Monday, March 20, 2017

NCAA Quarterfinals: Trinity advances in double OT, Hamilton's most successful season comes to an end

Trinity won the NESCAC finals in OT. They needed 2OT to advance
to the NCAA DIII Frozen Four.

In Vermont, Evan Buitenhuis gave up the most goals (5)  he has allowed in his career and the top seed in the east Norwich Cadets laid waste to the Continentals 6-2 (Box). The game was close until two goals in the final two minutes of the second period gave the Cadets a commanding 4-1 lead heading into the final frame. Senior blueliners Conor Lamberti and Jon Carkeek had the two tallies for the Continentals to close out their careers.

Hamilton didn't bring their A game to Norwich, but the season as a whole was certainly a success. The nine man senior class,, which includes 100 point club member Robbie Murden, failed to make the NESCAC playoffs in their freshman year but did the following in their final collegiate season: set a school record in wins (20); earned the program's first trip to the NESCAC semis and finals; earned the school's first trip to the NCAA Tournament and first NCAA Tournament win.

Norwich advances to the DIII Frozen Four in Utica to face Adrian, who defeated UW-Stevens Point in one of the other NCAA Quarterfinals. IT would have been nice for the Conts to play in a Frozen Four 10 miles from home, but Hamilton isn't likely to be going away as a NESCAC contender next season with the return of Buitenhuis and five of their six top scorers from this season.

In Hartford, Anthony Sabitsky redirected a pass from Ryan Cole 4:15 into the second overtime to lift Trinity past Endicott 2-1 (Box). The Bantams put 69 shots on Gulls goalie Kevin Aldridge on the evening. Alex Morin stopped 49 shots of his own, including 16 in the overtime periods. Sean Orlando scored the first tally for the Bantams, bringing his post season total (three NESCAC playoff games and two NCAA tournament games) to seven (2-5-7).

The Bantams head to Utica for their second DIII Frozen Four in three years to face St. Norbert, who defeated Augsburg to round out the field of four. Trinity won the whole shebang two years ago in Minnesota with wins over Adrian and UW-Stevens Points. The Bants have made the last three NCAA tournaments and now have a 6-1 to date in the NCAA tournament under Matt Greason.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

NCAA Quarterfinals: Hamilton at Norwich; Endicott at Trinity

Hamilton teammates console Evan Buitenhuis after
NESCAC title game OT loss. Conts will hope to surround him
in celebration tonight as they did after the Oswego game.

Hamilton at Norwich     7 PM    Video 
Hamilton (20-4-4) (all stats are national rank)
Offense - 3.21 G/GM (34th)
Defense - 1.71 G/GM (3rd)
PIM - 9.5/GM (70th)
Power Play - 16.41% (54th)
Penalty Kill - 89.5.% (3rd)
US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 86

Norwich (24-1-3) 
Offense - 4.25 G/GM (8th)
Defense - 1.68 G/GM (2nd)
PIM - 8.9/GM (73rd)
Power Play - 26.62% (6th)
Penalty Kill - 83.5.% (26th)

US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 54

The Lowdown: Brian Lester is probably wrong
Am I homer? Damn straight I am, I want Trinity and Hamilton to win their respective games and make the dream of an All-NESCAC final remain a possibility for at least one more day. But I'm also a realist and recognize that Hamilton's task in particular is a pretty tall order: become the first team to beat Norwich in Vermont all season.

That being said, most college hockey observers would predict a low scoring affair in Northfield, Vermont this Saturday. Brian Lester, USCHO's D-III Western columnist, however,picks this to be a 4-2 game, but we can probably chalk this up to his not having likely watch any eastern games this season. But god bless USCHO, they do pretend to care about D-III hockey, so at least we'll give them that.

The Cadets of Norwich they have the obvious advantage in pedigree - a 26-14-12 record in the NCAA tournament, including three national titles 2000, 2003 and 2010 - vs Hamilton's lone NCAA experience of last weekend's game at Oswego, who also had a huge advantage in the history department.

