It is the weekend we all have been waiting for, and championship battles in all the conferences did not disappoint with great hockey, several overtime thrillers, last-second goals, and at the end, teams hoisting their conference’s championship hardware. There were upsets from Manhattanville, University of New England, and Southern New Hampshire, as well as top seeds like Geneseo, Trinity, and Plymouth State having tough battles to claim victory. Here is this weekend’s championship recap in the East.
Salve Regina took the top seed and hosting responsibility by way of a final regular-season win against the University of New England and semifinal win over Endicott to advance to the final. UNE took out Curry to play in the final and should have been a very confident team, having defeated the Seahawks on their home ice very early in the season. The Nor’easters remembered their success and exploded with four first-period goals on their way to a 6-2 win and CCC championship.
After Kevin Clare gave the home team the lead at 8:03 of the first period, UNE’s Jimmy Elser tied the game before Ryan Bloom scored his 20th goal of the season to give the visitors a 2-1 lead midway through the period. Two power-play goals from Brendan Donohue and Jeff Eppright in the final five minutes of the period gave UNE a commanding 4-1 lead, and they were rolling. Bloom added a short-handed goal in the second period to stretch the lead to 5-1, and Tyler Seltenreich’s power-play goal in the third period extended the lead to 6-1 for the visitors. Colin Clapton picked up a power-play goal for the Seahawks, but that was all goaltender Ben Churchfield would surrender as he finished with 30 saves to out-duel salve’s Blake Wojtala for the CCC title. Special teams were the difference in this game as the Nor’easters went 3-for-8 on the power play and added a short-handed goal, while Salve Regina could only muster a 1-for-7 night against Churchfield and the Nor’easters.
The championship game featured top seed Plymouth State hosting the “Cinderella team” from Salem State in the final. The Panthers dominated play, outshooting the Vikings 50-17 for the game and scored a goal in each period for a 3-0 championship win. Ryan Steven’s goal at 19:09 of the first period proved to be the game-winner as goaltender Evan Morelli stopped all 17 shots he faced to earn the shutout win.
Michael Covach extended the lead to 2-0 with his power-play goal at 10:07 of the second period, and Henrik Axelson closed out the scoring for Plymouth State in the third period for the 3-0 final and MASCAC championship.
St. Anselm and Southern New Hampshire played for the title game on Saturday, and the Penmen used a fast start and outstanding goaltending from Kurt Gutting to win their first NE-10 title since 2014. Despite being outshot 40-16 for the game, SNHU scored three goals in the first period to stun the Hawks on their way to a 4-3 title game win. Artem Efimov-Barakov got things started with a goal at the 1:04 mark of the opening period, and teammates Joe Fiorino and Chris Moquin built the lead to three goals. In the second period, the Hawks battled back, outshooting their guests by a 22-4 margin and closing the deficit behind a pair of goals from Sean Verrier and one from Trey Aiello. Despite scoring three times, the Hawks still trailed as Fiorino scored his second of the contest to keep the Penmen ahead entering the third period. In a great defensive effort, the Penmen limited the Hawks to just seven shots in the third period, and Gutting was perfect on his way to a 37-save effort and tournament MVP honors.
Two top 10 nationally ranked teams squared off in the NEHC title game hosted by Norwich. Hobart had hoped to replay last week’s script of jumping out to an early lead and shutting down the hosts just like they did against Massachusetts-Boston in the semifinals. The early magic was there, as Mike Faulkner scored a power play goal at 17:15 of the period and goaltender Liam Lascelle was perfect, making 16 saves in the first 20 minutes for a 1-0 Statesmen lead.
The Cadets rallied back in the second period with a power-play goal of their own as Jordan Hall scored unassisted at 12:50 to tie the game at 1-1 entering the third period. Felix Brassard became the hero for the Cadets with his goal early in the final period off a feed from Ryan Boucher. The Cadets held on for a 2-1 win, with Tom Aubrun picking up the win and stopping 29 of 30 shots from Hobart.
Saturday afternoon saw two overtime thrillers in the NESCAC semifinals. First, Amherst needed double-overtime to down second seed Wesleyan, 1-0, on a goal from Nick Bondra at 11:03 of the extra session. The Mammoths outshot the Cardinals by a 66-39 margin, and both Michael Cullen for Amherst and Tim Sestak for Wesleyan were outstanding in goal, creating the 0-0 deadlock that lasted over 90 minutes of play.
In the other semifinal on Saturday, the hosts from Trinity had all they could handle from Hamilton in a 2-1 overtime win. Mark Knowlton got the home team off to a good start, scoring just 15 seconds into the first period for a 1-0 Bantams lead. Jon Stickel returned the favor with a first minute, power-play goal to level the score at 1-1 which remained into overtime. Ryan Pfeffer sent the Bantam fans home happy with his goal at 12:57 off an assist from Dylan Healey in the 2-1 win.
