February 22, 2012

Small College Journal: Wentworth rolling into playoffs

By Mike Zhe

There’s a reason Division 3 teams play 25 games or so in a season, and not just 17.

Forward Casey Shade of Wentworth (photo: Sports Pix)

Eh, Wentworth?

The ECAC Northeast is one of four New England conferences that will kick off league tournaments on Saturday, but it might be the one with the unlikeliest No. 1 seed.

Sure, Wentworth had the attention of its conference rivals entering the season, a proven point machine in Skylur Jameson and enough experience that it figured to be rubbing shoulders with defending champ Curry near the top of the standings.

The Leopards seemed to have turned a corner when they traveled to Williams for a game on Jan 17, a pedestrian 3-3-1 start offset by four straight wins, including an impressive sweep at Plymouth State.

The result that night in Wiliamstown? An eye-opening, 8-2 loss.

“We stunk. We got killed,” said Wentworth coach R.J. Tolan. “Hockey’s great, because for the most part, you get what you deserve.”

And the Leopards deserved an 8-2 loss?

“I think we were lucky to lose 8-2,” said Tolan. “That’s the thing about this game: It can humble you pretty quickly.”

Wentworth fell at first-place Curry, 4-2, in its next game, but since then has won eight straight. The seventh win in that string was a 5-3 triumph in a return engagement against Curry on Senior Night, one that settled the issue of first place. Down 3-1 entering the third period, the Leopards scored the game’s final four goals.

Wentworth and second-place Curry got the byes. The Leopards will host the lowest-seeded quarterfinal survivor (either No. 4 WNEC, No. 5 Johnson & Wales or No. 6 Becker) in the semifinals.

Behind the production of Jameson (10-23-33), freshman sensation Mike Domsodi (18-15-33) and senior Casey Shade (12-16-28), good goaltending and good leadership, the Leopards are entering the playoffs with a full head of steam.

“They’re playing pretty well,” said Tolan. “Hopefully, they can play even better.”

Game of the Week

NESCAC quarterfinals

No. 5 Williams at No. 4 Tufts, Saturday

With a total of 12 ECAC East, ECAC Northeast, NESCAC and MASCAC quarterfinal games on tap Saturday, there’s no shortage of compelling match-ups.

But a tip of the cap to Tufts, which finished dead last among the league’s 10 teams a year ago and now is hosting a playoff game for the first time in program history after its best-ever league finish.

The Ephmen come in after closing the regular season on a 1-6-1 stretch. However, the last loss was a 3-1 toughie to first-place Amherst that saw them outshoot the Lord Jeffs 43-40.

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Amherst (20-3-1, 17-1-0 NESCAC)

Is anyone playing better than the Lord Jeffs, who got some nice playoff preparation by going on the road last weekend and beating Williams (3-1) and Middlebury (2-1)? Jonathan La Rose saw 72 shots and stopped 70 of them.

2. Norwich (20-2-2, 15-2-1 ECAC East)

In a rematch of their game at Fenway Park last month, the Cadets got all they could handle from Babson Saturday and needed a goal from Shane Gorman with under two minutes to play to salvage the tie.

3. Bowdoin (15-5-3, 12-3-3 NESCAC)

Surging Polar Bears racked up 15 goals in wins at Tufts (9-2) and Conn. College (6-4), and Harry Matheson and Ollie Koo (Greenwich, Conn.) each had three of them.

4. Castleton State (17-6-2, 12-4-2 ECAC East)

A 2-3-2 finish doesn’t exactly send the Spartans into the ECAC East playoffs with a full head of steam. They’ll host seventh-place New England College in the quarterfinals.

5. Plymouth State (15-6-3, 12-3-3 MASCAC)

Jack Astedt made 24 saves in the 2-0 shutout of UMass-Dartmouth on Saturday that clinched first place for the Panthers, who will host either Fitchburg State or Worcester State in the league quarterfinals next Tuesday.

6. Wentworth (18-6-1, 11-2-1 ECAC Northeast)

Fred Gervasi. Shaun Jameson. Mike Paglino. Patrick Rice. Four unanswered goals in the third period of a 5-3 win over Curry on Thursday gave Leopards first place, and reminded us it’s not how you start but how you finish -- both games and seasons.

7. Middlebury (12-9-3, 11-6-1 NESCAC)

Panthers have not allowed more than two goals in their last eight games, a stretch that saw them go 5-1-1 to climb into third place. They host No. 6 Wesleyan in a quarterfinal Saturday.

8. Salem State (14-8-3, 11-4-3 MASCAC)

Vikings didn’t finish first, but do avoid a first-round game thanks to their second-place finish. A semifinal game in Salem against UMass-Dartmouth seems a pretty good bet — and a pretty good test.

9. Babson (9-12-4, 9-5-4 ECAC East)

Since losing to Norwich at Fenway Park on Jan. 13, the third-place Beavers have gone 6-1-4, their lone loss coming against Southern Maine on Feb. 10. Who do they host in the league quarterfinals Saturday? Sixth-seeded Southern Maine.

10. UMass-Dartmouth (15-8-2, 10-6-2 MASCAC)

Corsairs have gone 2-3-1 in February heading into the conference tournament.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.