Wow! Really, that is all I can say as the final week of the regular season unfolded with high drama that was only surpassed by several games in the first round of the conference tournaments. There were several 1-0 games to conclude the regular season in playoff fashion and a couple of double-overtime thrillers to kick-off conference playoffs. If this is how we are starting out, the next couple of weeks should be spectacular. Here are some of the great highlights from the weekend.
The quarterfinals in the conference tournament took place with the top three seeds winning handily over their respective opponents. Top-seeded Salve Regina skated past Western New England, 8-1, with Jack Billings leading the way offensively with a pair of goals and an assist in the romp. Endicott also had an easy time in tits quarterfinal game with Suffolk, picking up a 10-2 win behind Joseph Slovak’s five points and four points each from Josh Bowes and Anthony Petrella. Each scored in the blowout first period that saw the Gulls race to a 7-0 lead. University of New England also leveraged a fast start to a 6-3 victory over Wentworth. First-period goals by Ryan Burr, Brady Fleurent, and Tucker Ross built a 3-0 lead that the Nor’easters never looked back from.
The game between No. 4 Curry hosting No. 5 Nichols proved to be the most competitive game on Saturday with the visiting Bison getting a late goal from Matthew Menta to break a 3-3 tie and move Nichols on to the semifinals. Forward Scott Cuthrell assisted on three goals, including the game-winner that came just 1:11 after Zachery White had tied the score for the Colonels.
The semifinal matchups set for next Saturday find No. 1 Salve Regina hosting No. 5 Nichols and No. 2 Endicott hosting No. 3 UNE. The winners will play for the championship on March 3.
After losing in overtime on Friday night 4-3 to Lebanon Valley, Bryn Athyn rebounded nicely in a 9-2 win over Chatham. Alex Doyle recorded a hat trick, while Tanner Congdon added a pair of goals and two assists in the lopsided win. McKenzie Chalmers made 38 saves in earning his eighth win of the season.
Despite being outshot, 49-23, Anthony Giacomin’s first-period goal was almost enough in Post’s 2-1 loss at Assumption. The hosts rallied with two third-period goals to give goalie David Zulauf his 10th win of the season and overcome Post’s Brandon Brown and his 47 saves.
There is still a final set of games to be played on Tuesday to close out the regular season, but the top two and bottom two in the conference are set. Plymouth State and Fitchburg State have clinched the top two seeds, while Salem State and Framingham State have locked in sixth and seventh place respectively. The final games will determine who will finish in third, fourth, and fifth as Worcester State, Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and Westfield State were all separated by just one point entering Sunday’s critical game between UMD and Worcester State.
With a game in hand, the Lancers were hoping to improve their chances of wrapping up the third seed, while the Corsairs were playing their last conference game looking for two points and some help elsewhere on Tuesday toward hosting a playoff game. The game finished in a 6-6 tie, earning both teams a point, but the major momentum swings in the game made this a coach’s nightmare. Worcester State turned a 1-0 first-period deficit into a 5-2 advantage as they scored five times in the second period. That lead took all of 7:31 in the third to dissipate as the Corsairs fought back with four goals, including a pair of short-handed tallies from Jay Clarke and Jonathan Ruiz to even the score. Overtime couldn’t determine a winner, and UMD awaits its seeding fate on the outcomes from Tuesday’s final regular season contests.
In a preview of next weekend’s semifinal matchup between No. 1 St. Anselm and No. 4 Southern New Hampshire, the Hawks took a pair from the Penmen to capture the regular season title. On Friday, four unanswered goals overcame a goal by SNHU’s Kyle Valliere in a 4-2 win. On Saturday, it was a case of repeat the Friday night scenario as D.J. Goldstein got SNHU on the board first, only to see the Hawks respond with two goals from Bryan Green and single markers from Jeremy Carignan and Alec Andreucci in a 4-1 win.
The other semifinal next Saturday will feature No. 2 St. Michael’s hosting No. 3 Assumption. The Purple Knights will be looking to rebound after splitting their weekend series with Franklin Pierce. After losing on Friday night, 3-0, St. Michael’s broke open a 3-3 game in the third period with goals from Branson Mitchell, Thomas Flack, and Nic Hermary for the 6-3 win.
The winners of next weekend’s semifinal games will play for the championship at the highest remaining seed.
The quarterfinals saw the top four seeds advancing as most expected, but the way Norwich and Babson eked out wins showed why this conference is stacked top to bottom. The No. 1 Cadets outshot cross-state rival Castleton, 51-8, but needed Todd Jackson’s double-overtime goal to advance to the semifinals, 2-1. Ryan Mulder’s 49 saves and Dom Kuziak’s first-period goal fell just short of a huge upset as Cam Beecy scored his first goal of the season in the third period to tie the game and set up Jackson’s heroics early in the second overtime.
No. 2 Hobart continued its stretch of strong play as Frank Oplinger picked up the shutout in an 8-0 win over Southern Maine. Zach Sternbach and Ryan Lynch each scored twice as Hobart scored three power-play goals and added a short-handed one for good measure in the easy win.
No. 3 Babson had all it could handle with No. 6 Skidmore. The Thoroughbreds had been playing their best hockey of the season, posting a 4-1-2 record over their last seven games entering the conference tournament. Tim Allen and Corey Morgan scored in the second period to erase a 1-0 Babson lead, only to see Zach Phelps tie the score in the third period. One overtime wasn’t enough as Brandon Kasel and Matt Pompa were both stellar in goal. Babson’s Matt Brazel ended the drama midway through the second overtime to advance the Beavers to a semifinal date with Hobart next weekend.