Norwich last met a NESCAC team in the NCAA tournament just two years ago, when Amherst rallied to down the Cadets 4-3 in overtime on a Mike Rowbotham tally. The Purple and White had trailed until an Aaron Deutsch goal in the final fifteen seconds forced OT.

The Cadets and Continentals are longtime foes due to the old ECAC-E/NESCAC interlock, though they haven't played since 2010 in the last season of the interlock. Norwich hodls the 56-29-3 all time lead in the series.

In terms of shared opponents this season, for whatever that is worth, Norwich is 7-1-1 and Hamilton is 6-0-1 this season. The Continentals swept Skidmore and Middlebury, while going 1-0-1 against Williams and defeating New England College in non-conference action. Norwich won all games against those opponents, except for their sole loss of the season thus far at Skidmore in OT way back in November and a tie at Middlebury in January.

The Cadets are, obviously, not light on talent, nor experience with their top ten scorers all coming from the junior or senior classes. Up front they are led by All New England Hockey Conference First Team forward William Pelletier, whose 2.05 points per game (16-25-41 in 20 games) is the best in the nation. On the blueline, they also have a First Team All-Conference player in assist master Cody Smith (2-30-32). They also have the NEHC Second Team All-NEHC goalie in junior Braeden Ostepchuk, who appears in a rotation with senior Ty Reichenbach. The senior started the NEHC title game but Ostepchuk was in net for the Cadets 3-1 first round NCAA win against Salem State. They are experienced behind the bench as well, as Mike McShane won NECH Coach of the Year after leading his Cadets to its conferences best record for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons (what is now NEHC used to be ECAC-NE until recently).

For the Conts, you know the scouting by this point. Two of the hottest Conts recently are Robbie Murden, who has two goals in three games (including both goals against Oswego) since returning from a serious injury that almost ended his career with 99 points, and freshman blueline Bennett Morrison, who has eight points in his last seven games (5-3-8) and has turned into a terror from the point.

In net, there is, of course, the NESCAC Player of the Year Evan Buitenhuis. Boots was tremendous last weekend, leading to this observation from one of the Oswego announcers:

In the USCHO pre-review, coach Rob Haberbusch talked about prep centering around executing his own team's game plan, which is something you will hear often from coaches this time of year. Norwich is the favorite, but the Continentals showed last weekend they have the recipe for going into a hostile building and taking the upset: discipline (0 penalties last week), opportunistic scoring and great goaltender. #RollConts

Endicott at Trinity    7 PM    Video 

Trinity (19-6-3)
Offense - 4.18 G/GM (11th) 
Defense - 1.82 G/GM (4th) 
PIM - 11.54/GM (63rd)
Power Play - 20.74% (26th)
Penalty Kill - 89.3% (4th)

US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 75

Endicott (24-3-2)
Offense - 4.97 G/GM (1st) 
Defense - 1.897 G/GM (6th) 
PIM - 11.54/GM (63rd)
Power Play - 28.86% (2nd)
Penalty Kill - 86.7% (9th)
US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 61

The Lowdown: This
If Trinity wins they'll make it to the DIII Frozen Four for the second time in three years, while Endicott would make their first trip in only their second year as an NCAA squad. The Gulls, whose success is sometimes seen as a bit suspect coming from the weaker CCC (formerly ECAC-Northeast), pulled out a gutsy win in the Cooler against Hobart last week to earn a trip to Hartford.

The Gulls are led by a pair of 40+ point scoring forwards up front in Tomy Bessinger and Cam Bleck and are anchored on the back end by Providence transfer Log Day, who leads DIII blueliners in scoring with 38 points (15-23-28). In net, Lake Superior transfer Kevin Alderidge has paced Endicott in net net with a .935 Save Percentage and a 2.02 Goals Against Average.

There are no common opponents this season between the two schools and it is the first ever meeting between the programs. Both are abundantly capable of winning this game and as seen between this twitter exchange between Ray Biggs, editor and Jake Donnelly, voice of the Bantams, pretty much anything can happen in this game. However the means or by what score, #RollBants and punch a ticket to Utica for a date with the naitonal semifinals and a plate of chicken riggies.

