The third edition of the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament begins today, and if the two years prior have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
Six teams are part of the field for the three-round event, played at campus sites. Today’s first round sees No. 3 University of New England (17-6-2) hosting No. 6 Wentworth (8-13-4), and No. 4 Nichols (11-11-3) entertaining No. 5 Endicott (15-8-2).
No. 1 Salve Regina (17-6-2) and No. 2 Curry (16-6-3) received first-round byes and will host semifinal games Saturday. The winner of the March 2 championship gets an auto-bid to the NCAA tournament.
In each of the first two years, a No. 5 seed reached the final. Last year it was Nichols, which went on to paste UNE, 8-3. The year before, top-seeded Endicott got a goal from Cam Bleck with 9 seconds left in regulation to beat UNE, 5-4.
It’s been an uneven season for defending champ Nichols (11-11-3), but a final night of the season Saturday. Its 5-2 win at Wentworth snapped a six-game winless streak and lifted it into fourth place when Endicott was upset by Western New England, 4-3.
“Happy to get in the win column,” said Nichols coach Parker Burgess afterward. “The boys competed all night and our special teams stepped up. Can’t wait for the playoffs. Should be fun.”
Curry also got an assist Saturday. After blasting Becker, 10-1, it learned that UNE had fallen to Salve, 2-1, which cleared the path for it to grab the No. 2 and first-round bye.
It’s the highest the Colonels have finished under seventh-year coach TJ Manastersky, whose team was picked for fifth in the conference preseason poll but has gone 10-1-1 in its last 12 games.
“We want to be the best team we can be and we want to keep pushing the end (of the season) back,” said Manastersky.
Salve’s season-ending win over UNE — its sixth in a row — was set up by sophomore forward Danny Eruzione (Winthrop, Mass.), who assisted on both his team’s goals and leads the Seahawks in scoring (13-24-37).
What else can we expect from this tournament? Scoring.
Endicott (4.85), UNE (4.84) and Curry (4.36) rank second, third and fourth in Division 3 in goals per game. Salve (3.84) checks in at No. 12.
Brady Fleurent of Biddeford, Maine (13-28-41) and Ryan Bloom (16-18-34) of UNE; Daniel Kucerovy (16-25-41), Josh Bowes (18-21-39) and Tommy Besinger of Milton, Mass. (8-29-37) of Endicott; Zach White of Milford, Conn. (22-16-38) of Curry; and Eruzione all rank among the national top 20 in points.
Fleurent, Bloom, Kucerovy, Besinger, White, Eruzione, Carter Horwitz of Endicott and Matt O’Dea of Western New England were all named semifinalists for the Joe Concannon Award, given to the best American-born Division 2/3 player in New England.
Team of the Week
Needing to sweep first-place Wesleyan in a weekend home-and-home to overtake the Cardinals in the standings, the Bantams did just that — in dramatic fashion.
One night after Barclay Gammill (New Canaan, Conn.) set up the tying goal and scored the game-winner in a 6-5 win at Wesleyan, Trinity snapped a late tie on a goal by Taggart Corriveau (New Britain, Conn.) with 4 seconds left in regulation to beat the Cards, 3-2.
Trinity (16-3-5) earned the No. 1 seed based on a head-to-head tiebreaker and will host No. 8 Tufts (6-15-3) in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Wesleyan (15-7-2) dipped to No. 2 and will host seventh-seeded Middlebury (8-12-4).
The other quarterfinals will see No. 6 Colby (10-9-5) traveling to No. 3 Amherst (13-6-4), and No. 5 Williams (14-8-2) visiting No. 4 Hamilton (12-9-3).
Player of the Week
Nolan Redler (Winchester, Mass.), jr., F, UMass-Boston
Redler’s goal in the top-seeded Beacons’ 4-0 win over No. 8 Southern Maine in the NEHC quarterfinals Saturday gave him 100 points for his career, the 17th player in program history to reach that milestone.
Earlier in the week, Redler (15-19-34) was named co-Player of the Year in the conference, sharing the honor with Norwich goalie Tom Aubrun (1.65 GAA, .928 save percentage). A healthy senior season is all that separates him from a spot in the program’s all-time top 10.
Games to Watch
NEHC semifinals, Saturday, 7 p.m.: Babson at Norwich; Hobart at UMass-Boston
All four semifinalists enter with a national ranking next to their name and a legit chance to skate off with the league title.
Babson (17-6-3), led by league Coach of the Year Jamie Rice (Newton, Mass.) and sophomore forward Nick Rosa (13-15-28), will try to beat a Norwich team (19-4-3) that has won 11 straight games and not lost since Dec. 8.
Top-seeded UMB (19-6-1) will try to dispatch fourth-seeded Hobart (18-6-2), which has won its conference tournament in each of the last four years, including its debut year in the NEHC last season.