Playoff preview: ECAC Northeast/MASCAC

Plymouth State Panthers
League: MASCAC
Conference record: 12-3-3 (First)
Overall record: 17-6-3
Last NCAA Appearance: First in school history
Scoring offense: 3.38 goals per game
Scoring defense: 2.38  goals per game
Scoring margin: plus-25 (1.00 g/gm)
Power play: 21.5 percent
Penalty kill: 85.6 percent
Penalties: 18.42 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Kyle Greco (14)
Assists: Kyle Greco (22)
Points: Kyle Greco (36)
Power-play goals: Kyle Grego (7)
Short-handed goals: None
Goals against average: Jack Astedt (2.29)
Save percentage: Jack Astedt (.914)

Conference Playoffs
Semifinals: defeated Worcester State, 7-1
Championship: defeated Salem State, 5-4 (2OT)

Plymouth State enters the NCAA Tournament with a little bit of history on its side.

The Panthers recorded a conference and a pre-NCAA Tournament first on Saturday, earning the MASCAC’s first automatic tournament bid — and the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history — with a 5-4 overtime win over Salem State.

“It was definitely a goal,” Plymouth State coach Craig Russell said of qualifying for the national tournament. “We set individual goals and team goals and broke the season into three or four mini-seasons. Our goal was to win the MASCAC tournament and make the national tournament.”

Will the historic moments help the Panthers take some momentum into the playoffs? It’s hard to say, but consider that Plymouth State enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in Division III — the Panthers will take a nine-game unbeaten streak into Wednesday’s game against Wentworth, the ECAC Northeast champion.

Still, Russell admitted this much about his team’s preparation for the national tournament.

“We don’t have any great measuring sticks to what it’s going to be like.”

That might be a good thing for the Panthers — Russell believes at this point in the season, his players need to narrow their focus to themselves and their individual and collective play.

“Ignorance is bliss,” Russell said. “It’s good that we don’t know what we don’t know. We can only concentrate what we can do.”

One factor in the Panthers’ favor is the team’s health. Plymouth State played through a rash of injuries during the course of the season, and only fielded a full, healthy lineup in last week’s MASCAC semifinal and championship games.

“It was one guy down, and then it was four guys down — and what they’ve done, it’s been a testament to their resiliency. When they got hurt, they were doing rehab every day, going to meetings and still being around the team.”

Before entering the postseason on a seven-game unbeaten streak, the Panthers struggled to create consistency in January, going 2-4-2 through the month, including the two losses to Wentworth.

“We were a different team at that point (against Wentworth), and I’m sure Wentworth was, too,” Russell said. “We don’t want to concentrate on what happened in the past. We want to continue to play. We have to take care of things here.”

In hosting the first NCAA Tournament game in school history, Russell hopes that the “home-ice advantage” stays true to form.

“It’s going to be exciting, any time you can have an extra game in your home rink,” said Russell, whose team is 10-3-1 at Hanaway Rink this season. “With the community and the fan following, it’s going to be crazy here.”

Wentworth Institute of Technology Leopards
League: ECAC Northeast
Conference record: 11-2-1 (First)
Overall record: 20-6-1
Last NCAA appearance: 2004 — lost 9-1 at Middlebury
Best NCAA finish: Wentworth is 0-6 in the NCAA Tournament: lost twice at St. Thomas (Minn.) in 2000, lost twice at Middlebury in 2002, lost at Oswego in 2003, and lost at Middlebury in 2004.
Scoring offense: 3.85 goals per game
Scoring defense: 2.52 goals per game
Scoring margin: plus-36 (1.33 g/gm)
Power play: 23.1 percent
Penalty kill: 83.7 percent
Penalties: 15.7 pim/gm

Team Leaders
Goals: Mike Domsodi (19)
Assists: Skylur Jameson (23)
Points: Mike Domsodi (34)
Power-play goals: Mike Domsodi (9)
Short-handed goals: Two players (1)
Goals against average: Alex Peck (2.03)
Save percentage: Alex Peck (.919)

Conference Playoffs
Semifinals: defeated Western New England, 5-3
Championship: defeated Curry, 1-0 (OT)

Forget the fact that the rest of the school is taking advantage of spring break this week. The Wentworth hockey team won’t be going to Florida or Acapulco. Instead, the Leopards will only have to travel a few hours to open the NCAA tournament, instead of hopping on a plane and changing time zones (and potentially losing luggage).

When the Leopards make their first tournament appearance in eight years, they’ll travel two hours north, from Boston to the New Hampshire mountains, to take on Plymouth State at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Still, even with a break from the classroom and some more time to work with, the Leopards have four days between the ECAC Northeast championship game on Friday and its NCAA tournament opener.

“You don’t have too much time to prepare,” Wentworth coach R.J. Tolan said Monday morning. “We’ve got two days, then we turn around and play another game. So we’ll prepare the way we usually prepare for games.”

However, at this point, a win will mean one more game on the schedule, and a loss will signify the end of the season.

The Leopards (20-6-1) enter the postseason as one of the country’s hottest teams, on a 10-game winning streak that includes Saturday’s 1-0 win over Curry for the ECAC Northeast championship. Wentworth’s current winning streak is the second-longest in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament, second only to Amherst.

However, Wentworth will also face another torrid team in Plymouth State, which is unbeaten in its last nine games. Wentworth and Plymouth State met in a two-game nonconference series Jan. 7-8 in Plymouth — Wentworth won both games, 5-2 and 3-1 — but Tolan points to Wentworth’s nonconference sweep of Plymouth State as a turning point in his team’s season, as it was the first weekend series the Leopards played after nearly a month off for the holiday break.

“That weekend was kind of a unique one for us,” said Tolan, whose team opened the new year with a 3-2 overtime win against Bowdoin before the nonconference sweep of Plymouth State. “We played that weekend, knowing how good Plymouth would be. It was a great test for us, and it helped us get into the heart of the schedule.”

Wentworth opened the season 3-3-1, but lost just two games after the holiday break. A  late-season surge, including a 5-3 win over Curry on Feb. 16, helped the Leopards earn the top seed in the ECAC Northeast tournament.

Wentworth defeated Western New England, 5-3, in a conference quarterfinal, then defeated Curry, 1-0, in overtime on Sean McLaughlin’s penalty shot to earn the ECAC Northeast’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m really excited for this opportunity for this group to have this experience, to see how excited they are and how they’ll prepare,” Tolan said.


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