Some of the Eastern conferences didn’t even wait for the playoffs to create some drama this past weekend.
A first-year program took a giant step in winning the regular-season title and all of the seeded teams took care of business in the opening rounds of the playoffs in the NE-10 and NEHC tournaments.
Needless to say, there was lot of jockeying for position in the final weekend of the regular season.
“The pressure of wearing a sweat suit on Monday or going to practice is huge,” noted Babson coach Jamie Rice. “It is the toughest game of the year in my opinion because you never know how your team is going to respond. Your freshmen haven’t been there and your seniors know it is the last time. The ‘win or the season is over’ is a lot of pressure.”
Here is the weekend recap:
First-year Endicott captured the regular-season crown by virtue of taking care of business with a 7-0 win over Western New England on Wednesday and a 6-3 win over Curry on Saturday. They needed some help to erase their one-point deficit in the standings and got it with Johnson and Wales’ 5-4 overtime win over defending conference champion Nichols, who had taken down Suffolk earlier in the week, 5-1.
J and W’s overtime win saw a seven-goal third period erupt from a 1-0 Nichols lead in the first 40 minutes. The Wildcats erased one-goal deficits three times before capturing the lead with less than seven minutes remaining. The Bison tied the game at four on Chris Deming’s goal only to see Jonathan Ruiz’s unassisted goal win the game with just over one minute remaining in the extra session.
Salve Regina and Suffolk round out the remaining top four seeds in the ECAC Northeast. Salve Regina split the games during the week by capturing a key two points from in-state rival J and W by taking a 4-1 decision on Wednesday before dropping the season finale to Wentworth by the same 4-1 score.
Hobart had already clinched the top spot, so the battle was among teams between positions 2-4. The top seeds took care of business in their final conference game, downing Elmira at home by a 5-2 score.
Manhattanville took the second seed despite losing to Neumann by a 4-1 score on Friday night. Jory Mullin and Shane Topf scored second-period goals to break open a 1-1 tie for the Knights. Utica moved into the No. 3 spot with a 5-2 win over Nazareth. Three third-period goals from Riley Egan, Anthony McVeigh and Kevin Valenti broke open a 2-2 tie for the Pioneers.
The drama about the final playoff positioning is going to carry over right to the last day of the regular season on Tuesday, Feb. 23. Both Salem State and Plymouth State won a pair of games to remain one and two on the leaderboard, just a point apart with one game remaining to decide the top seed.
Plymouth State notched a pair of 4-1 wins over Fitchburg State and Worcester State to keep their hopes of the regular season title alive. Josh Woody and Andrew Wigg had a pair of points apiece in the close game with the Lancers that was finalized by two empty-net goals in the final 90 seconds.
Salem State downed Massachusetts-Dartmouth behind a hat trick from Michael Casale and then took a 4-2 win over Framingham State by a 4-2 score with Jason Pucciarelli picking up the win in goal with 27 saves for the Vikings.
The semifinals of the NE-10 tournament saw the top two seeds advance to next Saturday’s championship game.
St. Anselm downed Southern New Hampshire by a 3-0 score behind three goals from Vin D’Amato and a 24-save shutout from goaltender Shane Joyce. Top-seeded Stonehill scored six times in the final 40 minutes to break open the game with Assumption on their way to an 8-4 win. Robbie Dorgon recorded four points for the winners, while Brandon Bete recorded two goals, raising his season total to a nation-best 25 in a losing effort for Assumption.
The quarterfinal round of the conference tournament saw all four top seeds advance to the semifinal round without a lot of drama.
No. 1 Massachusetts-Boston shut out Southern Maine behind two goals from Frankie DeAugustine and 20 saves from Billy Faust. No. 2 Babson downed Skidmore 5-2 with Matt Brazel and Tommy Munichello both recording a goal and two assists apiece for the victors. No. 3 Norwich took down cross-state rival Castleton by a score of 4-1 with a balanced offensive attack that included Kevin Salvucci’s 16th of the season on the power play to seal the win. No. 4 UNE took full advantage of their home-ice advantage by taking New England College by a 4-1 score as Connor Maloney made 38 saves in the win.
Semifinal games scheduled for Saturday include UMB hosting UNE and Norwich visiting Babson.
Williams has clinched the top seed with Trinity and late-surging Bowdoin capturing the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively, for the NESCAC tournament. The Polar Bears used a 4-4 tie with Tufts and 4-3 win over Connecticut Colege to wrap up the third seed. That left three teams battling into Sunday for the final home-ice spot, including Hamilton, Middlebury and Amherst.
Hamilton resolved the battle with a 2-2 tie against league-leader Williams, coming from behind in the third period on Seamus O’Neill’s first goal of the season. Evan Buitenhuis made 30 saves for the Continentals.
Plattsburgh had already clinched the top seed for the SUNYAC tournament, but finished the schedule with a pair of 3-3 ties with Brockport and Geneseo.
Buffalo State claimed the second seed in emphatic fashion, knocking off Oswego on Friday night by a 3-1 score behind two goals from Taylor Pryce. On Saturday, the Bengals captured a critical two points by downing Cortland by a 7-0 score where six different players scored goals.
Geneseo secured the third seed with a 2-0 win over Potsdam on Friday prior to their 3-3 tie with Plattsburgh on Saturday, while Oswego captured the fourth seed with a 7-2 win over Fredonia where seven different players scored.
