MASCAC champ to get first conference autobid

When Plymouth State and Salem State meet at 6 p.m. Saturday for the MASCAC tournament championship, the winner will achieve something historic — as the league’s first postseason champion, one team will earn the MASCAC’s first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Plymouth State, the No. 1 seed in the six-team conference tournament, earned its first berth in a conference title game in 26 years, after a 7-1 win Tuesday over No. 5 Worcester State in one semifinal. No. 2 Salem State, which makes its third consecutive appearance in the conference championship game, defeated No. 3 Massachusetts-Dartmouth, 4-3, in overtime on Tuesday in the conference’s second semifinal.

Saturday’s semifinal will mark the conclusion of the conference’s third full season at the Division III level — but because the MASCAC is still in its infancy as a hockey conference, its conference champions for the 2009-10 and 2010-2011 seasons were not eligible to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“When the MASCAC formed its own playing league in 2009, the conference had to wait the mandatory two-year period to receive an automatic berth into the NCAA championships, meaning that in the third full year of MASCAC play, the conference tournament champion would then be eligible to receive an automatic berth,” Jim Seavey, the MASCAC’s director of relations, said via e-mail. “That begins officially with the 2012 tournament champion.”

Prior to this season, MASCAC teams were eligible for an at-large berth in the 2009 and 2010 seasons — the MASCAC did not have a national tournament qualifier either year — and in the past, the conference’s seven current teams have been eligible for an at-large NCAA Division III tournament berth, and for an automatic berth in the ECAC Northeast and ECAC East, conferences that MASCAC teams belonged to prior to the formation of the MASCAC.

A quick survey of MASCAC teams that have earned Division III tournament berths (information submitted by sports information directors):

Salem State has qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament seven times, and has reached the final four three times.

Massachusetts-Dartmouth has qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, as a member of the ECAC Northeast.

Westfield State, Worcester State, and Plymouth State have not qualified for the Division III tournament. That could change Saturday night for Plymouth State, or it could continue for Salem State.

A word to the wise: Don’t bother attempting to buy tickets, because Saturday’s title game at Plymouth State is already sold out, per the Panthers’ sports information department.

The NCAA Division III tournament begins March 7.

ECAC Northeast
After Wednesday’s 7-2 win over Nichols, Curry will attempt to return to the NCAA Tournament when it faces Wentworth at 2 p.m. Saturday for the ECAC Northeast title and the conference’s automatic bid.

The defending ECAC Northeast tournament champions — who earned the conference’s automatic bid last season — took a three-goal lead in the first 20 minutes en route to Wednesday’s 7-2 win over No. 3 Nichols in a conference semifinal.

Sparked by Payden Benning’s four points (two goals, two assists), Curry, the No. 2 seed in the ECAC Northeast, ended the Bison’s six-game unbeaten streak while Wentworth defeated No. 4 Western New England, 5-3.

Held scoreless through the first and second periods, Mike Domsodi’s goal with 5:40 left in the third period broke a 3-3 tie, and Fred Gervasi’s second goal less than four minutes later helped Wentworth secure the win and earn a spot in the conference title game.