In Sunday’s championship game, the weekend trend toward tight low-scoring hockey continued. Despite both teams playing extended hockey on Saturday, they had their skating legs to start play. After a scoreless first period, the action picked up in the second period, with both teams creating good chances. Michael Cullen of Amherst and Tedy Loughborough of Trinity were forced to be sharp in keeping the puck out of the net. With less than a minute remaining and after some sustained pressure in the Mammoths end, the Bantams broke through on Cullen as Nicholas Fiorentino, off a face-off win, fired a shot high on the glove side for a 1-0 Bantams lead. The third period started with a bang as Jack Fitzgerald scored to level the game at 1-1 just 1:04 in. Just 31 seconds later, Nicholas Polsinelli gave the Bantams the lead again, 2-1. Sean Wrenn evened the score for the Mammoths at the 13:55 mark, and the weekend was headed to a perfect 100 percent of games playing overtime. Amherst looked to end things early in overtime, but the game went undecided until the final second of the extra session as Taggert Corriveau won the game and the NESCAC title for Trinity at 19:59 of overtime by a 3-2 score.
In the other marquee matchup of the weekend, Geneseo hosted Oswego for the SUNYAC title in a game featuring two of the nation’s top-five ranked clubs. Despite a game start delayed by 90 minutes due to bus issues for the visiting team, there was no lack in either team’s game from the opening puck drop. Jody Sullivan gave the Lakers the early lead as he went to the front of the net unchallenged at the 4:19 mark of the period. Mitch Ferguson, who would prove to be the offensive star for the Knights on Saturday, scored his first of the night at 15:35 on a power play to even the game at 1-1 after 20 minutes of play. In the second period, Geneseo took the lead on a rebound goal off the stick of Chris Perna at 6:21 and extended the lead on Tyson Empey’s one-timer, power-play goal at 15:34. The Lakers were not going to go quietly, and Josh Zizek’s goal at 19:36 closed the gap to 3-2 after 40 minutes of play. Zizek’s goal was set up by a beautiful backhand pass from Michael Gillespie. Zizek’s first attempt was saved by goaltender Devin McDonald, but he quickly buried the rebound to give the Lakers momentum entering the locker room.
Midway through the third period, Oswego leveled the score at 3-3 on Travis Boughman’s goal, which bounced in the air and could not be handled by McDonald. Ferguson again provided the needed offense for the Knights as his shot from the middle of the zone inside the blue line was deflected off an Oswego player past goaltender David Richer for the game-winning goal at 14:55 of the final period. The Knights held on for the 4-3 win and back-to-back SUNYAC championships.
“Those were two really good hockey teams out there tonight,” said Geneseo coach Chris Schultz. “That was great! That was clearly the number two and number four team in the country, if you ask me. The winning goal was a 4-on-4 goal. He [Ferguson] carried the puck across the ice from right to left, being a left shot. He is really, really good at reading coverage. There was a flash screen going across Richer, and I think he timed his shot perfectly, because if Richer sees that shot he saves it. I think it was top of the circle or above — he is going to save that 10 times out of 10, but I think Fergie timed it perfectly so there was a bit of a flash screen he got the puck through, and Richer lost sight of it.”
Manhattanville was seeking a repeat of its success on the road in the new UCHC two-game format for the playoffs. On Saturday, they couldn’t overcome Utica’s special teams’ prowess and fell to the host Pioneers in game one by a 5-2 score. Cory Anderson got the visitors on the board first just 28 seconds into the game, but Brad Becker tied it for Utica late in the period at 1-1. Two power-play goals in the final two and a half minutes of the second period from Conor Landrigan and Tyler Pietrowski gave the hosts a 3-1 lead and set off some physical fireworks between the two teams to close out the period.
The third period saw Jared Martin close the gap for Manhattanville, but Jamie Bucell added a fourth for Utica, and Gregg Burmaster iced the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute for the 5-2 win.
On Sunday, Manhattanville accomplished the first half of what they needed in a crazy game two with a win in the final seconds over Utica, 4-3. Entering the third period tied at 2-2, Eric Berglund gave Manhattanville a lead that Shawn Lynch erased with just 1:55 remaining in regulation. Overtime was on the horizon until Berglund again emerged as the Valiants’ hero, scoring the game-winner at 19:54 to force the mini-game scenario.
In the mini-game to decide the UCHC title, Manhattanville repeated their 20-minute magic from the Elmira series on goals from Jeff Beck and Casper Dyrssen to survive Tyler Pietrowski’s goal and Utica’s late rally for a 2-1 win and the conference championship.
Mitch Ferguson, Geneseo: Ferguson scored twice, including the game-winning goal in the third period, and added an assist in the Knights’ 4-3 championship win over Oswego.
Kurt Gutting, Southern New Hampshire: Gutting was spectacular for the Penmen in making 37 saves in SNHU’s NE-10 title game win over St. Anselm on Saturday. Gutting earned MVP honors as the Penmen were outshot by the Hawks’ 40-16.
Felix Brassard, Norwich: Brassard broke a 1-1 deadlock in the third period to propel Norwich to its 13th consecutive victory and NEHC title with a 2-1 win over Hobart.
This Monday will determine the seeding and bracket for the NCAA tournament as the champions await their bracket fate, while others with a strong body of work for the season hope for an at-large berth to the dance.
Thanks to Russell Jaslow and Ange Lisuzzo for quotes, stats, and photos of the SUNYAC championship game.