By Mike Zhe
If there’s one team in the region that’s been lying in the weeds all winter, it’s Bowdoin.
Now, the question becomes this: Are the Polar Bears finally ready to strike?
The New England conference races reach their conclusions this weekend, with automatic bids to the NCAA tournament awarded in the NESCAC, ECAC East, ECAC Northeast and MASCAC.
Here’s a primer:
No. 2 Amherst vs. No. 3 Williams, Saturday, 1 p.m.
No. 1 Trinity vs. No. 5 Bowdoin, Saturday, 4 p.m.
Trinity earned the right to host Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s championship by virtue of its tremendous second-half surge. The Bantams have won 14 of their last 15 games, are producing 4.68 goals a game, third-most in Division 3, and own the No. 1 seed for the first time in a decade.
“I’m not going to say it’s all for naught, because what they’ve done is special,” said Trinity coach Matt Greason (North Bridgton, Maine), “but we’ve got to continue to improve.”
Amherst and Williams both rank among the nation’s top 11 in goals allowed, so anything other than a low-scoring, one-goal game in the early semifinal would be a surprise.
Then there’s Bowdoin, which has plenty of firepower (3.92 goals a game), but hasn’t shown the consistency to go with it.
No. 2 Babson at No. 1 Norwich, Saturday, 7 p.m.
If this matchup feels familiar, it’s because we saw it twice last March, as well. Babson stunned Norwich on its home ice in the conference final, but the Cadets got some revenge when the two hooked up in Northfield, Vt., for an NCAA quarterfinal days later.
Babson goalie Jamie Murray (Scituate, Mass.) leads the nation in save percentage (.948) and will try to give his team a chance to win against Travis Janke (14-20-34) and explosive Norwich, which will have its army of fans behind it.
No. 2 Wentworth at No. 1 Nichols, Saturday, TBA
Wentworth looks like a vastly superior hockey team than the one we saw in December. R.J. Tolan’s squad is 8-2-1 since a bad loss at Plymouth State in mid-January, and now has a chance to win the league for the third year in a row.
Nichols has been the league’s best team, wire to wire. Super sophs Sean Fleming (12-20-32) and Tyler Beasley (12-19-31) lead an attack that beat Wentworth twice in two tries during the regular season.
No. 2 Plymouth State at No. 1 Salem State, Saturday, TBA
A win by Salem on its home ice would produce the fourth different MASCAC champion in four years, a nod to the league’s parity that we saw play out all winter.
Salem’s veterans have stepped up down the stretch, including senior goalie Ryan Sutliffe. But the Panthers are playing as well as anyone, with seven wins and two ties in their last nine games.
“We’re just clicking,” said Plymouth State coach Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.). “The chemistry in the room is great. We’re the sum of our parts – that’s what we tell the guys all the time.”
NEHJ Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Trinity (21-4, 15-3
Is anyone in the country playing better than the Bantams, who dusted Wesleyan, 9-1, in their quarterfinal Saturday.
2. Norwich (19-5-3, 13-3-2 ECAC East)
Janke scored a goal and set up another as Cadets got all they could handle from Castleton in 4-3 semifinal win.
3. Babson (21-4-2, 13-3-2 ECAC East)
Senior captain Matt Furey (Quincy, Mass.) set up a couple goals from the blueline as Beavers won their anticipated semifinal tilt with UMass-Boston, 4-2..
4. Amherst (15-7-3, 12-4-2
Lord Jeffs needed to come from behind in third period to get past Conn. College, 4-2, in quarterfinal Saturday.
5. Williams (15-7-3, 10-5-3 NESCAC)
Seven different players scored for Ephs in 7-3 quarterfinal win over Colby.
6. UMass-Boston (17-6-4, 9-5-4 ECAC East)
Goal by Peter MacIntyre (Norfolk, Mass.) in loss to Babson gave him 40 points on year, fourth-most in Division 3.
7. Nichols (17-6-3, 9-3-2 ECAC Northeast)
Sean Swansen scored twice and the Bison held off Curry, 4-3, on Wednesday to reach championship game.
State (14-10-2, 11-5-2 ECAC
Andrew Wigg set up the tying goal and scored the game-winner in 3-2 semifinal win over Westfield State on Tuesday.
9. Salem State (15-9-2, 11-5-2
Gabriel Cromp scored twice and Vikings dominated in 3-1 semifinal win over Framingham State.
10. Bowdoin (15-8-2, 9-8-1
Colin Downey (East Sandwich, Mass.) and Kyle Lockwood (Ridgefield, Conn.) each scored twice in 6-3 quarterfinal win at Middlebury.