This week in college hockey, D-III East: Leopards don’t change their spots for playoff run

Senior Adam Tracey leads Wentworth in pursuit of finishing a magical playoff run and earning the CCC championship on Saturday against Endicott (Photo by Sportspix)

After finishing the regular season at 7-15-3 and going 1-7-2 in their last ten conference games, Wentworth has generated some post season magic as the No. 6 seed in the competitive CCC playoffs. In a matter of just a matter of four days, the Leopards have gone on the road and upset No. 3 seed Curry and the No. 1 seed University of New England by identical 2-1 scores to earn a title shot against Endicott this Saturday. While the results and change in fortune seems monumental to many, the coaching staff is not surprised by the team peaking at the right time of the season.

“Honestly, not much really changed from the regular season to the playoffs,” said head coach Jay Pecora. “As you might imagine at an engineering school, we have some really smart kids here on the roster and I joke with them all the time that for smart kids, they are really slow learners. We have played the style of play we wanted to all season in spurts but not very consistently within individual games or from game to game. The team really has been focused this last week and the coaching staff has been very focused on helping us be in the best position to win. We have always said keep grinding away and just get into the playoffs. At this point, the regular season doesn’t matter and everyone is 0-0. They have taken that to heart and really executed the style of play these last two games and have some real positive momentum going when you want to be playing your best hockey.”

The Leopards have overcome some unique situations this season including daily bus trips to their home rink for practices and the unforeseen loss of a goaltender at the semester break. These are added complications that make practice management and schedule hard to manage but the team has stayed the course and the coaches have managed accordingly.

“Every day the kids get on a bus at 3:15 PM to go to the rink that is several miles away from the campus and they generally aren’t getting back to campus until 8 PM,” noted Pecora. “Generally, we give them Mondays off as a chance to work out on campus but they are always juggling mid-terms, or classwork in managing those activities. We have mixed up the time on the ice for different days to help keep them engaged and fresh and it is working despite not being ideal without a rink on campus. With all that we also had to manage through a goaltender leaving the team without notice at the semester break. We only carry three goalies so thankfully; our assistant coach Alex Gacek knew of a goalie who was eligible and interested in coming to Wentworth. We met Connor [Carbo] and his parents at the rink before the Plattsburgh game. He applied to the school, was accepted and we literally had him on the ice at practice just a few days later. Considering how he has played in the last two games, he has been a big addition to our team.”

Carbo was the star of the game against Curry on Wednesday stopping 51 of 52 shots in the Leopards upset win. He backed up that performance with 26 saves, including some critical stops on Grade A chances, in the 2-1 win over UNE on Saturday.

“Connor is a great competitor and a great kid that has fit in well since he joined the team in January,” said Pecora. “He earned the team’s player of the game honor on Wednesday and again on Saturday but wanted to give it to his teammate Jake Hallisey in recognition of all the shot blocks he had in the game. Ironically, Jake broke his leg a year ago at UNE so the timing and team-first mindset from Connor was really awesome and the whole team was lifted by that selflessness from Connor.”

The focus for the team against UNE was to focus on puck management, staying out of the box and get some contributions from other players in the line-up. Working angles and taking care of the middle limited shots from a team like UNE that loves transition and creating offense. The results worked and showed the style was effective so what will Saturday’s game against Endicott bring?

“Against Endicott, we just need to do what we did against UNE, only better,” scoffed Pecora. “It’s a little ironic that the last league title Wentworth won was under the coaching leadership of RJ [Tolan] who is now coaching what may be his best team at Endicott since he started the program. We know what not to do after our last game there, where we were down 5-1 after the first period. We need to start fast and hopefully score first with some contributions from guys like Sam [Milnes] and Kasey [O’Brien] who scored the goals at Curry. We need our best players to bring their best hockey and will look to Adam {Tracey], Nate [Chase] and George [Gorodetsky] to provide that senior leadership in the biggest game of their Wentworth careers.”

The puck drops on the campus of Endicott College at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon for the Commonwealth Coast Championship. The odds for Wentworth are still large for a third straight road win, but maybe history is in their favor as no team that has earned the first round bye has won the conference title since the CCC was established.

“That is a good little fact,” Noted Pecora. “We will take anything we can get but we will stay true to our game plan and hope we execute it for a huge win!”