the power play with Shearer-Hardy, Fanning, Weiniger and Matheson.  Crinnion has been very hot for the Mules along with Michael Doherty so the real difference makers may be in the goal creases.  Cody McKinney has had a solid second half of the season during Colby’s run and held last year’s conference champs from Middlebury to just one goal last weekend on the road.  Messina and Nerland have been good for Bowdoin but the experience in goal favors the boys from Waterville.  This is a very tough one to pick knowing the intense rivalry every time they play each other but this Mule Train may just keep on rolling to Sunday afternoon – Colby 4, Bowdoin 3 (OT)
ECAC East Championship Game
Castleton at Norwich – No 1 vs. No 2 – It’s fitting that these teams would play one more time having split the two prior games.  Castleton won a non-conference game at Norwich in overtime by a 3-2 score back in December and while both teams boast some serious offensive firepower, this one is going to come down to goaltending, discipline and experience.  This will be Castleton’s first appearance in the championship game and while the Spartans have long desired to be in this position, there is something about having been there before that favors the Cadets on their home ice.  In the conference game just a few weeks ago, Norwich raced off to a 3-0 first period lead and never looked back in winning 5-2 on the road.  I expect that the Spartans will be ready for an early onslaught and this one will come down to the last 20 minutes after the end of regulation – Norwich 3, Castleton 2 (OT).
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Colbyvs. Williams – The regular season game saw a 6-3 score where Billy Crinnion and Michael Doherty combined for five points in the game and the ultimate margin determined by an empty net goal.  It would be hard to imagine these teams putting up nine goals on the scoreboard in a championship game so don’t expect fireworks as much as a tight, physical game where the difference in the game is likely to come from a player that may be a surprise.  This final four at Williams brought teams together that have never won the conference tournament in its current format and while Amherst, as a new host won it two years ago, visiting teams have had more success including Middlebury’s run last season at Bowdoin.  Two great teams and solid coaches will be looking for a school first and a chance to play next weekend in the NCAAs.  Bus ride to Waterville is much more enjoyable with the trophy riding shotgun – Colby 3, Williams 2 (OT).
That’s it for the predictions but not the coverage of teams advancing on to the national stage after Sunday’s seeding of the NCAA tournament.  To all the players, coaches, SIDs and fans, thanks for a great season and to those still playing, enjoy the ride since these trips don’t come around very often.
Pig pile with the trophy – drop the puck!