Finally, there is some clarity. I did say some clarity, as a couple of conferences are done with the regular season and playoff qualification and seeding is done. Others still have another week to battle, and the leagues are so close that a single point won or lost might make the difference in playing at home in the playoffs or getting on a bus somewhere else. The playoffs to begin the playoffs are being played in earnest. Here are the highlights.
Salve Regina faced Nichols hoping to cement the top seed in the conference and was backed by a pair of shutout performances from Blake Wojtala in 4-0 and 2-0 wins. Erik Udahl led the way on Friday with a pair of goals for the Seahawks, while Timothy Sweeney and John McLean scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie and give Salve Regina the weekend sweep and regular season title.
Nichols needed some points to avoid dropping out of fourth place, but a strong final weekend for Curry vaulted them past the Bisons for the fourth seed. The Colonels downed Wentworth, 4-2, on Friday, but needed extra time on Saturday to capture a 4-3 overtime win and a four-point weekend. Goals by Adam Lane and Jake McDonough gave the Leopards a lead in the third period, but Curry’s Lionel Mauron tied it and Shane Tracy won it with a power-play goal in overtime.
Endicott continued to struggle down the stretch as their weekend series with University of New England went to the Nor’easters, who took three of four points. Special teams were the difference on Friday, with UNE scoring twice shorthanded and adding a third goal on a power play. Brady Fleurent’s empty-net goal sealed the win. On Saturday, the Gulls built a 4-1 lead on the strength of Ross Olsson’s hat trick, but UNE scored three unanswered goals, including a power-play goal and one shorthanded, to earn a 4-4 tie. Ryan Bloom scored twice to bring UNE back from the third-period deficit.
Canton hosted Bryn Athyn for two games over the weekend, with each team earning a hard-fought victory. On Saturday, the Kangaroos got a power-play goal from Tyler Bullard and Kasey Kulczycki added an unassisted marker in the third to give goalie Austin Washkurak the win, 2-0.
On Sunday, the visitors returned the favor with a 2-1 win led by a goal and assist by Brycon Johnson and 36 saves from McKenzie Chalmers in goal. Tyler Bullard scored late for the ‘Roos with the goalie pulled, but it was too little, too late.
Plymouth State had already wrapped up the top seed in the conference, but there is a lot to play for among the teams in spots two through six. Just two points separate Fitchburg State and Worcester State in second and third, while two points also separate Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Salem State, and Westfield State in fourth, fifth, and sixth.
Worcester State picked up a big two points with a 2-1 win over Salem State on Thursday. Josh Reinstein out-dueled Jason Pucciarelli in goal, and Mike Moran scored the game-winner early in the second period.
Fitchburg State saw the offense on display in Saturday’s 10-2 win over Framingham State. Six different Falcons recorded three-point games, with Patrick Germain leading the way with a pair of goals and a pair of assists in the blowout win.
Just a single point separates St. Anselm, St. Michael’s, and Assumption at the top of the leaderboard in the NE-10. The Hawks moved to the top with a pair of weekend wins over Franklin Pierce. On Friday night, the Hawks won 4-0, and on Saturday, they raced to an early 4-0 lead behind two goals from John Femia en route to a 4-2 win.
On Tuesday in the battle for bragging rights in Worcester, Massachusetts, Assumption downed cross-town rival Worcester State, 3-2, behind a goal and an assist from Cam Laughlin and two assists from Matt Damelio.
Norwich had what seemed to be a comfortable four-point lead in the standings entering the final weekend of conference play. Second-place Hobart needed to win out and get some help if the newcomers were going to take the top seed away from the Cadets. On Friday, the Statesmen won at Northfield, 5-4, with Andrew Longo breaking a 4-4 tie in the third period for the win. The Statesmen won out by downing Castleton on Saturday, 4-2 but Norwich got the point they needed in a 2-2 tie with Skidmore to earn the regular season title and quarterfinal match-up next week with travel partner Castleton.
Other playoff pairings include No. 2 Hobart hosting No. 7 Southern Maine, No. 3 Babson hosting No. 6 Skidmore, and No. 4 Massachusetts-Boston hosting No. 5 New England College in a repeat of last Friday’s game won by the Beacons, 4-2.
Trinity is the only sure thing, having wrapped up the regular season title and top seed in the NESCAC tournament despite Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Colby. After that, it is going to be a wild final weekend of play next week with just four points separating second-place Amherst from seventh place Williams.
The Mammoths jumped into the second spot on the strength of back-to-back wins over Tufts and Connecticut College. On Saturday, Joey Lupo scored shorthanded to erase a 1-0 Jumbos’ lead and Patrick Daly and Thomas Lindstrom added power-play goals in the 3-1 win. On Sunday, Lindstrom was again prominent on the score sheet, scoring twice, including the game-winner, to give Connor Girard his eighth win of the season, 4-1.
Hamilton jumped to the highly coveted fourth seed with a three-point weekend that saw the return of Evan Buitenhuis to the Continentals’ netminding duties. Buitenhuis picked up a win and a shutout in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Tufts, where he made 25 saves.
Oswego has clinched the top seed in the SUNYAC tournament along with a first-round bye. On Friday night, they sent a message to Geneseo in a 4-2 win that saw the Lakers jump out to an early 3-0 lead behind goals from A.J. D’Orazio, Mitchell Herlihey, and Cameron Berry. Two third-period goals from the Knights closed the gap, but Herlihey’s second of the night into an empty net sealed the win.
Geneseo needed to bounce back the next night against Cortland as they are in a neck-and neck battle with Buffalo State for the second seed and first round bye. The Bengals jumped ahead in the standings with Friday’s 4-2 win at Plattsburgh, only to stumble the next night in a 3-2 loss to Potsdam, where Sean Winikates and Ben Mariano erased a 2-1 Bengals lead for the Bears. Geneseo handled the Red Dragons 6-1 and both teams enter the final weekend tied with 21 points each in the standings, and the Knights having one league game remaining with Brockport to try to earn the second seed outright.
The UCHC is going to come down to the final horn in the final games this weekend to provide any semblance of clarity. Utica, Lebanon Valley, and Stevenson sit tied at the top with 20 points each, but Manhattanville and Neumann are just two points back, and Elmira sits in sixth, just three points back.
While most teams had mixed results, Manhattanville picked up two very important wins over the weekend. On Friday, the Valiants downed Kings, 7-1, and on Saturday beat Lebanon Valley, 5-4. Jared Martin and Cory Anderson each scored twice in the see-saw battle that saw the host team lose a two-goal lead in the second period and rebuild it in the third period to hold off the Dutchmen and keeping Kyle Redmond unbeaten in goal for Manhattanville.
Charles Costello, Becker: No relation to this scribe for the Hawks forward that scored two goals and added two assists in the 6-3 win over Western New England last Thursday night.
Roman Ammirato, Utica: Recorded a hat trick in the Pioneers’ 6-4 win over Stevenson on Friday night. Ammirato scored his first two while Utica was shorthanded and finished off the hat trick with an empty-net goal to secure the win.
Evan Buitenhuis, Hamilton: The Continentals’ star goalie returned to the lineup and helped Hamilton pick up three valuable league points. On Sunday Buitenhuis stopped all 25 Tufts’ shots he faced in a 2-0 shutout win.
Some conferences are done with jockeying for position and now face the real challenge of “win or go home” hockey starting next weekend. Others still have their own version of the playoffs to determine who is in and out and where are they playing the following week. It is playoff time, and the season just got very real for everybody!