Men’s D-III East weekend picks March 1: Norwich and Geneseo face high-ranked rivals

Tom Aubrun of Norwich (Mark Collier)
Tom Aubrun and Norwich face rival Hobart. (Mark Collier)

It is all on the line now. Every conference is playing for at least a trophy and title, and most are playing for a bid to play in the NCAA tournament. Some very good hockey teams are already sitting at home, so don’t think because you are in a title game you are assured of anything without winning the big prize. Intriguing matchups abound in every conference, which makes predicting the outcome all the more challenging. Last week, my very expanded playoff picks went 12-4-2 (.722), which brings the season totals to a contending level 102-34-14 (.726). Here are this week’s picks.

Saturday, March 2

Manhattanville at No. 13 Utica — Game 1
Another opener in the championship two-game series that will carry a sense of urgency for both teams. Both teams will be desperate to force the issue, but goals will be at a premium. The Pioneers survive in OT. Utica 2-1

Amherst versus Wesleyan
The Cardinals will need their marquee players, including NESCAC player of the year Tim Sestak and first team all-conference forward Walker Harris, to bring their A-game to beat the Mammoths. Both factor heavily in a hard-fought win. Wesleyan 2-1

Hamilton at No. 10 Trinity
The battle down the stretch and quarterfinal win over Tufts to earn home ice now see the Bantams hosting the final four weekend. Curiously, they chose to play the second semifinal game of the day, and they will need to start fast to shut down Jason Brochu and the confident Continentals. Trinity 4-1

No. 6 Hobart at No. 4 Norwich
This could be the game of the weekend, with all due respect to the SUNYAC final. Both teams have been rolling, and this one shapes up to be a classic. Home ice is the difference in this one, with the Kreitzberg crowd and Cadets record in front of the faithful. Norwich 3-2

Southern New Hampshire at St. Anselm
The NE-10 conference game is a crosstown battle that should see great goaltending from Southern New Hampshire’s Kurt Gutting and St. Anselm’s Colin Soucy. It’s not going to go to triple OT this week, but it will take more than 60 minutes to determine the winner. St. Anselm 4-3

No. 14 University of New England at No. 12 Salve Regina
The Gulls have been in playoff mode since a regular season series against Nichols to begin the month. They earned home ice by downing the Nor’easters in the last conference game on the schedule and “check the box” on their goals list with the conference title. Salve Regina 3-1

No. 5 Oswego at No. 2 Geneseo
The Knights went 1-0-1 in the regular season against the Lakers, including a win at home. This one figures to be an outstanding contest between two top-five teams in the national rankings. The Knights come out fast and get enough for Devin McDonald to make it stand up for the SUNYAC title. Geneseo 2-1

Salem State at Plymouth State
The only team still playing this weekend with a losing record is Salem State, which upset Massachusetts-Dartmouth and then Westfield State in the semifinals on Tuesday. They have nothing to lose, and that could be dangerous for the Panthers. PSU wins it, but only if they get on the scoreboard first. Plymouth State 4-3

Sunday, March 3

Manhattanville at No. 13 Utica — game 2
The visitors will bring everything to the table on Sunday, needing a win to force the mini-game scenario. Utica takes advantage of the aggressive play from the Valiants and sweeps the series and UCHC title with the first ever autobid. Utica 3-1

Moments to cherish for a lifetime await, and as one of my favorite D-III coaches says, “The wins mean more with everything on the line because it is so hard to get there. And accordingly, the losses hurt more, because you don’t know if you will ever get back with another opportunity to play for the title.” “Drop the Puck!”