Significant firsts have Cardinals hockey flying high

Walker Harris and the Wesleyan Cardinals play their fist ever NCAA tournament game against Babson on Saturday (Photo by Steve McLaughlin)

For the very first time ever in program history, Wesleyan has reached the summit of NESCAC hockey by winning the men’s hockey conference championship. With that comes the conference auto-bid, so in just one short week, the list of firsts grows with their first NCAA tournament appearance with a first round game against Babson on Saturday night.

“I really happy for this group and especially the seniors,” said head coach Chris Potter. “We have made it to the final four teams in the past few seasons but never was able to advance beyond the semifinal round. Winning our first title is really special but the way these guys did it really makes the achievement maybe extra special.”

With final playoff seeding being determined by the results of the last game of the regular season, Wesleyan emerged as the No. 5 seed after taking tiebreakers over Bowdoin and Amherst. That set up a quarterfinal game at Middlebury where the Cardinals had to come from a 2-1 deficit in the final twenty minutes to earn a 4-2 win and berth in the semifinals.

“What was great about the Middlebury game was the resilience and our depth producing goals,” stated Potter. “Jordan [Rose] and Hunter [Vannier] scored big goals in the third period for us to tie the game and get us the lead. You need that secondary scoring in the playoffs and that has helped carry us through in these games.”

On Saturday, the depth of scoring trend continued with Tyler Kobryn scoring a pair of goals against No. 1 seed and host Williams. The Ephs fought back to tie the game and create some needed overtime drama where Wesleyan’s Jake Lachance scored his first collegiate goal for the 3-2 upset win. Playing against Trinity in the championship game, the Cardinals opened a bit tentatively and trailed 1-0 after the first period. Things changed in a big way in the second period.

“I told our guys we played ok but ok wasn’t going to get it done in this game and against that team,” said Potter. “It was great to see the way we responded in the second period and finished the game strong with contributions from our top guys and all down through the lineup.”

The 7-2 win was spearheaded by a four-point game from Walker Harris and 38 saves from fellow senior, Tim Sestak. Spencer Fox and Tyler Levine also had three-point games for the Cardinals who blew open a 3-1 lead after two periods into the runaway win.

“We had a number of players from past teams at the games last weekend lending support and excited by the outcome,” said Potter. “Even Duke Schneider, who is the heart and soul of Wesleyan hockey was there to witness the win and we got to share the trophy with him as part of the celebration. It was a very special weekend.”

Now the focus turns to the bigger NCAA stage and a first round game with Babson from the NEHC. The Beavers received an at-large bid and haven’t played a competitive game since February 22 when they lost to Southern Maine in the quarterfinal round of the NEHC playoffs.

“It’s already a very busy week,” noted Potter. “We are trying to let the guys enjoy the tournament win a little bit before getting back to the ice and preparation for a very good team in Babson. They played two teams in our league (Williams and Amherst) back at the beginning of the season but those our teams whose style we are familiar with and can analyze along with the films we exchange with Babson to prepare. They are going to be a very tough team as they have great goaltending and team defense, don’t give you much offensively and are very well coached. I am hoping their extended layoff will benefit us since we have been playing in the “win and advance” mode for a few weeks now. It’s great to be in the NCAA tournament and we start with practice on Tuesday to make sure we are ready to play another big road game on Saturday.”

Babson is making its 17th NCAA appearance overall and first since 2014 when they lost to Oswego in a quarterfinal round game, 3-0. Saturday’s game is scheduled for 7 PM at the Babson Skating Center.