The expectations for championship weekend were great and the games delivered on the promise of great competition and high-energy hockey. One game went to overtime, while three games were decided in the final two minutes and one in the final 10 seconds. The auto-bid winners will soon know about their NCAA tournament schedule, while others are still hoping to make the elite field for national tournament glory.
Here is the wrap-up for the weekend that truly embodied the level of play and great action that we saw all season long, and that will no doubt continue into March.
Endicott played host to the University of New England in what many expected would be an offensive game based on the firepower on both benches. The pundits were right and the fans got more than their money’s worth as Endicott, in just its second year as a varsity program, won the inaugural CCC championship by downing UNE, 5-4.
UNE was playing without the nation’s leading scorer, Brady Fleurent, but battled the host Gulls for the full 60 minutes. Endicott took one-goal leads four different times ,only to see the Nor’easters answer each time and tying it 4-4 in the final 10 minutes of regulation. Endicott’s Cam Bleck scored the dramatic game-winner with just nine seconds on the clock to give Endicott the fifth and final one-goal lead that stood up for the championship winner.
UNE goalie Payton Porter suffered his first loss on the season but made 44 saves as the Gulls outshot UNE by a 49-28 margin. Kevin Aldridge picked up his 20th win in goal for Endicott, while Bleck was the offensive star, scoring twice in the third period, his 20th and 21st goals of the season, to seal the deal for the Gulls.
Utica came into the final ECAC West conference championship game as the hosts and needing a win for consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament that ultimately ends up in their home arena at the end of March. Standing in their way was a familiar foe in Hobart, which beat the Pioneers in the title game last year on their home ice.
This one was expected to be tight. Overtime was a likely scenario,and in fact happened when Utica’s Zach Borsoi scored late in the third period to tie the game 1-1. Hobart’s Cam Shaheen got the Statesmen out in front just 78 seconds into the contest and then the goaltenders were in the spotlight. Patrik Virtanen made 40 saves for Utica, while Frank Oplinger stopped 34 for Hobart, including all 11 shots he faced in the overtime period before teammate Ben Grenier, with assists from Vincent Russo and Shaheen, won it with just over four minutes remaining in the overtime. Grenier earned tournament MVP honors and Hobart, with a 20-4-4 record and ECAC West championship, will be in the NCAA tournament as the sole representative from the conference.
This was another flashback Saturday matchup with familiar opponents playing in a championship rematch with Salem State traveling to meet Plymouth State for the conference title. The Vikings were 0-2-1 in the regular season against the Panthers and 0-2-0 at Plymouth State, but had been playing great hockey in the playoffs and were poised for an upset.
Salem State delivered on fulfilling their repeat dreams as they erased a 2-0 deficit with four unanswered goals in the second period before holding on in the third period for a 4-3 win. John Needham scored twice in the second period, including the ultimate game-winner to support goals from Mackenzie Cook and Brandon Platt that stood up for the title. Michael Economos scored early in the third period, but Salem State’s Jason Pucciarelli stopped the remaining nine shots from the Panthers and the Vikings punched their ticket into the NCAA tournament.
Yet another game that saw the top seed hosting no. 2 in the conference final as the Norwich Cadets were looking regain the NEHC championship over a strong New England College team. The game was played with great pace and only one minor penalty called, with Norwich’s Ty Reichenbach and his 27 saves ultimately outdueling the conference goalie of the year, Brett Kilar, to post a 4-1 win.
William Pelletier, the conference player of the year, set up a pair of goals as Alec Brandrup, Nick Pichette, Kevin Salvucci and Todd Jackson scored for Norwich. Salvucci’s third-period goal broke open the contest with a helper from Pelletier, while Jackson’s empty-net tally sealed the deal for the nationally no. 1 Cadets, who return to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence.
Semifinal Saturday delivered some terrific hockey in both games that were ultimately decided in the final two minutes of play.
The first semifinal saw two playoff-experienced teams battle for a spot in the championship game, with Trinity looking to knock off the defending champions from Williams. Williams built a 2-0 lead on goals by Alex Hagerty and Luke Stickel in the first period, but the Bantams answered with tallies from Ryan Cole and Barclay Gammill for a 2-2 tie at the end of 20 minutes. That would be all of the scoring until the 18:19 mark of the third period when Trinity’s Sean Orlando netted the game-winning goal and a 3-2 lead. Ethan Holdaway scored with 11 seconds remaining into an empty net for the final margin and a 4-2 Trinity win. Goalie Alex Morin made 20 of his 26 saves in the final two periods, keeping the Ephs scoreless while earning his 15th win of the season.
Wesleyan had Hamilton on the ropes a few times, building one-goal leads twice and a two-goal lead in the second period, but the Continentals would not be denied. Bennett Morrison closed the deficit to 3-2 at the end of the second period before Conor Lamberti tied things up at 3-3 midway through the third period. Jordan Jancze gave Wesleyan the lead again less than two minutes after Lamberti’s goal, but that is when Hamilton’s Nick Ursitti took over. He scored to tie the game 4-4 at the 15:04 mark and then, with assists from T.J. Daigler and Neil Conway, scored the game-winner for Hamilton with just 90 seconds remaining in regulation.
The championship game needed the extra session the two semifinals just barely missed as Hamilton and Trinity skated to a 2-2 deadlock after 60 minutes of play. Trinity’s Liam Feeney and Brandon Cole answered Hamilton goals from Robbie Murden and Bennett Morrison and the third period was evenly played and scoreless largely in part to the goaltending of Alex Morin and Evan Buitenhuis.
Overtime didn’t take long to settle, as an offensive zone faceoff win by the Bantams resulted in a severe-angle shot by Trinity’s Ryan Cole that glanced off Buitenhuis’ catching hand and into the goal for the 3-2 Bantams’ win and defense of last season’s NESCAC title. Trinity won the auto-bid and Hamilton will have to wait to see if their overall body of work this season is enough to get them in to the NCAA tournament.
It is always a great hockey game anytime that Oswego and Plattsburgh get together. The two rivals always play high-energy, close contests, and this weekend’s SUNYAC championship final was no different at the Cardinals upset the Lakers by a 3-2 score to earn the conference championship and secure their bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
In similar fashion to their last contest, there was no scoring in the first period and a goal by Plattsburgh’s Schuyler Seyfert was the only marker on the board after 40 minutes of play. As usual, the final period was eventful as Joe Drabin gave the visitors a 2-0 lead just over two minutes into the final stanza. The Lakers responded with a goal by senior Shaun Hulshof, but Antoine Desnoyers scored to return the two-goal cushion to the Cardinals with just under 12 minutes remaining in regulation. Kenny Neil scored an extra-attacker goal in the final 30 seconds to make the score 3-2, and that is the way it would end, as goalie Brady Rouleau made 31 of 33 saves and Plattsburgh held Oswego to one goal on the power play to earn the win.
Nick Ursitti, Hamilton: The unheralded forward scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the final five minutes of play in Saturday’s 5-4 win for Hamilton over Wesleyan. The two goals were just Ursitti’s fourth and fifth on the season, but earned the Continentals a spot in the NESCAC title game on Sunday.
John Needham, Salem State: Scored two goals in the second period, including the ultimate game-winner as Salem State upset Plymouth State 4-3 to repeat as MASCAC champions.
Ben Grenier, Hobart: The Statesmen forward scored the game-winning goal at 15:39 of overtime to earn Hobart a hard-fought 2-1 win over top-seed Utica for the ECAC West championship.
Hail to the champions! It was a great slate of conference finals and the results now setup what should be a terrific NCAA tournament with the field being set this week.