First-round tournament action begins on Wednesday with Plattsburgh and Buffalo State earning first-round byes. Geneseo will host Potsdam and Oswego will host Brockport, with the winners moving on to the semifinals on Saturday.
Michael Casale, Salem State – the Vikings forward notched a hat trick in Salem Sate’s 6-2 win over Massachusetts-Dartmouth on Thursday night. The goals helped Salem State maintain its one-point margin in the standings over Plymouth State.
Vin D’Amato, St. Anselm – the junior forward provided all of the offense the Hawks needed in their NE-10 semifinal playoff win over SNHU by scoring a goal in each period to complete his hat trick in the 3-0 victory.
Robbie Dorgon, Stonehill – the Skyhawks forward scored two goals and set up two others for four points in Stonehill’s 8-4 win over Assumption in the NE-10 conference tournament. The top seeds earned a championship match with St. Anselm next Saturday.
WEST WEEKEND WRAP – Brian Lester
St. John’s closed out the regular season with momentum, sweeping conference champion Augsburg in a weekend series. The Johnnies won the opener 5-3 and then capped the series with a 4-2 victory. In the finale, St. John’s scored three goals in the third period to secure the win and stretch its unbeaten streak to nine games. St. John’s is 12-9-4 overall and 10-4-2 in the MIAC. It will host St. Thomas in a MIAC semifinal game Saturday. The Johnnies have outscored their opponents 43-21 over the last nine games, including a 26-5 edge in the third period. Andrew Commers struck for two goals while Sean Lang scored a goal and dished out two assists. In Friday’s game, St. John’s scored five consecutive goals to take control against the Auggies, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first six minutes of the game. Huba Sekesi and Matt Colford each scored a goal and an assist. Sam Valerius dished out two assists to help lead the way … Hamline is back in the conference tournament after earning a 6-3 win over Gustavus Adolphus Saturday night. The Pipers secured the fifth and final playoff berth up for grabs, keeping their hopes alive of repeating as MIAC tourney champs. Brandon Zurn scored twice in the win and also dished out an assist. Charlie Adams struck for a goal and dished out two assists. Justin Quale made 35 saves. Hamline, which is 9-11-5 overall and 6-8-2 in the MIAC, is back in the same position it was a year when it had to win three road games over a nine-day period. The journey begins Thursday with a tournament game against Concordia.
St. Norbert claimed a share of the regular-season NCHA crown with a 4-0 win over the Milwaukee School of Engineering Friday night. The top-ranked Green Knights have won or shared 15 conference titles in their 22-year history in the NCHA. Michael Hill scored a goal on the first penalty shot attempted in the Cornerstone Community Center. The arena has been around for 16 years. Hill also dished out an assist in the win. Erik Cooper also scored in the win, marking the 17th consecutive game in which he has scored a point. The streak ties the school record, which was set in 2001 by Maris Ziedins. Cooper has scored in 24 of the Green Knights’ 25 games this season. St. Norbert held a 28-12 advantage in shots and Tony Kujava came through with the shutout win. Kujava is 12-1-1 on the season. St. Norbert is 21-2-2 overall and 17-2-1 in the conference. The Green Knights are unbeaten in their last nine games …. Adrian repeated as conference champions, earning a share of the title with a 4-2 win over St. Scholastica Saturday. The third-ranked Bulldogs scored four unanswered goals to overcome a 2-0 deficit against the 14th-ranked Saints. Seven Adrian players scored a point, with Austin Hervey, Connor Armour, Trevor Boyd and Cory Dunn all scoring goals. Armour has come through with seven goals and a nation’s best 30 assists. Chase Matson dished out an assist in the win and has 11 points on the year. He became the 14th player on the Adrian roster to reach double digits in points this season. The record is 16, which was set during the 2012-13 season. Kevin Entmaa, who is only a freshman, racked up 23 saves to improve to 12-0 on the year. He is the only unbeaten goaltender in all of NCAA hockey and the only goaltender in school history to finish a regular season without a loss. Rich Coyne and Mark Whiteley both scored goals for the Saints. Coyne’s goal was his first of the season. Adrian wraps up the regular season at 21-3-1 overall and 17-2-1 in the conference. St. Scholastica is 14-8-3 overall and 12-7-1 in the NCHA. Adrian has won eight conference crowns.
Wisconsin-Stout punched its ticket to the semifinal round of the WIAC tournament with a 3-2 win in the mini game of its playoff series against Wisconsin-Superior Saturday. The Blue Devils won the series opener 3-2, but lost the second game by a 5-3 score, setting the stage for a decisive mini game. Craig Lindegard scored twice in the mini game to propel the Blue Devils to the win. Superior overcame a 3-2 deficit in game two of the series, getting goals from Jimmy Hughes, Daniel Litchke and Jordan Neduzak to earn the win. Neduzak scored twice for the Yellowjackets in the win. Stout is 10-12-5 on the year and will take on top-seeded Wisconsin-River Falls in the semifinal round on Feb. 26. In Friday’s series opener, Stout scored twice in the third to rally for a 3-2 win. Gavin Smith and Jake Useldinger both scored goals during the rally. Justin Moody also scored a goal, while Lindegard dished out a pair of assists. Eric Shand and Ian Ecklund came through with goals for the Yellowjackets.