Well, here we are at the chase for conference titles and with it, the opportunity to play for a national championship.
The playoffs are already in full swing and Saturday brings us 18 games for 36 teams across the seven conferences that include quarterfinal, semifinal and for the NE-10, championship games.
The stakes are at their highest for teams that want to continue their season and not have to clean out lockers come Monday, signifying the end of their season.
Here is a preview of the upcoming games by Eastern conference:
Endicott earned the first round bye on the final weekend of regular-season play and now awaits the outcome of Saturday’s quarterfinals in determining their semifinal opponent.
Nichols, the defending champions and No. 2 seed, will face seven-seed Becker College. The Bison dropped the Hawks by 5-3 and 3-1 scores in the regular season, but come into the conference tournament just 4-3-0 in their last seven games.
Salve Regina, the third seed, will host a Rhode Island state affair on Saturday when Johnson and Wales, the No. 6 seed, comes to play. The Seahawks took both regular-season games by 5-1 and 4-1 scores with the latter game just 10 days ago.
A Boston backyard brawl is on tap in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 game when Suffolk hosts Wentworth. The Rams have struggled down the stretch, winning just one game in their last five, which includes a loss to the Leopards, who are 6-1-0 in their last seven games.
Hobart and Manhattanville earned the first round byes in the highly-competitive ECAC West and with the quarterfinals played on Wednesday, the semifinal round for Saturday is set.
The top-seeded Statesmen will play host to No. 4 seed Neumann, who downed Nazareth on Wednesday to advance. Hobart won the season series 2-1, including a 7-1 win at Neumann in early February. The Knights will look to be the first to blemish Hobart’s perfect home record of 11-0.
Manahattanville, the No. 2 seed, will host No. 3 Utica on Saturday. The Valiants lost the season series to the Pioneers two games to one, with both teams winning on their home ice and the last game being settled in the final 20 seconds of overtime back at the beginning of February. Rookie of the Year Hayden Dawes leads the Pioneers’ offense and the freshman will need to show his poise with the higher stakes on Saturday.
The top two seeds, Salem State and Plymouth State, have earned first-round byes, but will be watching Saturday’s quarterfinal action intently as the outcomes will determine their semifinal opponents.
Fitchburg State earned the No. 3 seed and will host another FSU, sixth-seeded Framingham State on Saturday. The Falcons swept the three-game regular-season series by scores of 7-3, 4-0 and 4-0, but should not take the Rams lightly based on their strong 3-0 win over Massachusetts-Dartmouth to close out the regular season.
The Corsairs are the No. 4 seed and will host No. 5 Westfield State on Saturday, hoping to keep their home dominance over the Owls going strong. After dropping the first game on the road by a 5-2 score, the Corsairs have taken the last two regular-season games at Hetland Arena by matching 4-2 scores. Casey Shea and Mike Kelly will need to continue to drive the offense for John Rolli’s team if they are to advance.
The championship game pits No. 1 seed Stonehill against No. 2 seed St. Anselm for the NE-10 title. The sole regular-season game in late January went to Stonehill by a 5-2 score, but that may be a bit misleading. Two empty-net goals inflated the final score from 3-2 to 5-2 and St. Anselm outshot Stonehill by a 41-20 margin for the game. Goaltending will again be key to the outcome so much will ride on the shoulders of William Palmer of Stonehill and Shane Joyce of St. Anselm for helping their team win the title.
The semifinals are set with all top four seeds advancing to play on Saturday. Massachusetts-Boston, the No. 1 seed, will host No. 4 seed University of New England. The Beacons took the season series, winning by 8-3 and 5-0 scores with Matt Lemire posting five points in the wins and goalie Billy Faust earning the shutout on Jan. 30. The Nor’easters will not be an easy opponent as they come into the game riding a four-game unbeaten streak at 3-0-1.
The two-seed, Babson, will host No. 3 seed Norwich in a game that has traditionally been played in the championship round over the past several seasons and always at Norwich. The two teams split the regular-season series with a win apiece and both teams have key players back from injury, including goalie Jamie Murray for Babson and forward William Pelletier for the Cadets.
The quarterfinal round begins on Saturday with some intriguing matchups. Williams earned the top seed and faces a very determined No. 8-seeded Tufts team that has gone 3-2-1 in the month of February. The Jumbos will need to find a way to score goals as they were shut out twice by the Ephs in the regular season by 2-0 and 4-0 scores. Last season, the Jumbos knocked off the then-No. 1 seed Trinity in the first round, so Williams should be wary.
No. 2 seed Trinity faces No. 7 Colby and will be looking to break their quarterfinal jinx of being bounced in the first round of the conference tournament. The Bantams won the season series, taking both games by 4-3 and 4-2 scores. The Bantams are the last team to beat the Mules, who have gone 2-0-1 in their last three to earn the seventh seed.
Bowdoin, the No. 3 seed, will host No. 6 Amherst and the Polar Bears may be the hottest team in the tournament as they are 9-0-1 in their last ten games, which includes a 3-1 win at Amherst in January. The teams also played to a 0-0 draw in Brunswick, so expect this game to be low-scoring and with special teams a key factor.
Hamilton earned the final home-ice berth with a pair of ties on the last weekend of the season and now finds itself playing Middlebury again this weekend, but this time in their own friendly confines. One team is going to have to find a way to do something that didn’t happen in the two regular-season games and that is get a win. Both games ended in ties, 3-3 and 1-1 last weekend, so expect overtime to decide this one.
Plattsburgh and Buffalo State had first-round byes and were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the quarterfinal games played on Wednesday. The semifinal games are now set.
The top-seeded Cardinals will host No. 4 seed Oswego who made a statement in their 8-0 win over Brockport on Wednesday night. Both regular-season games between these two rivals were decided in overtime by 5-4 and 4-3 scores, respectively. Don’t be surprised with another thriller between the Cardinals and Lakers.
Geneseo, the No. 3 seed, knocked off Potsdam on Wednesday and now travel to face the second-seeded Bengals at Buffalo State on Saturday. The Knights lost both regular-season games to the Bengals by 7-4 and 3-2 with the last game being decided in overtime. In their last six games, the Bengals are 6-0 and have outscored their opponents by a 29-7 margin with two shutouts.
What do you do for tournament excitement when you aren’t part of a conference? You find a partner in similar circumstances and play your own championship series. That is the case between Canton and Daniel Webster this weekend as they will play a two-game series in what is being billed as the D-III Independent Championship. Canton at 5-17-3 on the season will travel to New Hampshire to face the 3-17-0 hosts.