East wrap: Feb. 25

There were surprises everywhere as No. 1 seeds like Oswego and Salve Regina did not advance to their conference championship games. Trinity, Utica, Norwich, and St. Anselm all moved on to host title games, while Plymouth State will need a win on Tuesday to advance and host. Some No. 2 seeds like Stevenson and Endicott didn’t fare well either, emphasizing the balance across many conferences. There was drama everywhere, and victories did not come easy for any team on Saturday. Here are some of the stunning highlights from the weekend.

The semifinal matchup between Nichols and Salve Regina saw the Bison shock the home team with two first-period goals from Oliver Arnberg and Scott Cuthrell. They extended the lead to 3-1 after two periods, and that is when this game really changed its complexion. Arnberg scored his second of the game just 1:49 into the third period before Salve Regina scored three unanswered goals to tie the game at 4-4. Paul Boutoussov, Timothy Sweeney, and John McLean provided the fireworks for the Seahawks, who couldn’t complete the full comeback as Nichols’ Hogan Davidson scored with just under six minutes remaining for the 5-4 lead that Colin Brennan made stand up for the upset win. Brennan made 37 saves as the Bison were outshot 41-25, but advance to next week’s championship game.

The other semifinal saw Endicott hosting the University of New England. After a scoreless first period, the teams traded special teams’ goals in the second period as the physicality of the game increased. Daniel Kucerovy scored short-handed for the Gulls before the Nor’easters’ Brady Fleurent answered on a power play with just 27 seconds remaining in the period. Jason Harmon scored unassisted in the first five minutes of the third period to give UNE a 2-1 lead and Tyler Seltenreich and Andrew Slotnick sealed the win with a pair of empty-net goals for the 4-1 final score. Ben Churchfield was immense in goal for UNE, stopping 54 of 55 shots, including all 29 shots he faced in the decisive third period.

The Nor’easters will host Nichols next weekend for the CCC championship and autobid into the NCAA tournament.

The quarterfinals were played on Saturday, with No. 3 Worcester State hosting defending champion and No. 6 seed Salem State. The Lancers built an early 2-0 lead on goals by Matthew Manning and Tim Drevitch, but Salem State leveled the score in the second period off goals from Michael Casale and a power-play marker from Callum Hofford. Dan Holland scored the game-winning goal for the Vikings at the 11:50 mark of the third period, and goalie Jason Pucciarelli made 14 of his 34 saves in the final 20 minutes to advance Salem State to a semifinal matchup with No. 2 seed Fitchburg State on Tuesday night.

In the other quarterfinal game, No. 2 seed Massachusetts-Dartmouth needed overtime to defeat Westfield State, 5-4. Jonathan Ruiz opened the scoring with his first of two on the night for the Corsairs, but was answered by the Owls’ Nik Passero to end the first period tied at 1-1. Westfield State got the better of the scoreboard in the second period as Adam Blackman and Francis-Xavier Girard scored to give the Owls a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes. Ruiz and Casey Shea scored to give the home team a 4-3 lead, but just 47 seconds after Shea’s goal, Girard netted his second of the night to send the game to overtime tied at 4-4. Just over 13 minutes into the overtime period, UMD’s Kal Kapossy scored the overtime winner with assists from Brendan McDonough and Connor Cooley to send the Corsairs to the semifinals, where they will face No. 1 seed Plymouth State on Tuesday night.

The No. 1 seed St. Anselm Hawks faced the challenge of defeating a team for third time in just a week as they faced Southern New Hampshire in the semifinal round of NE-10 conference tournament play. Bryan Green got the home team on the board in the first period, and that goal stood up until Mike Ferraro made it 2-0 just 14 seconds into the third period. Chris Moquin’s 20th goal of the season for the Penmen halved the lead, but Jon Pallotta answered for the Hawks just a couple of minutes later and Colin Soucy picked up the 3-1 win in goal.

The Assumption vs. St. Michael’s semifinal was an offensive showcase as the Purple Knights had to twice rally from two-goal deficits to earn a 6-5 overtime win. Peter McDonagh, Tommy Mahoney, and Cam Laughlin gave Assumption a 3-1 lead after the first period. Laughlin scored again on a power play in the second period to offset a goal from Thomas Flack for a 4-2 lead for the visitors. The third period saw the home team fired up as John Barry, Andrew Olevitz, and Eric Salzillo scored to give the Purple Knights a 5-4 lead, but Cam Laughlin completed his hat trick, picking up his 20th goal of the season to send the game to overtime. At the 10:01 mark of overtime Sam D’Antuono scored his second goal of the game to advance the Purple Knights to the NE-10 championship against St. Anselm next weekend. Tim Decker picked up the win in relief of Chris Johnson, making 22 saves.

The No. 1 seed Norwich Cadets received some secondary scoring with Scott Swanson picking up a hat trick in the 6-3 win over Massachusetts-Boston in their semifinal game on Saturday night. Swanson scored twice in the opening 5:16 of the game and completed his hat trick to open the third period and extend the Norwich lead to 5-2. Braeden Ostepchuk recorded 30 saves, and Kevin Salvucci scored his 10th of the season into an empty-net to seal the 6-3 win.

