Men’s East conference championships on tap in D-III

Tufts’ Sean Kavanaugh leads the upset-minded Jumbos in search of another NESCAC stunner when they travel to Trinity to face the defending national champions on Saturday in conference semifinal action (photo: Sportspix).

This is it – the culmination of a long season.

The remaining teams still have hopes of postseason glory and a chance to hoist the trophy as conference champions. The pressure is great, the intensity is at its highest and the hockey is likely to be nothing less than superb across each and every conference through the semifinal and championship rounds this weekend.

Here is the second installment and preview for championship week in the East.

ECAC Northeast

A new champion will be crowned on the weekend in the ECAC Northeast. The championship round is set following Wednesday night’s semifinal round that saw top-seeded Endicott advance to host Saturday’s championship game against upset winner Salve Regina, who knocked off last year’s champion Nichols. The teams split their regular-season series with each team winning on the road.

Endicott broke open a scoreless game after 40 minutes with four third-period goals in their 4-0 win over Wentworth. The Gulls benefited from two goals from Tommy Besinger and a goal and two assists from Ross Olsson to support Kevin Aldridge and his 30 saves in goal.

Salve Regina shut down Nichols behind 26 saves from goalie Blake Wojtala and held the Bison scoreless on all seven of their power-play opportunities in a 3-0 win. Peter Gintoli assisted on all three goals scored by Pat Thompson, James Malone and Jonathan Felteau.

ECAC West

The championship game finds Hobart, the top seed, hosting third-seeded Utica on Saturday night. The season series went all the way for the Statesmen with three wins by scores of 5-1, 7-3 and 4-2 with the latter two wins coming on home ice at the end of January. The Statesmen are a perfect 12-0-0 on home ice this season against all comers, so Utica’s young team will have their work cut out for them in springing the upset on the top seeded hosts.

MASCAC

Following Tuesday night’s semifinal games, the championship round is set with top-seeded Salem State hosting second seed Plymouth State on Saturday.

The Panthers took care of business against Fitchburg State, winning 6-2 behind a goal and two assists from Andrew Wigg and five other goal scorers in a balanced attack. Goaltender Gordon Caesar made 23 saves in the win.

Salem State got exactly what it wanted in racing out to an early 4-0 first-period lead against Westfield State, but Wyatt Trumbley’s goal with just nine seconds remaining for the Owls changed momentum for the visitors. A 3-0 period for the Owls tied the score and after a scoreless third period, it took Salem’s Cam Moniz just over five minutes into overtime to end it for the home team by a 5-4 score.

NE-10

Well, you don’t see this every day – Stonehill has been awarded the NE-10 championship due to the outbreak of mumps that affected several players on the St. Anselm team and the inability to reschedule the game for up to another four weeks. It is unfortunate that the title could not be decided on the ice, especially for seniors on both sides who now find their season ending with a league press release and not the thrill of competition.

NEHC

The top two seeds have reached the championship round with Massachusetts-Boston hosting travel partner Babson in the title game. Ironically, the two teams split the regular season home-and-home series with each team winning as the visitor.

The Beacons top line of Matt Lemire, Colin Larkin and Frankie DeAugustine has combined for 109 points this season, so they will be a focal point for the Babson defense while the home team must contend with the tenacious team defense, strong goaltending and balanced scoring of the Beavers, who have just one player with double-digit goals and two players with 20 points or more.

NESCAC

Trinity was the sole surviving home-ice seed and won the right to host this weekend’s semifinals and final on home ice. The remaining challengers include five seed Middlebury, six seed Amherst and eighth-seeded Tufts in what has proven to be a wide-open conference tournament.

Despite being the defending national champion, Trinity does not have to look far for motivation in their semifinal game with Tufts, who eliminated them from conference play last spring in the quarterfinals and repeated the feat this season against top-seeded Williams. Coach Matt Greason has stated that the goal has always been to win the conference title and they will have to get by a determined Tufts team that has seen timely goals and great goaltending from Mason Pulde.

The other semifinal finds Amherst visiting Middlebury just two weeks removed from their final game of the regular season, won by the Panthers to secure the five seed. The season series went to Middlebury 2-0 and the goaltending of Liam Moorfield-Yee has been a big reason for recent success where the team is surrendering just a goal a game in their three game unbeaten streak. They will need that focus to shut down a resurgent Amherst offense that scored six times in just the third period last weekend in their win over Bowdoin.

SUNYAC

Top-seeded Plattsburgh will host the third-seeded Knights of Geneseo in the SUNYAC title game on Saturday night. The season series favors the visitors, who won on home ice by a score of 5-4 and tied at Plattsburgh 3-3 on the last weekend of the regular season. That said, the third-ranked Cardinals are unbeaten at home against conference opponents posting a 6-0-2 record during the season.

This game will focus on the depth and balanced scoring of the Cardinals versus the stellar play of Geneseo’s leading offensive threats of Stephen Collins, Trevor Hills and David Ripple, who were key in the Knights’ semifinal win at Buffalo State.

It is a weekend for raising trophies, but you have to earn it to win it!

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