It won't be easy, but fingers crossed for both the Bantams and Continentals surviving this weekend with their title hopes still alive. Happy belated St. Patrick's Day as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

NCAA 1st Round: Trinity and Hamilton Advance


Hamilton downed host Oswego 3-1 (Box) and Trinity handled Plattsburgh 4-1 (Box ) to earn the NESCAC 1/4 of the spots in the NCAA D-III Men's Ice Hockey Championship Tournament. Hamilton travels to first seed in the east Norwich while Trinity hosts Endicott, who upset Hobart to earn a trip the final eight.

The Continentals carried a 2-0 lead into the third against the Lakers, thanks to a goal in each of the first two periods by Robbie Murden, who now has a three goals in the two games back from a brutal jaw injury suffered in late January during the Continentals' annual Orange Bowl and alumni weekend. In the first, Murden pounced on a defensive miscue in front of the net by the Lakers defense and in the second he redirected a Bennett Morrison shot from the point on the power play.

The Lakers did not roll over in the third and the Conts survived consistent pressure in the second half of the final frame to hold on for the victory. Jon Stickel netted the empty netter to seal it and Evan Buitenhuis stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced to help the Continentals do what Bowdoin could not in 2010, 11 and 14: beat Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario in the NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, 280 miles southwest from Oswego, Trinity handled the hot Cardinals thanks to two power play goals on three opportunities and four penalty kills on all four Cardinal man advantages. Trinity outshot Plattsburgh 39-27 for their seventh straight game with a shots advantage, all with at least a +9 in favor of the Bantams. In fact, the Bantams have only been outshot four times in 28 contests this season.

The bevy of Bantam upperclassmen did not score the last time these two met in Hartford just two Marches ago, but things were different last night. Sean Orlando potted two in the first, and fellow senior Brandon Cole netted two more the rest of the way including an empty netter to seal it.

Onwards and updwards for the 'CAC. Hamilton looks to do what no team has been able to do this season - beat Norwich in Vermont - for their first ever trip to the NCAA DIII Frozen Four appearance (this is their first ever NCAA tournament appearance), while the Bantams look to make their second trip to the Frozen Four in three years (they won it all in 2015). It would be an especially special time for the Conts first trip as this year's semis and finals are being held in their backyard at The Aud in Utica.

Recaps from for the 1st Round games can be found here  for the Trinity game and here for the Hamilton game.

Now for some tweets of support from other CAC schools and let's keep it all the CAC family with Conn Collee alumni band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah for the musical postscript :

Saturday, March 11, 2017

NCAA 1st Round : Hamilton at Oswego, Plattsburgh at Trinity

Hamilton at Oswego    7 PM    Video 
Hamilton (19-4-4) (all stats are national rank)
Offense - 3.22 G/GM (34th)
Defense - 1.74 G/GM (3rd)
PIM - 9.9/GM (76th)
Power Play - 19.5% (60th)
Penalty Kill - 89.5.% (3rd)
US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 86

SUNY Oswego (21-5-1) 
Offense - 4.74 G/GM (3rd)
Defense - 1.93 G/GM (5th)
PIM - 10.8/GM (71st)
Power Play - 27.4% (4th)
Penalty Kill - 84.7% (21st)
US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 62

Oswegonian Preview Road To Utica Podcast  USCHO Preview

The Lowdown: This Ain't Your Older Brother's Continentals
The Lakers and Continentals last met on the shores of Lake Ontario in January 2013 when Ed Gosek's boys blanked Rob Haberbusch's squad 8-0. The Lakers have dominated the Conts in the Gosek era going 8-1-1 against Hamilton in that 13 year span.  

But that meeting was four years ago, before any of the current crop of Conts arrived on campus and led Hamilton to this, their first ever NCAA D-III Men's Ice Hockey Tournament appearance. The Lakers, on the other hand, are veterans and seemingly in the tournament every year. In the aformentioned 2012-13 season, Oswego was the national runner-up for the second straight season. The Lakers first and last title was in a 2007 when they defeated Middlebury 4-3 in an OT thrilla in Manila  Superior, Wisconsin. 

