The field is set for the national tournament with eight teams from the East and four teams from the West. The four Western teams will wait a week before their quarterfinal matchups, while all eight Eastern teams will play first-round games to determine the quarterfinal participants. My championship week picks were of championship caliber, as I finished at 6-1-0 (.857), which brings the season total to 89-41-9 (.673). Just three weekends remain in the D-III season with a dwindling numbers of games leading to Utica.
Here are the picks for the first round.
Saturday, March 11
Hamilton at Oswego
Both teams lost heartbreakers in their conference championship games, but Hamilton’s may have stung a bit more, losing in sudden death overtime. The Lakers have been here before and while the road to Oswego is not a long bus ride, the road traveled to earn the experience in NCAA play favors the home team. Evan Buitenhuis thwarts the Lakers’ offensive talent, but the home team finds the one goal that makes the difference. Oswego 2-1
Endicott at Hobart
The Gulls make the trek west to face a battle-tested Hobart team focused on reaching the Frozen Four. While Endicott is a first-time participant in the NCAA tournament, they will not play like they haven’t been on a big stage before; nerves aren’t part of their DNA. The difference in this one is strictly aligned with home ice that is probably worth a goal just based on the Statesmen not having to travel to play. Expect an overtime period, or two to be required in this one. Hobart 3-2
Plattsburgh at Trinity
The Cardinals have been a team playing with great effort and enthusiasm during their recent run of success. Moreover, they haven’t made mistakes or helped their opponents by beating themselves. They are looking in the mirror with Trinity and maybe at the only team that can be mistake-free better than them up and down the lineup. Like all games these teams have played lately, it might come down to the third period, but expect some bonus hockey in Hartford. Trinity 2-1
Salem State at Norwich
The last time these two faced each other was a first-round NCAA tournament game in 2014 won by the Cadets by an 8-2 score. No way is this one a blowout, as Salem State has been in playoff mode for quite a while in earning their MASCAC seeding and title and Jason Pucciarelli has been solid between the pipes. Special teams’ play is the difference here as Cody Smith, William Pelletier, and Kevin Salvucci are tough to stop. Norwich 4-2
We have now entered the ultimate in the “win or go home” phase of the season. Eight Eastern teams enter the weekend, but only four move on to the quarterfinals next week. The matchups are great, and I expect the hockey will be too. “Drop the puck!”