And then there were eight. Our 12-team NCAA field has been trimmed down for quarterfinal matchups next Saturday, and there may have an upset or two as two home teams fell to very worthy opponents. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend.
Colby at University of New England
First of all, thanks to a former Colby netminder for pointing out that this is not Colby’s first trip to the NCAA tournament. He was painfully aware of a 2-out-of-3 series loss to Middlebury (2-1,5-1) back in 1996 in the quarterfinal round. So, with proper credit applied, congrats to this year’s edition of the Mules who move on to the quarterfinals having downed UNE, 4-2, on Saturday night. Coach Blaise MacDonald said it would be a battle of his great goaltending from Sean Lawrence and team defense vs. a high-octane offense and power play from UNE. The defense held UNE to 1-for-3 on the power play, while Kienan Scott scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner while shorthanded to support Lawrence’s 33 saves in the win.
Colby will travel to Geneseo for the quarterfinals on Saturday night.
Fitchburg State at Nichols
Both teams came into their first-round matchup playing good hockey, but Nichols’ search for its first NCAA tournament win in four tries trumped Fitchburg State’s first-ever appearance as the Bison won, 3-1. Vincent Crivello scored his 15th of the season just 1:57 into the first period on a delayed penalty call, and the Bison were off and running. Falcons netminder Brian McGrath kept his team in the game, making 19 saves in the second and keeping the deficit at just one goal. In the third period, captain Scott Cuthrell scored to make it 2-0 before Christopher Vicario scored on a power play to cut the deficit back to a single goal for the Falcons. Chris Deming sealed the win for Nichols with an empty-net goal in the final minute, and Colin Brennan picked up the historic NCAA win, making 18 saves.
Nichols advances on to meet a familiar opponent in Salve Regina, which earned a first-round bye but has not played since losing to Nichols at home in the semifinal round of the CCC tournament on February 24.
Geneseo at Hobart
Geneseo coach Chris Schultz really wanted a home game, and now his team earned it in the quarterfinals as the Knights knocked off Hobart on the road, 4-2. The Knights got an early jump on the Statesmen with goals from Sotiris Athanasopoulos and Joe Serpico in the first 5:06 of the game. Dan Bosio made it 3-0 in the second period before Hobart’s Andrew Silard finally got the home team on the scoreboard to create some momentum going into the final period of play. Cam Shaheen closed the deficit to a goal, but Carson Kelley scored his 10th of the season to make the score 4-2. That is all goalie Devin MacDonald needed as he made 36 saves, including 15 in the final period to earn the win and home game next week against Colby.
Scott Cuthrell, Nichols: The senior forward continued his hot hand, scoring the game-winning goal to help Nichols earn their first ever NCAA tournament win.
Sean Lawrence, Colby: Lawrence backstopped the Mules to a first-round win, stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 4-2 win over UNE on the road.
Devin MacDonald, Geneseo: The Knights’ goaltender made 36 saves in Geneseo’s upset win over Hobart, 4-2. MacDonald was particularly good in the first and third periods, making 27 of 28 saves.
So, the quarterfinals are now set with Nichols traveling to Salve Regina, Wisconsin–Stevens Point meeting Adrian, Augsburg facing St. Norbert, and Colby making the long bus trip to Geneseo. St. Patrick’s Day will see four teams punching their ticket to the Frozen Four in Lake Placid -– who is ready for some championship hockey?