January 29, 2013

Division 3 Journal: A momentous weekend for MASCAC

By Mike Zhe

Defenseman Richie Zobak and the Panthers had to claw back to beat Fitchburg State Saturday. (Photo: Plymouth State Athletics)

In the span of a few hours Saturday night, MASCAC hockey league play produced the following:

* Framingham State goalie Nick Cafrelli stopping 40 or 42 shots in a 3-1 loss at UMass-Dartmouth, which wasn’t out of the woods until Dan Dempsey (Norwell, Mass.) tacked on an empty-net goal in the final minute;

* Salem State’s Mark Macdonald (Norwell, Mass.) scoring twice in the second period, and he and his teammates hanging on for dear life to shed Worcester State, 3-2;

* First-place Plymouth State rallying from an early two-goal deficit, and getting an overtime game-winner from Andrew Wigg in a 3-2 win at Fitchburg State.

Significance? One night alone showed us how competitive the current also-rans can be against the three teams (Plymouth State, Salem State and UMass-Dartmouth) that entered the year as favorites.

And it wasn’t just Saturday night.

It’s been most nights.

“If you look at the scores, it’s been crazy,” said Worcester State coach John Guiney, whose team’s 6-11-1 record (3-8-1 MASCAC) includes 10 games decided by one goal or less. “We’re in every game.”

The Lancers’ best win to this point came two weekends ago, when they rallied from two goals down to knock off Plymouth, 4-3, behind two goals from Cody Brier (Marlboro, Mass.). But in one-goal games, they’re just 3-5.

“It’s going to make these kids understand that they have the ability to win,” said Guiney of the win against Plymouth State. “We can compete with anybody. It’s tough winning.”

Predictably, the Panthers treated the loss as a wake-up call. They won both of their games last week, focusing on better puck possession and starting games stronger, but they acknowledge the three trips through the league schedule can be grueling.

“Absolutely,” said Plymouth State coach Craig Russell. “I think the top four or five teams, any night … if you had us all play seven-game series, they’d all go six or seven games.”

Heading into Tuesday night’s play, Plymouth State held a five-point lead on Salem State, Westfield State and UMass-Dartmouth. Fitchburg State, with three one-goal losses on its slate, is another four points back, four ahead of Worcester State.

The league’s top six teams make the postseason, with No. 1 and No. 2 getting byes into the semifinals and hosting those games. The highest remaining seed will host the championship.

At this point, about all we know is that Framingham State – winless in league – play will probably be the odd team out. Plymouth can close out its second straight regular-season title with a decent finish, but the final standings – and what happens in the postseason – aren’t even close to coming into focus yet.

Player of the Week
Josh Geary, sr., F, St. Michael’s

Wellesley, Mass., product had three goals and two assists, with both of his assists setting up game-winners against New England College (5-4) and the University of New England (5-1).

Games of the Week
Trinity at Williams, Friday

Great slate of games in the NESCAC this weekend but you’d be hard-pressed to find two teams riding more momentum.

The Bantams pinned a 7-4 loss on defensive-sound Amherst last weekend for their fourth win in a row, while Williams has lost only twice since Thanksgiving weekend, with those losses coming to No. 9 Plattsburgh and No. 2 Bowdoin.

New England Division 3 Power Rankings

1. Bowdoin (16-1-1, 10-1-1 NESCAC)
Polar Bears end a nine-day layoff with home games against Amherst and Hamilton Friday and Saturday.

2. Norwich (16-2, 1-1 ECAC East)
Matic Marinsek needed to turn aside just 11 shots to shut out Southern Maine (2-0) Saturday and complete a Pine Tree State weekend sweep.

3. Williams (11-4-2, 9-2-1 NESCAC)
John Wickman (three goals) and Eric Rubino led the way, as Ephmen took care of business on the road against Tufts (5-3) and Conn. College (5-0) last weekend.

4. UMass-Boston (14-3-2, 7-3-2 ECAC East)
Beacons made a statement in home-and-home with Babson, getting a goal and two assists from freshman Derek Colucci (North Scituate, R.I.) in 7-5 road win Friday before settling for 2-2 home tie a night later.

5. Amherst (11-5-2, 7-4-1 NESCAC)
Seven goals allowed to Trinity in 7-4 home loss Saturday was most permitted by Lord Jeffs all season and just second time they gave up more than three.

6. Trinity (10-4-3, 7-2-3 NESCAC)
Even goalie Ben Coulthard (South Windsor, Conn.) got on the scoresheet with an assist as Bantams won at Amherst, 7-4, Saturday, their fourth straight league win.

7. Plymouth State (14-5, 10-2 MASCAC)
Kyle Greco had two points, including the game-winning goal with a little over three minutes left, in 2-1 win over UMass-Dartmouth Thursday.

8. Castleton State (13-5-2, 8-4-1 ECAC East)
Pair of one-goal road wins against New England College (4-3) and St. Anselm (3-2) for red-hot Spartans, who haven’t lost in 2013, a span of seven games.

9. Babson (10-5-4, 6-4-2 ECAC East)
Beavers salvaged a point and some confidence, rallying from two goals down to tie UMass-Boston Saturday, 2-2.

10. Westfield State (11-6-1, 7-4-1 MASCAC)
Owls continued to stay hot in only action last week, getting two goals from Tyler Prendergast, and a goal and two assists from Steve Evans in 7-2 spanking of Fitchburg State Thursday.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeZhe603.