ECAC East/NESCAC wrap: Feb. 27

Well, the quarterfinals are in the books for both the ECAC East and NESCAC conferences and “Super Saturday” was not without its exciting and dramatic moments in the eight games played. There were the expected blowouts by the top seeds in each conference, and a couple of upsets, at least according to the seeding. So let’s look at the weekend that was and what is upcoming for the Final Four tournaments that will ultimately decide this year’s conference champions.
It should come as no surprise that Norwich earned the right to host the Final Four weekend in Northfield with its dominant 5-0 win against the University of New England.  Doug Lindensmith scored two goals and Parker Carroll returned to the net, making 14 saves as the Cadets opened pursuit of a third straight Frozen Four appearance with a solid win.
For number two seed Castleton, the road to Northfield was a challenge, as New England College took advantage of a power-play goal in the third period to close a 2-0 deficit to just a goal, but that is as close as they would get to the Spartans, who held on for the 2-1 win. The Spartans had a huge advantage in shots and territorial play, particularly in the second period, where they outshot the Pilgrims 17-3 and scored twice, including Brad Barber’s first goal of the year. The two goals were just enough to support a 17-save effort by surprise starter Thomas Shelley in goal for the Spartans.
One of the hotter teams down the stretch was Babson, which entered the playoffs as the three seed. Ironically, the Beavers only loss in the final month of the season was at the hands of Southern Maine, their quarterfinal opponent. History repeated itself in yet another 2-1 game that saw great play from the Huskies senior goaltender Braely Torris and forward Dan Rautenberg, who scored both goals for Southern Maine in the second period to overcome Mike Driscoll’s first period marker for Babson.
The last of the quarterfinal games was also a close one between Massachusetts-Boston and host Skidmore. The home team pulled out a 3-2 win with three unanswered goals to start the second period, including two on the power play. Colin Bessey out-dueled Kevin Bendel in a scoreless third period, and Skidmore moves on for a rematch with Castleton, whom it faced in a home-and-home series just last week to close out the regular season.
So seeds one, two and four won on home ice, and now will be looking to keep the momentum rolling in Northfield next weekend.
While I only managed a split in predicting the outcomes of the ECAC East games, I did predict all of the NESCAC outcomes correctly, but three of the four games could have gone either way.
The one game that was no contest was Amherst’s 6-0 win over Hamilton. Six different goal scorers and 12 different players with points, including freshman Michael Cashman with three assists, was all the nation’s leading goaltender would need. Jonathan La Rose posted 19 saves for the shutout, and really wasn’t tested severely by the Continentals, who went 0-for-3 on the power play and generated just 10 shots on goal in the first two periods of play.
For the number two seed Bowdoin and number three seed Middlebury, two hard-fought games against Trinity and Wesleyan respectively saw 2-1 wins for the home teams. Bowdoin fell behind in the first two minutes of the game on a goal by Trinity’s Joe Tierney, but rallied to tie the score before the end of the period on a goal by Rob MacGregor. Graham Sisson’s power-play goal in the second period proved to be the game-winner, as goalie Steve Messina made 31 saves to backstop the Polar Bears to the Final Four.
For Middlebury, a dominant defensive effort that yielded just 12 shots to the Cardinals almost went for naught when James Albrecht scored midway through the third period to tie the score at 1-1.  With just over three minutes remaining in regulation, Chris Steele scored just his third goal of the season, which held up as the game-winning goal in the Panthers’ 2-1 win. Next weekend, Bowdoin and Middlebury square off in the semifinal round in what should be a great hockey game.
The number four vs. number five game, Tufts hosting Williams, really could have gone either way, as it came down to an overtime session to decide the outcome. Tufts super scorer Kyle Gallegos got the Jumbos on the board with a power-play goal in the first, and just over a minute into the second period, Tufts had a 2-0 lead on a goal by Evan Story. Williams then answered with three goals of its own, including two power-play goals, to close out the second period of play. Gallegos again answered for Tufts on the power play in the third period, and the game closed regulation tied at 3-3. In a game that was expected to see great goaltending between Scott Barchard and Ryan Purdy, the spirited overtime gave both netminders the chance to show-off, as Williams outshot Tufts in the extra session by an 11-10 margin and 51-44 for the game overall. John Wickman ended the suspense with his third goal of the season with just over six minutes remaining in overtime, and Williams moves on to face Amherst next week in the semifinal round.
The quarterfinal round had a lot of excitement, a couple of upsets and some really great hockey. Don’t expect anything less for the championship weekend ahead. So if you are in the neighborhood of Amherst, Mass., or Northfield, Vt., grab yourself a ticket and be entertained. There is everything to play for now, and the action and intensity will be great!
There is hardware to be had — drop the puck!



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