Way back in October, this was a weekend circled on the calendar that coaches and teams aspired to be playing meaningful hockey on – the time has come and now opportunity meets talent and desire with the hope of winning a conference championship and maybe playing for more on a bigger stage in the national tournament.
Ah, but first things first – the completion, intensity and pressure will all be magnified this weekend and the teams that take it all in and handle it the best are likely to emerge victorious.
Last week’s playoff picks went 5-3-1 (.611) with the NE-10 championship game postponed (and later awarded to Stonehill). That brings the season record to 65-34-10 (.642) and my hope this week’s picks will bring out my best when needed most.
Here are my picks across Eastern semifinal and championship games this weekend:
Saturday, March 5
Tufts @ Trinity – the hosts won’t be taking the Jumbos likely based on last week and last year. It is unlikely the defending national champions want to leave their fate in the hands of the selection committee, so winning the auto-bid is first and foremost in their mind. Tufts won’t be an easy out as the Sean Kavanaugh-led defense in front of standout goalie Mason Pulde will look to shut down the Bantams like they stopped Williams last week. Don’t think history repeats itself, but it takes an ENG to decide it – Trinity 3, Tufts 1
Amherst @ Middlebury – the defending champions from Amherst exploded for six goals in the third period to take down Bowdoin last week, while their hosts have found ways to throttle their offense twice this season already. This one just has that overtime feel and that means one bounce could turn it either way but experience will decide this one and that favors the team in purple- Amherst 2, Middlebury 1
Babson @ Massachusetts-Boston – This one is extremely tight and maybe more than any other game the first goal matters a lot here, especially for the home team. The visitors have a history of playing well at the Clark Center and great in championship games as the visitor. Would not be surprised at an overtime deciding goal – Babson 3, UMB 2
Utica @ Hobart – the home team looks to extend their home perfection and claim the ECAC West title but will not take the young and talented Pioneers lightly. Look for a fast start from the Statesmen who will want set the pace and pressure Utica early – Hobart 5, Utica 2
Geneseo @ Plattsburgh – this is another game that is a repeat of a final regular season weekend match-up that ended inconclusively with a tie. The Cardinals weren’t playing for much then but certainly are now and that likely earns them the deciding goal late in the third period of a hard fought game. Home ice is the difference in this one and the rabid home fans that come with it – Plattsburgh 4, Geneseo 3
Plymouth State @ Salem State – it is the matchup everyone expected with No. 1 playing No. 2 and is a repeat of last year’s championship game won by the Panthers. Turnabout is fair play and this time the Vikings get it done in front of the raucous crowd at “The Rockett” backed by conference Player of the Year Marcus Zelzer in goal – Salem State 4, Plymouth State 3
Salve Regina @ Endicott – the ECAC Northeast battle also pits two teams in search of their first conference title. Both teams split the season series as visitors, so that would appear to favor the Seahawks, but don’t dismiss the poise factor of the Gulls and whether Blake Wojtala can outplay the conference’s Goalie and Rookie of the Year Kevin Aldridge in their respective creases. The first win in program history was against Salve Regina and a fitting cap to the season would be a bookend victory – Endicott 3, Salve Regina 2
Don’t be overwhelmed by the moment and be sure to enjoy the experience of playing for a championship – drop the puck!