It should be a great championship game next weekend as No. 2 Hobart held off a determined Babson squad, 3-2, to advance to the title game in their first year in the NEHC. After a scoreless first period where goalies Matt Pompa and Frank Oplinger kept the opposition at bay, Zach Sternberg and Jonas Toupal gave the Statesmen a 2-0 lead. Nick Rosa cut the lead in half for Babson in the third period, but Will Harrison scored what proved to be the game-winner into an empty net. Matt Brazel scored with an extra attacker on the ice with just over a minute remaining in regulation to close the score to 3-2, but that is as close as the Beavers would get to tying the game.

Hobart returns to Northfield next weekend, where they have already defeated Norwich twice this season on their home ice setting up a winner take-all game for the NEHC title.

Beyond No.1 seed Trinity winning a close game, seeds 2-4 didn’t fare so well as the visitors all won quarterfinal matchups to advance to next weekend’s final four at Trinity. The Bantams earned their hosting rights by downing a pesky Tufts squad 2-0 as Jumbos’ goalie Nik Nugnes made 41 of 42 saves to keep things very tight. Nicholas Polsinelli broke the scoreless deadlock at the five-minute mark of the third period and Anthony Sabitsky iced the game with an empty-net goal to seal the shutout win for Alex Morin.

No. 7 seed Williams traveled to No. 2 Connecticut College and skated away with a 4-2 win to advance them to the semifinals. C.J. Shugart, Joe Welch, and Max Fuld gave the Ephs a 3-0 lead in the second period, but a second goal by Shugart into the empty-net was needed to stall the Camels’ third-period comeback led by goals from Jacob Moreau and Ryan Petti.

No. 6 Colby spotted No. 3 Amherst a 1-0 lead on a goal from Max Roche, but then the Mules got their offense in gear, scoring five unanswered goals over the final two periods for a 5-1 win. Mario Benicky scored a pair of goals, and Michael Rudolf, Phil Klitirinos, and Justin Grillo added a goal each in the win backed by Sean Lawrence’s 36 saves.

In a game that expected to be low-scoring, No. 5 Wesleyan upended No. 4 Hamilton, 2-1, as Cardinals goalie Tim Sestak out-dueled the Continentals’ Evan Buitenhuis. Tyler Wyatt scored in the first period to give Wesleyan a 1-0 lead that was answered in the second period by Hamilton’s Bennett Morrison on a power play. Andy Espinosa proved to be the hero for Wesleyan, scoring at the 18:14 mark of the third period with assists from Walker Harris and Matthew Zandl.

Next weekend finds Trinity playing Williams while Wesleyan will face Colby on Saturday. The winners will play for the conference championship on Sunday.

The top-seeded Oswego Lakers were struggling offensively entering their semifinal matchup with No. 5 seed Fredonia on Saturday night. Despite being outshot 34-16, Fredonia used some first-period magic to build an early 2-0 lead off goals from Josh Biasillo and Jacob Haynes just 11 seconds apart late in the opening 20 minutes of play. Kyle Jelinski extended the lead to 3-0 in the second period, and Anton Rosen made it stand up as Fredonia won 3-1 to advance to the SUNYAC championship. Rosen only surrendered Mitch Emerson’s power-play goal in the third period, but made 33 saves to eliminate the top-seeded Lakers.

In a battle of familiar foes, No. 2 Geneseo hosted No. 3 Buffalo State, and David Szmyd set the tone early for the Knights, scoring just 67 seconds into the opening period. Szmyd added a second goal in the period before Hugo Petit answered for the Bengals and then the Knights blew the game open in the second period. Andrew Romano and Tyson Empey’s 20th goal of the season sandwiched a short-handed effort from Conlan Keenan to extend the lead to 5-2. The third period was scoreless as Devin McDonald picked up the win, making 20 saves in the game.

Geneseo will host Fredonia for the SUNYAC title next Saturday.

The quarterfinals on Wednesday night saw Elmira and Neumann advance as the visiting teams over Manhattanville and Lebanon Valley, respectively. On Saturday, the Black Knights were looking to keep the winning streak going against No. 1 seed Utica. Following a scoreless first period, Neumann took a 2-0 lead on goals from Connor Arnett and Nick Minerva. With less than a minute remaining in the period, Daniel Fritz scored on a power play to get Utica on the board, and the late goal clearly sparked the Pioneers. In a span of 48 seconds in the third period, Utica picked up goals from Conor Landrigan, Kevin Valenti, and Roman Ammirato to take a 4-2 lead. Jacob Gerson scored the final Pioneers’ goal for the 5-2 win.

Elmira was looking to advance at the expense of No. 2 seed Stevenson. In big moments, you need your best players to lead; Elmira’s Nick Ford was a force in the game, figuring in all five of the Soaring Eagles’ goals in a 5-3 win. Ford had assists on the first three Elmira goals, giving the visitors a 3-1 lead before adding two goals of his own to seal the victory and advance Elmira to the inaugural UCHC title game at Utica next weekend.

Three Biscuits
Nick Ford, Elmira: The senior forward picked up five points with two goals and three assists to lead his team to a semifinal road win over Stevenson, 5-3.
Ben Churchfield, University of New England: He backstopped the Gulls, stopping 54 of 55 shots in the Nor’easters semifinal win over Endicott. Churchfield made 29 saves in the third period to preserve a one-goal lead.
Scott Swanson, Norwich: The Cadets forward scored early to give his team a quick 2-0 lead before adding a third goal for his hat trick in Norwich’s 6-3 win over Massachusetts-Boston.

Top seed or home team, it really doesn’t matter at this time of the year if you don’t bring your best effort to the ice. Several teams will now have to hope that their overall body of work is going to be good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament, while others still have conference title and autobid aspirations to play out this week.