That’s a long time to go without beating a conference rival, especially with three chances each season. But it’s a drought that Westfield State has put behind it, thanks to its 3-1 win at first-place Plymouth State on Saturday night.
The win didn’t just mark the Owls’ first one against Plymouth since Jan. 31, 2013. It also considerably tightened up a MASCAC race that, for most of the season, was shaping up to be a two-team sprint.
With three weeks left in the regular season (and each of the league’s seven teams getting to play the others one more time), just three points separate first-place Plymouth (10-6-3, 7-3-2 MASCAC) from fifth-place Worcester State (10-7-1, 6-5-1).
About the only thing settled is that last-place Framingham State, which is winless in 12 league games, will be the one team sitting out the conference tournament.
Filling the tight gap between first and fifth are UMass-Dartmouth (10-8-1, 7-4-1), Westfield State (10-6-3, 7-4-1) and defending champion Fitchburg State (9-8-2, 6-4-2).
Since opening its season with seven wins and a tie in its first eight games, explosive Plymouth has stopped scoring. During its current 2-6-2 funk it’s been held to one goal five times.
Against Westfield, it found itself trailing 2-0 after the first period Saturday when senior Aaron Clancy (Quincy, Mass.) cleaned up a rebound on the power play in the final minute.
Matt Volonnino tipped in a Tim Perron (Northborough, Mass.) shot early in the third period to pull the Panthers to within 2-1, but Owls goalie Thierry Messervier — who began his college career with Plymouth — was immense, finishing with 52 saves.
It was only the second time Westfield State has won in Plymouth, N.H., since Hanaway Rink opened in 2010.
Since this season’s calendar flipped to 2019, the Owls have been the MASCAC’s hottest team, going 7-1-1. Seven players have cracked double-digits in points, a group led by junior Daniel Backstrom (5-14-19), and the team is producing 3.32 goals a game.
Messervier has carried the bulk of the workload in net, posting a 10-5-3 record, 2.69 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
The last trip through the league for Westfield starts with a game at sixth-place Salem State on Thursday. Six teams will qualify for the conference tournament that begins on Feb. 23. Almost certainly, only the champion will get a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Team of the Week
The Colonels are playing like they’re determined to make the Commonwealth Coast a five-team battle.
They earned a tie and a win against first-place Nichols (10-8-2, 8-3-1 CCC) over the weekend, winning on the road Saturday when freshman Alex Ochterbeck scored four minutes into overtime.
Like the MASCAC, the Commonwealth Coast is tight at the top. Nichols shares first place with Salve Regina (12-6-2, 8-3-1), with No. 9 Endicott (14-4-2, 8-4), the University of New England (14-5-1, 8-4) and Curry (11-6-3, 6-4-2) right behind.
Players of the Week
Anthony Pupplo, jr., G, New England College
Tim Sestak (Darien, Conn.), jr., G, Wesleyan
Pupplo made 73 saves over the weekend, including 42 in a 4-4 tie against No. 14 Hobart, and 31 more in a 3-0 win over Skidmore for the Pilgrims (14-3-5, 7-3-5), who own third place in the NEHC.
Sestak made 71 saves, including 47 in a 1-0 win at Amherst Friday, as the Cardinals swept a weekend trip that also included a 4-2 win at Hamilton. In the process, Sestak collected his 1,000th career save.
Game to Watch
Wesleyan at Williams, Saturday, 3 p.m.
The two top teams in the NESCAC standings hook up at Lansing Chapman Rink.
No. 15 Wesleyan (12-4-2, 10-0-2) has not lost a league game all season, a ledger than includes a 5-0 rout of Williams earlier in the year.
But the No. 8 Ephs (13-4-1, 9-2-1) are playing just as well. A six-game win streak, during which they’ve allowed a total of seven goals, has them sitting in second place, three points behind Wesleyan and three clear of third-place and No. 13 Trinity.