East wrap: Feb. 26

Kevin Salvucci of Norwich (Mark Coller/Norwich Athletics)
Kevin Salvucci of Norwich (Mark Coller/Norwich Athletics)

The biggest weekend for D-II/III playoff hockey did not disappoint, with great action across all of the conferences. While many favorites advanced, there were several upsets that ousted defending champions or serious contenders for conference titles. All of that, and yes, there was a champion crowned on Saturday as well, and it took some bonus hockey to decide the outcome in true sudden-death fashion.

Here is the wrap-up for the playoffs across each of the conferences, as well as a championship game for the ages in the NE-10.

Endicott and Nichols are the top two seeds, and both advanced in quarterfinal action on Saturday. Endicott used two goals each from Thomas Daniels, Cam Bleck, and Jack Musil, along with three assists from Logan Day to knock off Western New England by an 8-3 score. Nichols found the game a bit tighter in the game with Becker.  Despite outshooting the Hawks by a 51-23 margin, it took Matthew Menta’s early third-period goal to break a 1-1 deadlock and J.B. Baker’s short-handed, empty-net goal to seal the win for the Bison by a 3-1 score.

Elsewhere in the quarterfinal round, the No. 3 and 4 seeds did not fare so well, as defending champion Salve Regina lost to in-state rival Johnson & Wales by a score of 4-3. The Wildcats took one-goal leads three times, only to see the Seahawks answer each time until Nicholas Gray scored with just over five minutes remaining in regulation time to give the visitors the upset win. Joey Ballmer made 38 saves in the win.

The University of New England has struggled all year on the road, but found their game early against the host Curry Colonels on Saturday. The Nor’easters raced to a 4-0 lead and then withstood a Curry rally in the third period for a 4-2 win behind two power-play goals from Tucker Ross and one each from Chris Harlow and Brady Fleurent.

Wednesday’s semifinal matchups pit No. 6 seed Johnson & Wales against No. 1 seed Endicott and no. 5 seed University of New England vs. No. 2 seed Nichols. The winners will face-off Saturday in the conference championship game.

Utica came into the semifinals following a bye week and faced a determined Neumann team. Following a scoreless first period, the Pioneers built a 3-0 lead on goals by Anthony McVeigh, Zach Borsoi, and Roman Ammirato, only to see a furious rally by Neumann tie the game 3-3 with under four minutes to play in the third period. Borsoi was the hometown hero, scoring with less than three minutes remaining to give Utica the win, 4-3. Goalie Patrik Virtanen made 33 saves in the win for Utica.

In the other semifinal, Hobart was trying to get a bit of revenge against a Manhattanville team that beat them twice in the regular season. Being the visitors didn’t seem to bother the Statesmen, as they opened a 2-0 lead in the first period that expanded to a 5-1 advantage at the end of two periods of play. The 6-2 win included two goals from Vincent Russo, along with single goals from Nick Bingaman, Jonas Toupal, Andrew Silard, and Lawson MacDougall in front of Frank Oplinger, who made 32 saves and picked up his tenth win of the season.

Next Saturday’s championship game will see the No. 1 seed Utica Pioneers hosting the defending champions and No. 3 seed Hobart Statesmen in a matinee affair at the Memorial Auditorium.

Plymouth State and Salem State enjoyed the bye week, waiting with interest to see quarterfinal games that determined their opponents for Tuesday night’s semifinals.

No. 6 seed Westfield State hadn’t had much success against Drew Michals or Massachusetts-Dartmouth in the regular season, but that all changed in Saturday’s game. The Owls launched 45 shots on the Corsairs’ goal and scored once in each period to support perfect goaltending from Jonathan LoParco in the 3-0 upset win. LoParco made 34 saves and the Owls effectively killed six power-play chances by the Corsairs in the win.

No. 4 seed Fitchburg State received big games from forwards Cameron Snyder (2-2-4) and Tyler Warila (2-1-3) as the Falcons broke open a 2-2 deadlock in third period with three unanswered goals for the 5-2 win. The Lancers outshot the Falcons 31-18 for the game, but goaltender Kirby Saari made 29 saves and Snyder and Warila provided power-play goals that made the difference.

Tuesday’s semifinal games will see No. 1 seed Plymouth State hosting No. 4 seed Fitchburg State while No. 2 seed Salem State plays No. 6 seed Westfield State.

The game can oftentimes come down to one thing — the HOT goalie. For Assumption netminder Nick Commesso, the championship came down to his will versus that of the host St. Michael’s team looking for its first NE-10 title since 2009.

The Purple Knights blitzed the Assumption net from the drop of the opening puck with 26 first-period shots and took a 2-0 lead to the locker room on goals by Colin Biebel, but that is all Assumption and Commesso would surrender. The senior goaltender made 65 saves, including five in overtime, before Ryan Gomez beat Chris Johnson with Assumption’s one and only shot of the extra session for the 3-2 overtime win and the NE-10 conference championship. Sam Kelly and John McDonagh scored in the second period and third period respectively to force the overtime session that ended when Mac Carnes and Cam Laughlin set up Gomez for the winner.