No. 4 Massachusetts-Boston faced No. 5 New England College. The teams traded goals in both the first and second periods to forge a 2-2 tie entering the third. Nick Albano gave the Beacons a 3-2 lead just 61 seconds into the final period, but Joe Osaka answered for the Pilgrims 57 seconds later for the third and final tie of the game. Nolan Redler’s two late goals, including an empty-net goal, sealed the win and trip to Northfield for the Beacons next weekend.
Trinity didn’t have anything to play for, but travel partner Wesleyan did in the log-jammed standings for positions two through seven in the conference. On Friday night, the Cardinals broke through for their first win against Trinity in five seasons. Goalie Tim Sestak made first-period goals from Dylan Holze and Cam McCusker stand up in a 2-1 win for two crucial points in the standings. Andy Chugg spoiled Sestak’s shutout bid in the final minute of regulation. On Saturday, the Bantams earned the series split with a 3-1 win with Ryan Pfeffer and Liam Feeney scoring to break a 1-1 deadlock in the second period.
In a crazy affair in Williamstown, the Ephs raced out a 6-1 lead after two periods over Amherst, but had to hang on for a 6-5 win. The Mammoths scored four unanswered goals in the final period, including three on the power play, but couldn’t find the equalizer to deny Williams the two points. Hamilton and Williams tied on Sunday, 0-0 to help the Continentals move into a home-ice position for the playoffs, while Amherst’s tie at Middlebury kept them in the top four.
Tufts leapfrogged Bowdoin with a 4-2 win on Friday to take the eighth and final playoff position. Brian Brown, Charley Borek, and Cory Gottfried scored for the Jumbos to erase a 2-1 deficit and earn the win. While Tufts lost on Saturday to Colby, Connecticut College affirmed their home-ice position and kept Tufts in the final playoff position by beating Bowdoin, 7-3. The Camels broke open a close contest with four second-period goals, and the win leveled their overall record at 10-10-4 for the season.
Next weekend’s quarterfinal matchups find No. Trinity hosting No. 8 Tufts, No. 2 Connecticut College vs. No. 7 Williams, No. 3 Amherst vs. No. 6 Colby, and No. 4 Hamilton vs. No. 5 Wesleyan.
While Oswego and Geneseo had already clinched the top two positions and first-round byes, there may be some concern in “Laker-land” about the disappearing offense from Oswego. The power outage continued this weekend in back-to-back 1-0 losses to Potsdam and Plattsburgh where the power play went a combined 0-for-11. Brenden McMenimen stopped all 42 Lakers shots he faced on Friday night, and Joey Gilhooly’s power-play goal in the first period was enough for the win. On Saturday night, the Cardinals were outshot, 35-10, but received terrific goaltending from Jimmy Poreda, including 13 third-period saves, to make Liam Lawson’s goal in the final four minutes a game-winner.
Geneseo won a 1-0 thriller over Brockport as Tyson Empey’s first-period goal was all Devin McDonald needed to pick up his 16th win and the shutout.
Plattsburgh combined a win over Oswego with a 2-2 tie with Cortland to jump into the No. 4 position, which gets the Cardinals a home date with Fredonia on Wednesday night. In the other quarterfinal game, Buffalo State will host Potsdam. The lowest remaining seed will travel to Oswego on Saturday, while Geneseo will host the higher remaining seed in the semifinals.
The Utica Pioneers did exactly what they needed to do to capture the first-ever regular season title in the UCHC with a pair of key weekend wins. The offense was in high gear as Utica took down King’s on Friday night, 8-3, with defenseman Dalton Carter leading the way with a four-point night. On Saturday, Utica kept things rolling with seven different players contributing goals in a 7-1 win over Manhattanville. Goaltender Patrik Virtanen picked up his 10th win of the season, making 25 saves and surrendering just Matt Lippa’s late power-play goal for the Valiants.
Stevenson, winners of the inaugural MAC championship, took a 5-2 win over Neumann on Friday night with five different players scoring goals to erase a 2-0 deficit. Dominic Brenza and Mike Davis each picked up a goal and an assist in the win that helped secure a first-round bye and the second seed for the second-year program.
The playoff picture finds quarterfinal action on Wednesday night with No. 3 Lebanon Valley (lost out to Stevenson on head-to-head tiebreaker) hosting No. 6 Neumann while No. 4 Manhattanville will host
No. 5 Elmira in a quarterfinal game. The lowest remaining seed will travel to face Utica on Saturday, with the remaining seed facing Stevenson in the semifinals.
Alex Doyle, Bryn Athyn: The forward recorded a hat trick in Bryn Athyn’s runaway 9-2 win over Chatham on Saturday night. Doyle scored once at even strength and added a pair of power-play goals in the third period for his first collegiate hat trick.
Brenden McMenimen, Potsdam: He backstopped the Bears to a big 1-0 win over Oswego on Friday night. McMenimen made 42 saves and picked up his second shutout of the season.
Matt Brazel, Babson: The Beavers’ forward scored the game-winning goal in the second overtime period to give Babson a 3-2 quarterfinal win over Skidmore. The goal competed the comeback from a third-period one-goal deficit.
Unfortunately for some teams, dreams ended this past weekend with elimination from playoff contention or ouster in the quarterfinals of tournament play. The drama is only going to continue to ramp up as teams seek to win their conference and punch their ticket to the national tournament and hopefully a trip to Lake Placid.