By Mike Zhe
Thanks to a fast start Tuesday night against Wentworth, Nichols became the first New England team to put itself into the driver’s seat in the conference races for first place.
The Bison (15-5-2, 8-2-1 ECAC Northeast) have been the most consistent team in their conference from start to finish, even if the 5-3 win over Wentworth wasn’t really 60 minutes of excellence.
Goals by Mike Weaver (Wakefield, Mass.), Sean Swansen (Salem, N.H.) and Sean Fleming staked the Bison to a 3-0 lead after one period. Mike Schwartz tacked on another early in the second and that margin was too much for the Leopards to overcome, though they gave it a shot.
“After that, I think they kind of took it to us,” said Nichols coach Kevin Swallow (Peru, Maine).
No matter. The Bison now hold a three-point lead over second-place Wentworth (9-11-2, 7-4-0 ECAC Northeast) with three games to go. It’s the largest cushion in any of the four New England leagues.
Nichols has also won its last three games without valuable sophomore forward Frank Butler of East Haven, Conn., who shares the team lead in goals (11) but is out for the season after breaking his wrist in a Feb. 6 game against Curry.
“We’re getting contributions from a lot of guys,” said Swallow. “Sean Fleming’s stepped up and been on a tear lately. Since Christmas, he’s probably been our go-to guy.”
Fleming (10-17-27) is challenging fellow sophomore Tyler Beasley (10-18-28) for the team scoring lead. The Bison are averaging 4.14 goals a game and their power-play success rate (25.3 percent) ranks seventh in Division 3.
“Last year we won a lot of low-scoring games,” said Swallow. “This year we’ve been putting the puck in the net a lot more. … Special teams have been great for us. That’s always huge heading into the playoffs.”
Playoffs that appear to be heading through Nichols, at least after Tuesday.
“The win gave us a little bit of breathing room,” said Swallow, “but not much.”
Player of the Week
Terence Durkin (Scituate, Mass.), soph., F, Wesleyan
It was a five-point weekend for Durkin, who helped the Cardinals sweep a league weekend for the first time this year. In a 7-3 stunner over Williams, he assisted on four goals, helping his team post its most-ever goals against the Ephs.
Games of the Week
Babson at Norwich, Friday, 7 p.m.
If the Beavers can find a way to win again in Kreitzberg Arena, like they did in last year’s ECAC East championship game, they’ll all but lock up the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
NEHJ Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Babson (19-3-1, 13-2-1 ECAC East)
Mike Driscoll (Milton, Mass.) scored the overtime game-winner against University of New England Friday to get the weekend started right, 2-1.
2. Trinity (16-4, 11-3
Freshman Sean Orlando scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Williams Sunday that capped another great weekend for the Bantams.
3. Norwich (15-5-3, 11-3-2 ECAC East)
Chris Czarnota (Wakefield, Mass.) had a 17-save shutout as Cadets snapped three-game unbeaten streak at Skidmore Saturday, 3-0.
4. UMass-Boston (16-4-3, 9-4-3 ECAC East)
Big weekend for Stephen Buco (North Providence, R.I.), who had three goals and an assist in tight wins against Southern Maine (3-2) and University of New England (4-3).
5. Williams (13-5-2, 9-3-2 NESCAC)
First back-to-back losses this season dropped the Ephs from first place to third.
6. Amherst (13-6-1, 11-3
That’s four wins in a row for Lord Jeffs, who have grabbed a share of first place by going 6-1-1 in their last eight games.
7. Nichols (15-5-2, 8-2-1 ECAC
Senior Greg Strootman’s two goals led 6-3 rout of Suffolk on Saturday to complete a 2-0 week.
8. New England
College (14-7-1, 10-6 ECAC
Pilgrims were due for an off night and that’s what they had in 5-1 loss at St. Anselm on Friday.
9. Johnson & Wales
(15-5-1, 5-4-1 ECAC Northeast)
Wildcats led a 4-1 third-period lead slip away in frustrating home tie with Becker (4-4) on Saturday, and now find themselves in fourth place.
10. Bowdoin (12-6-2, 7-6-1
Nice weekend for century man Colin Downey (East Sandwich, Mass.), who had two goals and two assists in win over Hamilton (3-2) and loss to Amherst (5-3).