By Mike Zhe
Catch them if you can.
If it’s February, the ends to conference regular seasons are in sight. In the ECAC East, NESCAC, MASCAC, and ECAC Northeast, the team that finished first gets the honor of hosting the semifinal and championship games, though in some cases it needs to survive the quarterfinals.
While that might not mean the world for current ECAC Northeast frontrunner Wentworth, which is inexplicably 2-6 at home and 7-1-2 on the road, be assured that nearly every other team in contention would love that honor.
Let’s take a trip around the leagues.
In the four New England leagues, Norwich is the first-place team closest to sealing the regular-season deal. The Cadets hold a six-point lead over surging UMass-Boston and can wrap up their 15th straight league title by taking three points from Castleton State and Skidmore this weekend.
Senior Colin Mulvey (Worcester, Mass.) has enjoyed a breakout season with a team-high 15 goals. Travis Janke, Tory Allan, Kyle Thomas (Waltham, Mass.) and Pier-Olivier Cotnoir are also averaging a point a game or better.
UMass-Boston has not lost in eight games, but probably doesn’t have enough schedule left to do anything but make peace with second place, though it hosts the Cadets on the last day of the regular season.
First-place Bowdoin’s cushion has been trimmed in recent weeks, thanks in part to Friday’s 6-3 home loss to Amherst. The Polar Bears lead rolling Middlebury and Williams by three points, Trinity by four and Amherst by five.
“The only thing I want for them,” said Bowdoin coach Terry Meagher a couple weeks ago, “is to be a player in the stretch run, when it counts.”
Middlebury has won four straight but plays three of its last four on the road: at Wiliams, at Hamilton and at Amherst.
With fifth-place Amherst and sixth-place Wesleyan proving more than capable of beating the heavyweights, second place won’t be a bad consolation prize for whoever gets it. We’re 2½ weeks away from some very intriguing quarterfinals.
Wire-to-wire leader and defending champ Plymouth’s lead is down to three points after last week’s loss at second-place Westfield State. But with three of their last four games at home, the remaining schedule for the Panthers doesn’t seem particularly daunting.
Three wins would officially send the final four to Hanaway Rink in Plymouth, N.H., for the second straight year. Even winning two of four would leave the Panthers in decent shape, unless Westfield State or, perhaps, third-place UMass-Dartmouth could run the table.
“Home ice is going to be big, especially for us, because we have such a good atmosphere for games,” said Plymouth State coach Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.). “We definitely want to be the top seed so we can host everything.”
Defending champion Wentworth holds a two-point lead on Nichols, and three points on Curry and Western New England, with four games to play. Only one of those games – at Curry on Valentine’s Day – is against a contender.
The Leopards have put an inconsistent first half behind them and are riding a six-game unbeaten streak. Nichols, unbeaten in it last four, looks to be the team, momentum-wise, with the best chance to challenge them for the top spot.
Player of the Week
T.J. Powers, F, Westfield State
The East Greenwich, R.I., product scored two goals in both of the Owls’ conference wins last weekend. Team scored final four goals to overtake first-place Plymouth State, 6-4, on Thursday, and he added an assist in 5-1 win over Worcester State. He leads the Owls in goals (12) and points (24).
Games of the Week
Bowdoin at Wesleyan, Friday
No shortage of great games any weekend in the NESCAC, but Bowdoin will try to gain some revenge against a Wesleyan team that stunned it on its home ice last month, handing it its first loss.
The Cardinals are coming off a scoreless tie against Williams that saw freshman Nolan Daley (Exeter, N.H.) make 46 saves.
New England Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Norwich (18-2, 13-1 ECAC East)
Thomas and Gerard McEleney each scored twice as Cadets stormed back from two goals down in third period to beat St. Anselm, 5-3, on Saturday.
2. Bowdoin (17-2-1, 11-2-1 NESCAC)
Polar Bears’ nine-day layoff ended with 6-3 home loss to Amherst Friday. The six goals allowed matched a season high
3. UMass-Boston (16-3-2, 9-3-2 ECAC East)
Peter MacIntyre (Norfolk, Mass.) scored twice in each game for Beacons last weekend, solid roads wins against Skidmore (6-4) and Castleton State (2-1).
4. Williams (12-5-3, 9-3-2 NESCAC)
Sean Dougherty stopped 59 of combined 62 shots in loss to Trinity (3-1) and scoreless tie against Wesleyan over the weekend.
5. Amherst (12-5-3, 8-4-2 NESCAC)
Conor Brown’s two goals led the blitzkrieg at Bowdoin. He added two more Saturday at Colby but Lord Jeffs couldn’t make 3-0 lead hold up in 3-3 tie.
6. Plymouth State (15-6, 11-3 MASCAC)
Panthers play three of their last four games at home at Hanaway Rink and would desperately like to stay there for the MASCAC playoffs.
7. Trinity (11-5-3, 8-3-3 NESCAC)
Ben Coulthard (South Windsor, Conn.) kept Bantams in it as long as he could Saturday, making 35 saves in 3-2 loss at Middlebury.
8. Babson (11-6-4, 7-5-2 ECAC East)
Zeke Testa of Wellesley, Mass., was superb (39 saves) in 1-0 win at Castleton on Friday.
9. Westfield State (13-6-1, 9-4-1 MASCAC)
Powers led the scoring parade, but it was a nice weekend for a lot of guys, including freshman P.J. McCadden, who had a goal and four assists in the two wins.
10. Middlebury (10-8-2, 9-3-2 NESCAC)
Something’s clicking for the Panthers, whose four straight wins have lifted them into second place in the conference.