This season the Lakers are as strong as ever with five All-SUNYAC selections -  all seniors - including three on the first team with forwards Shawn Hulsof (13-27-40) and Kenny Neil (19-25-44) and SUNYAC defensive player of the year Stephen Johnson (7-23-30), the third highest scoring blueliner in the DIII nation. 

The Lakers - despite their strength - needed a Pool C bid, as did Hamilton, to make the tournament.  The Lakers' rival, SUNY Plattsburh, upset top seed Oswego 3-2 in the SUNYAC finals to earn the automatic bid. Other than two losses to Plattsburgh, the Lakers had one blip of a three game losing streak on the season, including a 4-3 OT loss to Williams in the Norwich New Year's tournament. The Ephs are the only mutual opponent these two had this season with Hamilton going 1-0-1 against Williams.

The Lakers will not be taking the NESCAC regular season . In the student paper (The Oswegonian) preview, Oswego assistant coach Jon Whitelaw praised the speed and grittiness of the Continental squad. In addition to these qualities, the Hamilton will obviously need a great game from Evan Buitenhuis in net to do what Bowdoin couldn't do in 2014: win an NCAA opening round game at Oswego.

The winner of this game will take on the winner of tops in the east Norwich vs MASCAC champs Salem State, a team Williams dominated in last year's NCAA opening round game.

Plattsburgh at  Trinity    7 PM   Video
Trinity (18-6-3)
Offense - 4.19 G/GM (10th) 
Defense - 1.85 G/GM (4th) 
PIM - 11.7/GM (66th)
Power Play - 19.7% (35th)
Penalty Kill - 89.0% (5th)

US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 75

SUNY Plattsburgh (17-9-1)
Offense - 3.48 G/GM (24th) 
Defense - 3.26 G/GM (52nd) 
PIM - 19.1 GM (36th)
Power Play - 19.1% (36th)
Penalty Kill - 80.6% (47th)
US News and World Report College score (out of 100) - 56

Trinity Preview

The Lowdown: This time, it's personal. the first round
While the other matchup features the NESCAC and SUNYAC Pool C bids, this one in Hartford has the two conference tournament champions. The two last met in the NCAA Tournament just two short years ago when Trinity defeated Plattsburgh 5-1 to advance to the Phrozen Phour, which they would eventually win. You may remember that the Cardinals were the higher seed in that game but the contest was played at Trinity due to the Plattsburgh women hosting the women's Phrozen Phour.

The Cardinals have not won an NCAA Tournament game since defeating Middlebury in 2010, the last trip to the NCAA tournament for the once mighty Panthers. Trinity's title defense ended early last season when they lost an opening round game in Hartford to the UMass-Boston Beacons.

This season the two have had several common opponents, all from the 'CAC: Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury. Plattsburh won all four games against them while Trinity went 5-1-0 with the one loss coming to the Ephs.

The Cardinals had three All-SUNYAC selections, including a first team blueliner in Ayrton Valente (6-15-21) as well as the conference's Coach of the Year in Bob Emery, the sixth time he has won the honor. Emery took a young Cards club (only three seniors; five of their six top scorers are underclassmen) that struggled mid-season to a 10-1-1 mark down the stretch. No one has stats that jump off the page, but this is a dangerous and talented Plattsburgh team.

Bradly Rouleau is one of those three seniors and he will remember the Koeppel Center quite well. The Quinnipiac transfer was in net for that 5-1 drubbing by the Bantams two years ago. He's had a less than stellar year with a sub .900 save percentage but he is coming off a 30+ save performance in the SUNYAC title game. The Bants upperclassmen lines (Cole Brothers and Sabitsky/ Orlando, Holdaway, Whitney) did not score in that game but they are as dangerous now as they have ever been as evidenced last weekend when they scored five of Trinity's seven goals in the semis and finals.

