ECAC East: And then there were four

Massachusetts-Boston forward Peter MacIntyre will need to be a force this weekend against the Beacons’ semifinal game against Babson (photo: SportsPix).

It’s the semifinals this weekend in the ECAC East and the top three teams in the conference are not surprise attendees.

Norwich, Babson and Massachusetts-Boston all won handily in their quarterfinal matchups to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round. Joining the three nationally-ranked squads is Castleton that “upset” the fourth-seeded Pilgrims from New England College by a score of 3-2 in overtime and thus earning a date with top seeded Norwich in Northfield.

Here is a preview of the upcoming games and look to my Friday picks for the predicted winners that will move on to championship on Saturday, March 8.

No. 5 Castleton @ No. 1 Norwich

You really need to look past the head-to-head battles between these two teams as Norwich won handily at home, early in the season by a score of 6-2 and tied on the Spartans’ home ice 1-1 just a couple of weeks ago.

So why do you need to look past it? For the past two seasons, Castleton has arrived in Northfield to open March with a semifinal game against Norwich only to enter their personal house of horrors. Scores of 11-1 and 6-2 were the finals in the past two conference playoff games at Norwich’s Kreitzberg Arena, so the first thing that first-year coach Steve Moffatt needs to do is make sure his team has a very short-term memory.

The Spartans have struggled overall away from home this season, going just 3-5-1 in conference play and 5-6-1 overall away from home.

The Cadets won’t take anyone lightly and will look to take control early, so the first 10 minutes of the first period are crucial for Castleton in finding its legs, its game and taking the crowd out of the equation for the home team that can feed off the noise and support.

Both Thomas Shelley and Erick Cinotti have played well during the Spartans’ current four-game unbeaten streak and they will need to keep their team in the hunt since it is unlikely that one goal will be enough to win this game.

No. 3 Massachusetts-Boston @ No. 2 Babson

The home-and-home series during the regular season in late January went to the Beavers by scores of 2-0 and 3-2. Babson’s Mike Driscoll led the way offensively with three points on two goals and an assist in the two games, while goaltender Jamie Murray stopped 66 of 68 Beacon shots to earn both victories while posting his third shutout of the season in the win at home on Friday night.

The Beacons’ Peter McIntyre factored in both goals for UMB and the leading scorer, along with captain Travis Daniel, will need to find a way to solve the Beavers’ solid team defense and ultimately Murray, who was selected as the goalie and conference player of the year in the ECAC East this season.

This one is likely to be very close and for a playoff game, expect the pace to be really quick as both teams like to get up and down the ice in transition.

One key to the game may be the power play. While neither team takes a lot of penalties, the Beacons finished two-for-nine in the two-game series which wasn’t quite good enough to garner the win in either game. Babson doesn’t spend a lot of time killing penalties, but if they give UMB chances, it could be a difference-maker for the visitors who are clearly looking to avenge the regular-season losses and move to the championship round next weekend.

And now for some bonus coverage…

Northeast-10 Championship

No. 4 St. Michael’s @ No. 3 Southern New Hampshire

A little bonus blurb here on the D-II championship involving one of the ECAC East schools that is ineligible to play in the conference tournament with the remaining D-III institutions.

St. Michael’s was an upset winner over the top-seeded Stonehill Skyhawks in the semifinal round of the tournament last weekend and now have a chance to win the NE-10 championship after starting the season 1-13-1.

Goalie Dave Donzanti and rookie of the year in both the NE-10 and ECAC East, Danny Divis, will try to pace the Purple Knights past the Penmen of SNHU.

The Penmen have been led all season by a pair of fabulous sophomore forwards in Joe Collins and Jim Gabrione, who both own identical scoring lines of 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points this season. Together they have combined for 16 power-play goals and in the regular-season meeting between the two schools, combined for six points in an 8-4 win at home.

The Penmen are hosting and have averaged five goals per game in their last three wins, while St. Michael’s is also unbeaten in its last three games having surrendered just six goals and just two in their last two contests.

It’s the age old battle of offense vs. defense – which one will ultimately win a championship in the D-II ranks?