For many teams, these final weeks of the regular season are already feeling like playoff hockey. Some leagues are already decided at least for the top spot, while others, like the NESCAC, are going to be a clear battle right to the very end in determining playoff position and the top seed. Just two weeks remain for most teams to decide their fate in the postseason tournament, so if there ever was a time to find your game, the month of February has several teams finding their best hockey at exactly the right time of the season.
Here is the wrap-up with games that surprised and made statements in conference play.
After tying Becker 4-4 earlier in the week, Nichols used three special teams’ goals to down Western New England by a 3-1 score on Saturday. Cody Rodgers and Scott Cuthrell scored power-play goals, while J.B. Baker added a short-handed tally for all the offense the Bison would need. Tyler Pionk’s late goal broke up the shutout bid by goalie Patrick Salkind, who made 23 saves.
Endicott picked up four big points with a pair of wins. On Thursday, the Gulls downed Johnson & Wales by a score of 5-2 before capping off the weekend with a 3-1 win over Wentworth. Tommy Besinger scored twice in the third period to break open a 1-1 tie and goalie Kevin Aldridge picked up his 14th win of the season, making 28 saves.
With Hobart knocking off Nazareth by a 7-2 score and league-leader Utica winning in overtime, 2-1, over Elmira on Friday night, the stage was set for a battle for first place on Saturday when the Pioneers hosted the Statesmen.
Vincent Russo and Jonas Toupal gave the visitors a 2-0 lead, but Utica took advantage of two power-play goals by Roman Ammirato and Jarrod Fitzpatrick to send the game to the third period tied 2-2. Utica’s Shawn Lynch, with assists from Fitzpatrick and Kevin Valenti, scored the deciding goal just over 10 minutes into the last period and Patrik Virtanen made it stand up for the 3-2 win while making 30 saves and picking up his 10th win on the season.
Plymouth State moved to 11-1-1 in conference play with a solid 6-3 win over Massachusetts-Dartmouth on Saturday. Ryan Stevens wasted no time getting the Panthers on the board early, scoring just 33 seconds after the opening faceoff. The fast start continued with goals by Baxter Strachan and Victor Bergstrom for a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period and the Panthers built from there. Michael Economos, Dan Dupell and Quinn Carroll made it six different goal scorers as PSU cruised to the 6-3 win with goalie Thierry Messervier making 40 saves in the decision.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Fitchburg State built a 3-0 lead in the first 22 minutes of play on goals by Evan Byrnes, Kyle Hillick and Ricky Kramer and then held on for a 3-2 win over Westfield State as goalie Charles Jakobsson made 42 saves for the win that moved the Falcons to 10-10-1 overall for the season.
In a game where 96 shots were taken on goal, the netminders for Stonehill and Assumption stood tall in a 1-1 overtime tie. Stonehill’s William “Billy” Palmer stopped 40 of 41, while Assumption’s Nick Commesso stopped 54 of 55. Cam Laughlin scored the tying goal in the second period for Assumption and neither team could solve the opponent’s goalie in the third period or overtime to end the stalemate.
Babson solidified the number two slot in the conference with a tie against Norwich on Friday and a 4-0 shutout win over St. Michael’s on Saturday. It took Cody Smith’s first goal of the season in the third period to draw the Cadets even on Friday as goalie Bryan Botcher stopped 45 of 47 shots for Babson to shut down the Cadets’ offense. Saturday night saw Matt Pompa and Gene Lane combine on the 33-save shutout, while four different Beavers scored, including Zach Phelps getting his first of the season.
New England College enjoyed a two-win weekend by taking convincing wins over Daniel Webster by a 9-1 score and downing Southern Maine on Saturday by a 6-2 score. Brett Kilar made 41 saves as the Huskies outshot the Pilgrims by a 43-22 margin. Joe Osaka scored a pair of goals and Adam Zollner picked up three assists in the win that moved NEC to 11-5-0 in the conference.
In a conference where the standings change after each and every game and only four points separate first from seventh, the big winner in this weekend’s play was Colby, which earned a sweep over the visitors from Hamilton and Amherst to gain a share of first place heading into the final four games of the regular season.
On Friday night, Quinnipiac transfer Sean Lawrence out-dueled Hamilton’s Evan Buitenhuis by making 28 saves to make Phil Klitirinos’ first-minute goal stand up as the game-winner in a 1-0 decision. On Saturday night, the Mules broke open a 2-2 tie in the third period with goals by Michael Rudolf, J.P Schuhlen and Cam MacDonald to earn goalie Andrew Tucci his seventh win of the season by a 5-2 score.
The conference’s most exciting game of the weekend may have been the Potsdam/Oswego game on Friday night, where the Lakers built a 4-1 lead early in the third period on a Shawn Hulshof goal, only to see the Bears score three unanswered goals to tie the game 4-4. Mitchell Herlihey scored the game-winner for Oswego just over a minute and a half into overtime for the 5-4 win.
The most important game of the weekend may have been the following night as the resurgent Plattsburgh Cardinals used 36 saves from Brady Rouleau and a goal in the final minute by Matt Quilty to upset Oswego by a 2-1 score and send a clear message they are going to be a contender in the SUNYAC playoffs. The win extended the Cardinals’ unbeaten streak to eight games, as they’ve gone 7-0-1 in that span.
Barclay Gammill, Trinity: The freshman forward was a one-man offensive breakout for the Bantams in their 11-3 win over Middlebury on Saturday. Gammill scored four times, including once on the power play, and added an assist for a five-point afternoon that salvaged a weekend split for Trinity.
Joe Santino, Morrisville: The Mustangs’ win over Buffalo State on Saturday was a matter of quality over quantity, as the visitors were outshot by a 43-18 margin but scored eight times, including three by Santino on the power play to post the 8-2 win. Santino added an assist for the four-point night and scored the game-winner with his power-play goal in the second period.
William Riise, New England College: The Pilgrim’s forward didn’t have a great first 40 minutes against Daniel Webster, but made the final period count in NEC’s 9-1 win on Friday night. Riise posted an assist on Shawn Watson’s second-period goal before going off in the third, where he scored three times to record his first-ever hat trick.
B-F-F Line, University of New England: The line of Ryan Bloom, Trevor Fleurent and Brady Fleurent were a combined 5-9-14 on Thursday night as the Nor’easters knocked off rival Salve Regina by a 9-7 score. Trevor (2-3-5) and brother Brady (2-4-6) led the point parade, while Bloom (1-2-3) chipped in with a goal and two helpers to pace the offense. Brady Fleurent currently leads the nation at the D-III level in points and points per game average as he extended his single-season school record to 44 points.
The clock is ticking and as many had hoped, there are still a lot of things that are unsettled across many of the conferences in the East. Yes, Norwich and Oswego have clinched top seeds, but virtually everything else is still very much unclear and there is significant opportunity for change over the remaining two weeks showing on the regular season schedule for most conferences.