It's the NCAA tournament, time to bring your A game, and DO IT NOW, or you'll go home a hot shame. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

NCAA Selection: Trinity gets home game, Hamilton gets at-large bid

NCAA announced the 2017 NCAA D-III men's hockey tournament bracked today and for the third year in a row, 2 NESCAC teams will be in the tournament. Trinity received the NESCAC's automatic bid by virture of their 3-2 OT victory over Hamilton in the NESCAC finals yesterday and the Bantams will host a first round game against upset SUNYAC champion, Plattsburgh. Hamilton received an at large, or Pool C, bid and will travel to Oswego to take on the Lakers, who also received an at-large bid after being upset by Platty in the SUNYAC finals.

The Bantams, the fourth seed in the east, are making their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. In 2015 they won the whole shebang as an at-large team and in 2016 they won the NESCAC before losing at home to UMass-Boston in an opening round affair. 

In that fateful 2015 campaign, the Bantams defeated Plattsburgh in the Quarterfinals to earn a birth to the DIII Frozen Four. The Bantams hosted that game in facility only, as the Cardinals were technically the home team but had the game moved to Trinity due to the Cards' women hosting the DIII Final Four that weekend. 

If they win, Trinity will face the winner of the third seed Hobart Statesmen of the ECAC-West and sixth seed Endicott Gulls, Commonwealth Coast Conference champions in just their second year of NCAA play.

This is the first trip to the NCAA tournament for the Hamilton Continentals, who received one of the last at-large bids. As the seventh seed in the east, they will head to take on the second seed Osweo Lakers. If the Conts are neophytes, the Lakers are veterans of the tournament with over 15 appearances and multiple titles. The last time they faced a NESCAC school  in the tournament was 2014 when they defeated the upstart Bowdoin Polar Bears, who earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the NESCAC tournament from the fifth seed.

If the Continentals can manage to get past Oswego, things don't get easier, as they would likely have to travel to the 1st seed in the east, the Norwich Cadets, who host MASCAC champion Salem State in the 1st round. 

The four teams in the West earned all the byes, which seems unfair, but was always a possibility with the selection committee having to juggle travel 

More about Saturday's NCAA tournament games as the week progresses. Until then, enjoy "Tournament Time" from the soundtrack from the Karate Kid reboot staring philosopher prince Jaden Smith. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017


1st Period
Semi-surprise of the day is that Robbie Murden, who needed his jaw wired shut just over a month ago is back in the lineup, looking for that elusive 100th career point and more importantly, a NESCAC title. He'll play Conway and ursitti, the hero of yesterday's 5-4 victory of Wesleyan.

Trinity carried the majority of the play, but Hamilton certainly had its chances, particularly in the later stages of the period. Three penalties in the course of 47 seconds led to a quick succession of five-on-four, four-on-four, four-on-three and five on-four. In one sequence, Neil Conway fired a wrister from the point with Stickel nearly poking it in before the ensuing clear was dumped down ice for a charging Mark Knowlton to be laid out by Evan Buitenhuis. Speaking of Boots, he had a much better first period, limiting rebounds he let up yesterday and stopping all 18 of Trinity's shots. Alex Morin stopped all 12 shots on the other end.

2nd Period
Well, that was crazy. Trinity carried most of the first half of the period until a pair of Cole brother penalties, one apiecce for Brandon and Ryan, broke up some of their momentum. Bennet Morrison blasted one in from just inside the blueline, which Alex Morin initially stopped but it trickled past with 2:57 left. Just 28 seconds later, Neil Cownay from below the crease found Robbie Murden at the lower right circle, who fired it in for his 100th career oal. Trinity answered back with Boots screened, less than a minute later when Liam Feeney fired it in from just inside the left blueline. Then, after a shot on the other end by Stirling Bray with 26 seconds left, Sean Orlando gobbled up the long rebound and streaked down the right wing for a shot, that Brandon Cole followed up with the rebound to tie it with 18 seconds left. Trinity led shots 34-25 after two.

