The stretch run in every conference has been right down to the wire as teams are bunched tightly in the standings and literally every point is a significant one. In many conferences, just a couple of points separate the top four or five teams, so taking care of business and possibly at the same time hurting a competitor is the best way not to need help or a lot of time scoreboard watching. Case in point, New England College took home the NEHC’s second seed in a head-to-head match-up with Babson on Saturday.
Here is the wrap-up of a weekend that saw many teams playing like the playoffs have already started.
A winter blizzard caused several games to be postponed on Thursday, meaning several teams will be playing multiple games in just a few days leading into the conference tournament. Nichols and Endicott are separated by just a point in the standings, with the Gulls holding a game in hand entering the final week or so.
On Saturday, the Bison took down Johnson & Wales, 3-2, as JB Baker, Nicholas Mangone, and Daniele Iasenza scored for Nichols while Colin Brennan made 28 saves in picking up his 10th win of the season.
Endicott kept pace with a 6-4 win at Curry that saw the Gulls break open a 2-2 second-period tie with four unanswered goals from Jack Kilty, Josh Bowes, Jason Kalinowski, and Tommy Besinger before hanging on in the third period behind goalie Kevin Aldridge, who stopped 36 of 40 shots for his 15th win of the season.
Utica cemented its spot at the top of the standings with a 5-0 win over Stevenson on Friday night. Forward Anthony McVeigh scored a pair of goals in the win for the Pioneers.
Elsewhere, the big matchup was at Manhattanville, where Hobart looked to avenge an early-season loss on the road and make a case for the second seed in the conference. Following a scoreless first period, the Valiants scored a pair of goals around Hobart’s Tanner Shaw’s goal to take a 4-1 lead and cruised to the 5-3 win. Matt Lippa, Axel Walltott, Bryan Platt, and Erik Berglund scored in the second period to break open the game, and Lippa added his second of the game in the third period to close out the scoring for Manhattanville, which locked up the second seed and swept the season series from the Statesmen.
Plymouth State kept its momentum going by posting a 3-0 win over Framingham State, with Caleb O’Brien, Chris Zuccaro, and Riley Flanagan scoring for the Panthers. Goalie Chris Harney for the Rams kept his team in the game despite being outshot by a 68-22 margin.
The game of the weekend showed Salem State’s continued resurgence in the second half, as the Vikings won a 7-5 shootout over Fitchburg State behind Derek Makimaa’s hat trick in the first period . Despite building a 6-3 lead by the end of the second period, it took Dan Holland’s empty-net goal to nail down the win and move the Vikings to 10-2-2 in conference play.
Top seed St. Anselm got playoff ready for the NE-10 tournament with a pair of hard-fought games in NEHC play that saw them lose 1-0 to Babson before upsetting Massachusetts-Boston on Saturday by a score of 4-3, with goalie Colin Soucy picking up the win and Peter Sikalis netting the game-winner early in the third period.
Stonehill showed it was tuned up for a playoff run by posting an 8-0 win over Southern New Hampshire, with Tommy Newton, Evan Jacques, and Jack Hall picking up three points apiece in front of William Palmer’s 31 saves and shutout win.
The NE-10 matchups next week find No. 1 St. Anselm hosting No. 4 Assumption and No. 2 St. Michael’s hosting No. 3 Stonehill.
The final weekend of conference play saw Norwich assured of the top seed and first-round bye, but places two through seven had a bit of drama still to be played out. Babson and New England College both won their games on Friday night by way of the shutout, with goalies Matt Pompa for Babson and Brett Kilar for New England College keeping St. Anselm and Massachusetts-Boston at bay respectively. That set up a winner-take-all showdown between the Beavers and the Pilgrims for second place.
