By Mike Zhe
There are no preseason polls issued in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
Had there been, it’s tough imagining it would have resembled the reality heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
With two games left, only one team’s position is set in stone: Tufts (3-18-1, 1-14-1 NESCAC) will finish in the basement of the 10-team league and miss the eight-team playoffs, which begin with quarterfinal games on March 1.
So who’s trending up as the postseason nears? Let’s take a look:
* Trinity. It’s been a season for the ages for the first-place Bantams (18-4, 13-3), who are scoring goals in bunches and hold a two-point lead over Amherst entering the final weekend.
Junior Jackson Brewer (Newton, Mass.), sophomore Mike Hawkrigg and freshman Ryan Cole rank 1-2-3 in the country in scoring, and the Brewer-Hawkrigg-Sean Orlando line has been all but unstoppable.
“It goes without saying that we’re ecstatic with what they’ve done,” said third-year coach Matt Greason (North Bridgton, Maine).
Only two teams in Division 3 are scoring more often than the Bantams, who are averaging 4.45 a game and have won 11 of their last 12 games.
* Amherst. A midseason swoon has been followed by a stretch of strong hockey for the Lord Jeffs, the only team to take down Trinity these last six weeks. They’re riding a six-game unbeaten streak and have only allowed more than two goals once during that stretch.
Taking one point out of games at Middlebury and Williams this weekend would lock Amherst into the No. 2 seed.
* Colby. Yes, the White Mules absorbed a pair of losses last weekend, to Wesleyan and Trinity, but they’re still in the running for a top-four finish in the second year of Blaise MacDonald’s (Billerica, Mass.) rebuilding project.
It’s been a group of seniors, playing for a third coach in four years, who’ve led the way production-wise: Ben Chwick (14-14-28), Nick Lanza of Rocky Hill, Conn. (14-10-24) and Jack Bartlett of Lynn, Mass. (2-18-20).
Colby would need to sweep games at Tufts and Conn. College this weekend, and have both Bowdoin and Middlebury stumble, to slide into the fourth spot. But wherever they finish, it will be a step up.
* Conn. College. The Camels are headed to the NESCAC playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. They’ve tightened up the defense considerably and that’s been a big reason for the five-game unbeaten streak they’re riding, one that includes a win at Middlebury (2-1) and a tie at Amherst (1-1).
On a team that’s not an offensive juggernaut, junior forward J.C. Cangelosi (12-10-22) is the only player with more than 11 points.
Player of the Week
Jared Melman, jr., F, University of New England
Melman scored a school-record four goals – bringing his season total to a team-high 15 – as Nor’easters beat St. Anselm, 5-4, in overtime on Saturday to complete a rare four-point weekend to improve their seeding in the ECAC East.
Games of the Week
ECAC East quarterfinals, Saturday
(8) Skidmore at (1) Norwich; (7) Southern Maine at (2) Babson; (6) University of New England at (3) UMass-Boston; (5) Castleton at (4) New England College
The first New England league to open its postseason has been a Norwich-Babson battle for position at the top in the second half, with the Cadets securing it by winning two games last weekend.
The semifinals will be held March 1 and the championship game March 8, each game at the home of the higher seed.
NEHJ Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Trinity (18-4, 13-3
Hawkrigg had two goals and an assist in weekend wins over Williams (2-1) and Colby (4-2).
2. Norwich (17-5-3, 13-3-2 ECAC East)
Cadets finished with 48-10 edge in shots in 1-0 win against Babson Friday that helped them snatch first place on the final weekend
3. Babson (19-4-2, 13-3-2 ECAC East)
Andrew Bonazza’s goal midway through the second period of a 1-1 tie at St. Michael’s Saturday was the only one the Beavers scored all weekend.
4. UMass-Boston (16-5-4, 9-5-4 ECAC East)
Beacons couldn’t make an early two-goal lead stand up in 5-3 loss at Norwich Saturday that closed regular season.
5. Amherst (13-6-3, 11-3-2
Lord Jeffs could do no better than a pair of 1-1 home ties against Conn. College and Tufts, but did extend unbeaten streak to six games.
6. Williams (13-6-3, 9-4-3 NESCAC)
Ephs are 1-3-1 since they were featured on New England Hockey Journal TV on the morning of Feb. 1.
7. Nichols (15-6-2, 8-3-1 ECAC Northeast)
First-place Bison’s lead is down to one point after 1-0 loss to Salve Regina Monday, despite 48-save effort by Alex Larson.
8. Johnson & Wales
(16-5-1, 6-4-1 ECAC Northeast)
Fran Mackin’s hat trick led 6-3 win at Western New England Saturday.
9. Salem State (12-8-2, 9-4-2
Mark Macdonald (Norwell, Mass.) had a hat trick in Saturday’s 5-2 win over UMass-Dartmouth.
10. New England
College (14-9-1, 10-8 ECAC
Pilgrims closed out the regular season with three straight losses, all against second-division teams.