The semifinal games ensured that neither team from last year’s championship round would be around to compete for the title. In Northfield, Vermont, the top-seed Norwich Cadets did something that has become pretty standard this time of the year — they sent Castleton home to end their season. Kevin Salvucci’s hat trick along with goals from Ian Williams and William Pelletier were more than enough in the 5-2 win.

The other semifinal game between New England College and Babson provided much more drama, as the visiting Beavers outshot the Pilgrims by a 45-22 margin, but could not get much past goalie Brett Kilar. Dan Casey’s third-period goal tied the game and sent it to overtime, where NEC’s Mike Whitehair won the game with an assist from Andreas Zollner at 2:30 into the overtime period. Connor Fries had a goal and an assist for the Pilgrims, who again took advantage of great goaltending from Kilar and his 43 saves.

Saturday’s championship game is a matchup of the No.1 and No. 2 seeds hosted by Norwich.

In this conference, the seeds almost never hold to form, and so was the case this year, as three of the teams holding home ice in the quarterfinals advanced while one team did not in a game that does qualify as an upset.

No. 1 seed Hamilton surrendered the first goal before Neil Conway got the Continentals going with his game-tying goal in the first period. Jason Brochu added two goals and Tyler Bruneteau also scored in the 4-2 win. With the win, Hamilton earned the right to host next weekend’s semifinals and final games for the first time in the program’s history.

No. 2 seed Colby had been very successful against all comers in the conference on home ice, but in a see-saw battle with Wesleyan, it was the Cardinals who advanced with a thrilling 5-4 win. Each team surrendered a one-goal lead twice in the game, with the ultimate reply coming from Wesleyan’s Luke Babcock, who scored just 12 seconds after the Mules’ Michael Rudolf tied the game 4-4 in the first minute of play in the third period.

No. 3 seed Trinity saw playoff veterans stand tall in a 4-1 win over Tufts. Ethan Holdaway had two goals and an assist, while Sean Orlando added a goal and assist as the Bantams barraged Nik Nugnes with 50 shots.

The No. 4 vs. No. 5 game is always an intriguing matchup, and when two rivals are in those slots, it adds a bit more flavor to the action. Williams hosted Amherst in this quarterfinal game that was expected to be a low-scoring affair, and it was. Tyler Granara scored on a power play for the visitors from Amherst in the first period, but second-period tallies from Marcus Mollica and Luke Steckel gave the Ephs a one-goal lead entering the third period. The one goal was all Michael Pinios would need, as he out-dueled Connor Girard in the other goal for the 2-1 win.

Next Saturday’s semifinals find No. 1 Hamilton playing No. 7 Wesleyan while No. 3 Trinity plays No. 4 Williams. The winners will play the title game on Sunday.

Over the past six weeks, it has seemed that arch-rivals Oswego and Plattsburgh were on a collision course to meet for the conference title. While that is exactly the matchup that will occur next Saturday, neither team was taking their semifinal opponent lightly in posting solid wins to earn their championship date.

Top-seed Oswego saw the senior leaders step to the fore in a 6-2 win over Buffalo State. Shawn Hulshof scored a pair of goals, while fellow seniors Kenny Neil and Alex Botten added goals to pace the Lakers, who blew open a 2-1 game in the third period with four unanswered goals.

The other semifinal saw Plattsburgh hosting the defending champion Geneseo Knights. Pat Egan opened the scoring for the host Cardinals, but Geneseo’s Conlon Keenan scored twice to give the visitors a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play. Kyle Hall tied the game on a power-play goal early in the third period and then Joe Drabin and Ross Sloan broke the Knights back with a pair of goals just 21 seconds apart to create a two-goal cushion with under five minutes remaining. Egan added his second goal of the night into an empty net for the final 5-2 win.

Three Biscuits
Nick Commesso, Assumption: The senior goaltender helped his team complete an improbable playoff run by stopping 65 of 67 shots in Assumption’s 3-2 overtime win over St. Michael’s for the NE-10 crown. Including his 40 saves in last week’s upset of top-seed St. Anselm, Commesso stopped 105 of 110 shots in a pair of one-goal victories for the Greyhounds.

Kevin Salvucci, Norwich: Salvucci posted a hat trick in the NEHC semifinal win over Castleton. Salvucci scored once in the first period and then added a pair of goals in the third period to blow open a 2-1 game for the Cadets.

Zach Borsoi, Utica: The Pioneers defenseman scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner late in the third period to help Utica fend off a late rally by Neumann and advance to the conference championship game.

Bonus Biscuit
Brett Kilar, New England College: The Pilgrims’ netminder stopped 43 of 45 shots to lead his team to the conference championship game against Norwich with a 3-2 overtime win over Babson. Kilar picked up his 18th win on the season with the semifinal win.

The number of teams still alive has been decreased significantly, with semifinal and conference championships on tap for the coming week. There will be several new champions in conferences that include the NEHC, SUNYAC, and CCC to go with newly crowned Assumption in the NE-10. This is what makes D-II/III hockey so great every year!


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