After Patrick Young and Scott Cornfield traded first-period goals, the second period was scoreless, setting up a dynamic final 20 minutes of play. Babson struck first to take a 2-1 lead on a goal by Bill Seligman, only to see William Riise answer for NEC less than three minutes later. Mike Whitehair gave the hosts a 3-2 lead midway through the period, but Dan Casey tied the game with less than 90 seconds remaining, setting up what looked like an overtime battle. NEC’s Joe Osaka had different thoughts, as just 48 seconds after Casey’s goal he scored unassisted to give the Pilgrims the win and the second seed in the conference tournament.
Quarterfinal matchups this coming weekend find No. 1 Norwich with a bye; No. 2 NEC hosting No. 7 Southern Maine; No. 3 Babson hosting No. 6 UMB in a rematch of last year’s championship game; and No. 4 Castleton hosting travel partner and No. 5 seed Skidmore.
As expected, this tournament is going to come down to the final weekend and there will definitely be some scoreboard watching going on to see what help teams may need to get in, and also determine the final conference tournament seeding. As a result of back-to-back wins over travel partner Middlebury, Williams is currently in the top spot, but only three points separate the top four teams and six points separate first from seventh place.
Hamilton and Trinity also swept their pair of games while Colby split with Trinity and Wesleyan to set up the final weekend’s dramatic fight to the finish.
The game of the weekend was on Friday night, where Trinity hosted Colby. The Bantams scored first on Ryan Cole’s ninth goal of the season and that would be the only goal of the game through the opening of the third period. EJ Rauseo tied the game for the Mules as goalies Sean Lawrence and Alex Morin were locked in a duel that kept this playoff-style game a low-scoring affair. Regulation time couldn’t settle the score, but Trinity benefited greatly from picking up the win in OT on a goal by Anthony Sabitsky that was set up by Brandon Cole and Ryan Cole.
Potsdam once again proved to be a tough opponent this weekend as it took another overtime session for Plattsburgh to emerge with an important two points in Friday’s 3-2 OT win. Kyle Thacker scored the tying goal in the third period for the Bears, who received great goaltending from Brendan McMenimen. Jakob Engvall scored the game-winner for the Cardinals with just over three minutes gone in the extra session, earning Brady Rouleau his 10th win of the season.
In the marquee game of the weekend, Geneseo took a big two points in a 3-0 win over Buffalo State that saw Matt Leon earn the shutout and the win with help from Stephen Collins’ two points and goals from Derek Stahl, Conlon Keenan, and Trevor Hills. The win was a big bounce-back for the Knights following Friday night’s 5-1 loss at Fredonia and sets up a big final weekend at home when Geneseo hosts Plattsburgh and Potsdam to close out the regular season.
Brett Kilar, New England College: The Pilgrims netminder stopped all 42 shots he faced on Friday night in picking up a 3-0 shutout win over Massachusetts-Boston in a game where NEC was outshot by a 42-21 margin for the game. Kilar stopped a combined 32 shots in the first two periods and finished with 10 saves in the third period to preserve the shutout.
Matt Lippa, Manhattanville: The Valiants’ forward scored a pair of goals in Friday night’s 5-3 win over Hobart that swept the season series and locked up the second seed in the upcoming ECAC West tournament for Manhattanville.
Nik Nugnes, Tufts: The goaltender picked up his fifth win of the season as Nugnes made 27 saves in earning a shutout over Amherst on Friday night by a 4-0 score. The Jumbos tied Amherst in the standings on points and will battle to see which team, along with Wesleyan, just one point ahead in the standings, can capture the five seed in the NESCAC tournament.
Derek Mikimaa, Salem State: The Vikings’ junior forward doubled his season goal output by recording a first-period hat trick in Salem State’s 7-5 win over Fitchburg State on Saturday afternoon. Mikimaa sandwiched two even-strength goals around the rare power-play, extra-attacker, delayed-penalty goal when teammate Casey Miller set him up midway through the period and the extra attacker on the ice on a delayed penalty.
The playoffs are officially underway and many games this past week already had that feel of playoff hockey. While some teams still have work to do in the final weekend of conference play, other leagues are hitting playoff hockey for real as teams look to earn their way to a championship and playing on a national stage in March.