March 6, 2012

Small College Journal: Plymouth State, WIT win thrillers

By Mike Zhe

Talk about your golden goals.

Two of them.

For Plymouth State, it was junior Kyle Weiland (Hampden, Maine). For Wentworth, it was freshman Sean McLaughlin (North Billerica, Mass.). Both players ended thrilling conference championship games Saturday with sudden-death tallies that vaulted their teams into the Division 3 tournament.

Plymouth State forward Kyle Weiland (photo: Plymouth State Athletics)

Now, they get to go head-to-head, with each trying to keep his team’s successful season going at the expense of the other.

First-time MASCAC champion Plymouth State (17-6-3) will host ECAC Northeast champ Wentworth (20-6-1) in an NCAA first-round game at what should be a raucous Hanaway Rink Wednesday night. The winner advances to play at ECAC East champ Norwich (22-2-2) in the national quarterfinals Saturday.

The 900 fans on hand for Saturday night’s double-overtime, 5-4 win against Salem State at Hanaway Rink saw arguably the biggest win in 40 years of Plymouth State hockey, which is playing in its first NCAA tournament.

“I love our crowds,” said Plymouth coach Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.) on the team’s website. “They were awesome the other night. Kept it very tasteful, but were just as intense as ever. Definitely one of the better crowds we’ve had and I definitely anticipate having another crowd like that on Wednesday night.”

The fourth team from the region to make the 11-team NCAA field — Amherst — didn’t need a golden goal to win the NESCAC title with a 4-3 triumph over Middlebury. It used four straight goals in the first and second periods — by Mark Colp (Wareham, Mass.), Brian Safstrom, Andrew Kurlandski and Mike Moher — to overturn an early 2-0 deficit and win for the 11th time in a row.

Wentworth freshman Sean McLaughlin (photo: Wentworth Athletics)

Next up for the Lord Jeffs is an NCAA quarterfinal tilt in Amherst against Plattsburgh State, in a game that will feature two of Division 3’s best goalies. Jonathan La Rose leads the nation in save percentage (.942) and shutouts (five), while Mathieu Cadieux of Plattsburgh is seventh in save percentage (.929) and fifth in goals-against (1.79).

Norwich, meanwhile, put it all together, spanking Castleton State, 11-1, in the ECAC East final, the third so-called “Battle of Vermont” of the winter and the third that went the Cadets’ way.

But back to those golden goals.

McLaughlin entered the ECAC Northeast final against Curry with one career goal — and that was quickly forgotten in an 8-2 rout of Suffolk. But he was tripped on a breakaway in overtime of a scoreless game and awarded a penalty shot, which he tucked under the pads of goalie Derek Mohney for the win.

It’s the first NCAA trip since 2004 for the Leopards, who swept a series at Plymouth State in early January by scores of 5-2 and 3-1. They are led by senior forward Skylur Jameson, the school’s all-time leader in points (159).

The Panthers needed two overtimes to get their work done Saturday. After watching too many leads slip away in the third period a year ago, their offseason focus was conditioning. And it paid off when Weiland collected a loose puck inside the blue line and fired the shot that ended it five minutes in.

“It was unbelievable,” said defenseman and captain J.C. Richardson. “I was just sitting on the bench, catching my breath, and just saw everybody jumping up and down so I knew it went in.

“As well as we are conditioned this year, everybody was starting to slow down,” he added. “But we kept the pedal down and got it, and it felt great.”

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Amherst (23-3-1, 17-1-0 NESCAC)

A win over Plattsburgh Saturday would land Lord Jeffs in their first Frozen Four, and match them against either Oswego State or Elmira in the national semifinals.

2. Norwich (22-2-2, 15-2-1 ECAC East)

Sophomore goalie Chris Czarnota (Wakefield, Mass.) sits atop Division 3 in goals-against average (1.14) and is second to La Rose in save percentage (.940).

3. Plymouth State (17-6-3, 12-3-3 MASCAC)

Panthers take a nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1) into Wednesday’s NCAA tourney game against Wentworth, the first in the 40-year history of the program.

4. Wentworth (20-6-1, 11-2-1 ECAC Northeast)

Of the 11 teams in the NCAA field, only Elmira is allowing more goals per game than the Leopards’ 2.52. But goalie Alex Peck is coming off a 20-save shutout in the ECAC Northeast championship game against Curry.

5. Bowdoin (16-6-3, 12-3-3 NESCAC)

Only twice all season did the Polar Bears yield more than four goals. The first time was to Middlebury in the second game of the season, a 7-1 loss. The second time was to Middlebury in the NESCAC semifinals, a 6-3 loss.

6. Middlebury (14-10-3, 11-6-1 NESCAC)

Charlie Strauss had a pair of goals in his final game for the Panthers, who rushed across the finish line with wins in eight of their last 10 games, but couldn’t hold down Amherst in the 4-3 NESCAC championship loss.

7. Salem State (15-9-3, 11-4-3 MASCAC)

Matt Genevose’s (Hingham, Mass.) strike with under a minute to go in the first sudden-death overtime lifted Vikings past UMass-Dartmouth in MASCAC semifinals. All three of their losses to Plymouth this year were by one goal.

8. Castleton State (19-7-2, 12-4-2 ECAC East)

Spartans started the season 11-1, finished 8-6-2. For the second year in a row, you could have made a case for their NCAA inclusion — until the 11-1 loss to Norwich, that is.

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

Corsairs fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to force overtime in MASCAC semifinals at Salem, with Greg Girtatos (Tyngsboro, Mass.) scoring one goal and setting up another.

10. Southern Maine (10-11-6, 7-7-4 ECAC East)

Props to the Huskies for taking Norwich to the wire in 3-2 league semifinal loss. They closed out on a 4-2-2 run after taking their lumps in January, and their year also featured a win over Bowdoin and tie with Middlebury.

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