ECAC East/NESCAC Championship Weekend Recap – March 7, 2011

Hail to the Norwich Cadets and Bowdoin Polar Bears winners of the ECAC East and NESCAC conference tournaments over this past weekend. Both teams enter NCAA play this upcoming Wednesday when the Cadets host ECAC Northeast champion Curry and the Polar Bears entertain Neumann in first round action.
But that is this week and stuff for another blog session. Here is a recap of the action over the weekend.
In Northfield, VT Norwich again hosted the final four in the ECAC East and dominated Friday afternoon’s semi-final match-up with Southern Maine in posting a 4-0 shutout. Territorially the game was played a lot in the Huskie end of the ice but it wasn’t until the third period that two goals by Norwich provided a comfortable and final margin for the Cadets.
The other semi-final saw Castleton playing Babson for the right to play Norwich for the championship and Jamie Rice’s squad again showed why they are playoff ready every year as they upset the Spartans by a score of 4-3.
Babson built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Mike Hoban and Jay Haseley and expanded that lead in the second period on a shorthanded goal by senior Terry Woods.  Castleton battled back to a one goal deficit with just 52 seconds remaining in the period on a goal by Colin Murray and the game would come down to the final 20 minutes.
Matt O’Neill scored for Babson, his second point of the game, at the halway mark of the final stanza to gain back the two goal cushion but Josh Harris answered just over two minutes later.  The final seven minutes was a flurry of activity but Zeke Teasta and Babson’s young corps of defense held on for the 4-3 win.
The championship game pitted two long-standing rivals against each other and the game lived up to its billing by being decided in overtime.  The first period ended knotted at 1 apiece as Mike Hoban continued his torrid play for the Beavers.  His second goal of the game gave Babson a 2-1 lead entering the third period and Zeke Testa was thwarting the Cadets’ strong attack with 29 saves in the first 40 minutes. 
With just over four minutes remaining in the third period Kyle Thomas tied the game at 2-2 and the crowd settled in for some bonus hockey.  With under three minutes remaining in the overtime period, Thomas with some help from last year’s playoff hero Pierre Olivier-Cotnoir, scored the game winner to earn the Cadets the ECAC East title with a 3-2 win and a chance to defend their national crown in the NCAA tournament.
Over in the NESCAC conference the final four was no less interesting as all four teams were in search of their first conference championship.  The action on the ice clearly demonstrated that intensity as both games were highly contested battles that could have swung either way with a couple of different bounces of the puck.
When you get a prediction right ( and note that a said “A” prediction right), it feels like you knew something nobody else did.  Candidly what I knew about the first semi-final between Wesleyan and the hosts from Williams was that their regular season match-up ended up a 3-2 decision in overtime and I frankly saw no reason to think it wouldn’t repeat itself in a playoff atmosphere.
A scoreless first period gave way to a Wesleyan 2-1 lead at the end of two periods and sophomore goalie Matt Hadge standing tall against the onslaught of Williams shots.  Just over one minute into the third period, Mark Lyons scored on an assist from Matt Masucci and the game was headed to overtime.  Masucci wasn’t done with his heroics on the afternoon as he scored the game winning goal over 15 minutes into the overtime with assists from John Wickman and senior Brian Malchoff.  The Ephs would be playing at home in the championship game but against which team from Maine.
Bowdoin-Colby III also lived up to expectations as the game was close and intense as all games between these two rivals get.  Like the first semi-final, a scoreless first period moved to a 2-1 lead for Bowdoin at the end of two periods on goals by Henry Matheson sandwiching Chris Buonomo’s tally for Colby.  Matheson’s second of the period came with just under a minute remaining to give the Polar Bears some momentum heading into the locker room.
The third period was evenly matched until the final four minutes where a Colby penalty led to a power play opportunity for Bowdoin.  All year long Bowdoin has excelled with the man advantage so it was fitting that Daniel Weiniger scored his 19th goal of the season for a 3-1 lead that would stand up as the final score.  Bowdoin had earned a return trip to the championship game looking to attain the title that had eluded them last season at home.
The final game was a great match-up with a lot of up and down the ice action.  Both goaltenders were required to make some key saves early as Bowdoin built a quick 2-0 lead before a power play goal by Eric Rubino for Williams made it a 2-1 game at the end of one period.
In the second period Steve Messina for Bowdoin and Ryan Purdy continued to stymie the opposition but it was Bowdoin that finally broke through for two goals early and late to take a 4-1 lead.  Aaron O’Callaghan (yes, Jack’s son) scored just over four minutes into the period while Ollie Koo score with just over four minutes remaining in the second period.  Although the lead was three goals, no one in the building seemed to think it was over, especially the two teams on the ice.
John Wickman scored early in the third period to cut the lead to 4-2 for Bowdoin and Williams continued to attack.  As time wound down, the Williams defense advanced into the attack more frequently and Bowdoin capitalized with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.  After an offensive zone turnover by Williams, Bowdoin quickly transitioned to offense where Jeff Fanning scored his 20th goal of the season of a rebound from fellow 20 goal scorer, Daniel Weiniger.  The final score of 5-2 was not indicative of how close the game was but Bowdoin was thrilled to hoist the hardware.
The NCAA tournament bracket released today has both teams in action mid-week. Both champions will host games on Wednesday with Norwich playing Curry College from the ECAC Northeast and Bowdoin hosting Neumann in a first round game.  More on team previews and game predictions coming later in the week.