February 28, 2012

Small College Journal: Region whittled down to a sweet 16

By Mike Zhe

In the MASCAC, ECAC Northeast, ECAC East and NESCAC, 33 teams began the season with hopes of Division 3 glory.

Plymouth State goalie Jack Astedt (photo: Plymouth State Athletics)

We’re now down to 16.

The semifinals for the four New England leagues are set, some beginning as early as Tuesday night, after a quarterfinal weekend that largely saw the projected favorites advance, even if it took some a lot of work to do it.

So, with no more delay, here’s a semifinal primer as the games get bigger and championships come into sight.

MASCAC

No. 5 Worcester State at No. 1 Plymouth State, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

No. 3 UMass-Dartmouth at No. 2 Salem State, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Worcester State (9-14-3) has been an enigma this season. It owns wins over Plymouth, Salem and Dartmouth, but closed the regular season on a 3-10-1 skid before winning at defending league champion Fitchburg in the quarterfinals, a result highlighted by Bryan Kalczynski’s 31 saves. No goalie in the league saw more rubber than Kalczynski (2.61 GAA, .918 save percentage) this year.

Plymouth (15-6-3) has put its January struggles behind it and enters the postseason on a seven-game win streak. Balanced scoring down the stretch and only one goalie in Division 3 has more shutouts than Jack Astedt’s four. Astedt, forward Kyle Greco and defenseman Richie Zobak make up half the All-Conference team, and Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.) was named Coach of the Year.

Dartmouth (16-8-2) brings some modest momentum to Salem after turning aside Westfield State, 4-2, in the quarterfinal it was hoping to avoid.

“All in all, it was a good effort,” said Dartmouth coach John Rolli. “Now, we have to travel Tuesday night to take on a very talented Salem State team."

Senior forward Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.) was named Player of the Year after leading the league in scoring (20-17-37), while the homestanding Vikings (14-8-3) have a sniper of their own in junior Nick Lampson (19-15-34).

Remember, with the MASCAC receiving an auto bid this year, a trip to the NCAA tournament is just two wins away. The championship will be hosted by the higher-seeded team on Saturday.

ECAC Northeast

No. 4 Western New England at No. 1 Wentworth, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

No. 3 Nichols at No. 2 Curry, Wednesday, 8 p.m.

How many goals does Nichols freshman Louie Educate have left?

Educate scored twice Saturday as the Bison (12-12-2) knocked off sixth-seeded Becker, 3-2, on Saturday, giving him a Division 3-leading total of 26. Meanwhile, by assisting on Educate’s first goal, senior Zach Kohn became the 14th player in Nichols history to reach the 100-point mark for his career.

Curry (13-10-2) has won just six games since a 7-1 start and has been all over the map in terms of competitiveness in January and February. Still, the Colonels and standout defenseman Ryan Barlock are the two-time defending league champions until someone dispatches them.

Wentworth (18-6-1) grabbed the No. 1 seed after beating Curry during the final week of the season, but claims the number to the left of its name has little meaning.

“It’s nice for the people at the school. It’s nice to have a couple days of extra rest, to heal up,” said Wentworth coach R.J. Tolan, “but really, for our guys, it means nothing. They want to compete in the games coming up.”

Western New England (14-11-1) pumped out 49 shots in its 2-1 quarterfinal win against fifth-seeded Johnson & Wales, and advanced when Dan Monahan scored 11 minutes into sudden-death overtime.

ECAC East

At Norwich University, Friday

No. 6 Southern Maine vs. No. 1 Norwich, 4 p.m.

No. 4 Skidmore vs. No. 2 Castleton State, 7 p.m.

Huge weekend of hockey at Kreitzberg Arena, which will also play host to the ECAC East women’s final four Saturday and Sunday.

Southern Maine (10-10-6) went on the road Saturday and knocked off a red-hot Babson team, 2-1, behind a pair of second-period goals by Dan Rautenberg (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) and 28 saves from Braely Torris. The Huskies lost to Norwich (21-2-2) twice during the regular season by identical 5-1 scores.

Meanwhile, Skidmore (12-12-1) has been superb in February, its 5-2 mark including wins over both Norwich (3-2) and Castleton (1-0). All-ECAC East second-team goalie Colin Bessey made 33 saves in 3-2 quarterfinal win over another hot team, UMass-Boston.

The men’s final will be Saturday night at 7 p.m.

NESCAC

At Amherst College, Saturday

No. 3 Middlebury vs. No. 2 Bowdoin, 1 p.m.

No. 5 Williams vs. No. 1 Amherst, 4 p.m.

The late semifinal is a battle fans of good goaltending can sink their teeth into. Jonathan La Rose has been stellar all season in his return to Amherst, leading the nation with a .943 save percentage and posting five shutouts, most in the land.

Middlebury forward Chris Steele (photo: Middlebury Athletics)

Ryan Purdy of Williams boasts a .929 save percentage and comes in battle-tested, making 10 of his 41 saves in sudden-death in a 4-3 overtime win at Tufts in the quarterfinals.

The early game pits two of the region’s hottest teams. Bowdoin is 11-2-2 since the holiday break and Middlebury has won six of seven after a sub-par January.

The championship will be Sunday at 2 p.m.

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Amherst (21-3-1, 17-1-0 NESCAC)

Goalie Jonathan La Rose recorded his fifth shutout of the year, making 19 saves as the Lord Jeffs bombed Hamilton, getting goals from six different players.

2. Norwich (20-2-2, 15-2-1 ECAC East)

Only seven players in Division 3 have set up more goals than sophomore forward Travis Janke (9-26-35).

3. Bowdoin (16-5-3, 12-3-3 NESCAC)

Graham Sisson scored the game-winner in the second period and Steve Messina stopped 31 shots to help the Polar Bears escape Trinity, 2-1.

4. Castleton State (17-6-2, 12-4-2 ECAC East)

Sophomore forward Nick Lazorko’s 23 goals are the second-most in Division 3 behind Nichols freshman Louie Educate’s 26.

5. Plymouth State (15-6-3, 12-3-3 MASCAC)

School officials say a capacity crowd is expected at Hanaway Rink tonight for the Panthers’ much-anticipated semifinal against Worcester State.

6. Wentworth (18-6-1, 11-2-1 ECAC Northeast)

Leopards split with their semifinal opponent, WNEC, but the two teams haven’t seen each other since January.

7. Middlebury (13-9-3, 11-6-1 NESCAC)

Panthers finished with a 29-12 edge in shots in their quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Wesleyan, and needed goals from Tom Cantwell and Chris Steele to avoid the upset.

8. Salem State (14-8-3, 11-4-3 MASCAC)

Vikings have had semifinal opponent UMass-Dartmouth’s number this winter, with two wins (3-1 and 6-1) and an early tie (3-3).

9. UMass-Dartmouth (16-8-2, 10-6-2 MASCAC)

Conference Player of the Year Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.) came up big when needed, scoring a hat trick in 4-2 quarterfinal win over Westfield State.

10. Western New England (14-11-1, 8-5-1 ECAC Northeast)

Golden Bears are 5-1-1 in their last five games, a run that includes a 10-3 loss to their semifinal opponent, Wentworth.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.