3rd Period
No scoring and we are headed to OT in the finals for the first time since 2014, when Bowdoin needed double OT to win their first back-to-back title. Trinity will need the same result, though they would likely prefer it in the first extra frame, to win their second straight title.

Both teams had chances, as they always do, including Sam Johnson ripping one from in front that Boots had to save sprawled out with his glove. That was during a Trinity power play for a Rory Gagnon cross-check call. Gagnon went down akwardly earlier in the period but got back to up play, well enough to cross-check, appartenty. Late in that penalty, Sean Orlando was called for a hold in the neutral zone. Orlando and the Bantams were none too pleased with the call, nor was this fan.

And so we go to OT. Trintiy holds the shots advantage 44-34 headed into the extra frame.

3:09 into the extra frame, Ryan Cole on a feed from his brother, beat Boots from the odd angle to give the Bants back-to-back titles. Trinity gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and Hamilton is left with the waiting game until tomorrow morning to find out if they get an at-large bid.

NESCAC Finals: #3 Trinity at #1 Hamilton 2 PM

The Continental faithful showed up early for Hamilton's first ever hosted semifinal. Expect a sell-out today as well.

Trinity (17-6-3; 11-5-2 NESCAC)
Offense - 3.61 G/GM (1st) 
Defense - 1.94 G/GM (2nd) 
PIM - 12.9/GM (3rd)
Power Play - 17.2% (5th)
Penalty Kill - 86.8% (4th)
Special Teams Net - +5 (2nd) 

Hamilton (19-3-4; 11-3-4)
Offense - 2.78 G/GM (3rd)
Defense - 1.56 G/GM (1st)
PIM - 9.2/GM (6th)
Power Play - 12.3% (9th)
Penalty Kill - 87.7% (2nd)

Special Teams Net - +4 (4th)

The Lowdown: Again, for the first time
Both Trinity coach Matt Greason and Hamilton coach Rob Haberbusch took over their respective programs in 2011. Haberbusch took over for a first place team that had just been upset in the NESCAC Quarterfinals and lost the NESCAC Player of the Year to a D1 transfer. Greason took over a seventh place team that lost an All-NESCAC goalie. 

The paths they took in the first years of their tenures were quite different. After a year in seventh, Greason has had the Bantams third or better in each of the last five years and they have won at least one game in the NESCAC tournie in all of those five years except one, and in that one year they received a Pool C bid and won the NCAA title. 

Haberbusch's road has been a bit bumpier. He finished eigth or ninth for the first thee years, before a gradual rise to first this season (sixth in 2015, fourth last year). The Continentals had not won a NESCAC playoff game since 2010 before this season and they had never hosted the NSECAC conference championships in Sage Rink,  a building replete  history (2nd oldest college rink in nation) but no unobstructed views. 

For all the differences in paths, including campuses in two disparate locales, both coaches have their teams in the title game, Greason looking for the Bantams second conference title in a row and Haberbusch looking for the program's first.

And both coaches have their playing with intensity and heart. Yes, sure, these are easy, hackneyed terms to throw out there. Both teams fell behind by two goals in their respective semifinals and showed some lapses, blown tires and defensive hesitation from the Bantams, sloppy clearing from the Continentals. But both fought back and it showed in their actions. 

Trinity players constantly crashed the Williams net and the bench was literally jumping up and down when they netted the game winner late in the third. Sean Orlando, who wasn't able to convert earlier on several opportunities, netted that tally.

 Hamilton's Nick Ursitti missed an open net early in  the third and lashed out with stick slams and expletives. He then went on to score the game tying and winning goals in the third. NESCAC Player of the Year Evan Buitenhuis didn't have the most impressive game of his career, but he still managed to make saves like this when it counted:

So we could talk about Hamilton's line shuffling because of the injuries to Robbie Murden and Brandon Willett, or how the Bantams two upperclassmen lines will fare today. Let's leave the analysis to the coaching class of 2011 and their staffs. We'll just gear up for what likely will be a great final in a rocking building that has never experienced one of these games before.