The Middlebury men's hockey will head to Bowdoin for the 2010 NESCAC Championship weekend. Bowdoin will meet Hamilton in the first semifinal on Saturday, March 6th at 1:00, followed by Middlebury vs. Trinity at 4:00 p.m. The winners meet for the NESCAC Championship on Sunday, March 7th at 2:00 p.m. The games will be video webcast live at: http://www.bowdoin.edu/video/athletics-live.shtml.
Tickets for Middlebury fans will go on sale Wednesday, March 3rd from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Kenyon Arena front desk.
The Polar Bears (18-5-1, 14-4-1 NESCAC) beat out four other squads in the marathon for the number one seed in this year's championship. A pair of victories over St. Anselm and New England Col. on the final weekend of the regular season at home extended Bowdoin's winning streak to six and gave it home ice throughout the tournament for the first time since 2007. Even with the advantage of the top seed, there were no guarantees in the quarterfinals for the Polar Bears as they faced Maine rival Colby, a team which had swept the annual home-and-home series between the two back in December. After playing two scoreless periods in front of a packed house, all of the scoring in regulation occurred within 30 seconds during the third period as the two teams completed 60 minutes tied at one. Jordan Lalor ended things at 15:34 of overtime, sealing a 2-1 win and giving Bowdoin its first postseason victory at Watson Arena. The Polar Bears boast the most productive offenses in the conference, as their 4.42 goals per game average is nearly a full goal more than last season's totals. It should come as no surprise then that Bowdoin has been able to tally at least four goals in 10 of its last 13 games, an 11-2-1 stretch. Heading up a balanced Polar Bear attack are juniors Kyle Shearer-Hardy (Montreal, Quebec) and Jeff Fanning (Billerica, Mass.). Shearer-Hardy has a career-best 19 assists and 27 points to lead his teammates in scoring through 22 appearances on the blue line, while Fanning's team-high 14 goals rank among the top five players in the NESCAC overall this season. The duo hope to help their team achieve a few significant milestones this weekend, as a pair of wins would not only give the Polar Bears 20 victories for the first time in over 20 years (1988-89) but also the program's first NESCAC crown in its fourth appearance in the tournament final.
While Bowdoin last reached the semifinals in 2007, its opponent, sixth-seeded Hamilton (15-8-2, 11-7-1 NESCAC) has had to wait just a bit longer for a return trip. The Continentals are back in the semifinals for the first time since 2006 thanks to a 2-1 overtime win of their own, theirs coming at Williams on Saturday - the same team they beat in the 2006 quarterfinals to advance. Hamilton has seen its fair share of extra hockey this year, as Saturday's contest was the seventh overtime affair for the Continentals, now 4-1-2 in overtime games. Like Bowdoin, Hamilton has impressed during the second half of the season, owning a 10-2-1 record since the middle of January. However, one of the Continentals' two losses during that stretch came at the hands of the Polar Bears on Feb. 6 in Brunswick, 6-1. If Hamilton plans to upend Bowdoin and reach the final for the first time ever then its defense will have to shut down the Polar Bears' potent offense - no small feat, especially for a defensive corps that ranks ninth in the NESCAC at 3.48 goals per game. Saturday's first semifinal will be the fourth meeting between these two teams in tournament history, and the Continentals hope that this one is exactly like the previous three. Hamilton managed to send Bowdoin to an early exit in the first round of the conference playoffs, upsetting the host Polar Bears in 2000, 2003 and 2004. Looking to lead the Continentals into Sunday's championship are senior Chris Lorenc (Clifton, N.J.) and junior Joe Buicko (Altamont, N.Y.). Lorenc is atop the Hamilton stat sheet with a team-high 13 goals - six coming on the power play - and 25 points. Limited to 18 games this season, Buicko (10-14-24) is two assists shy of matching the career-best 16 helpers and 26 points he achieved last winter.
Although second-seeded Middlebury (17-4-4, 12-3-4 NESCAC) fell just short of the top spot in the standings, the Panthers finished the conference slate with an impressive six-game winning streak. Just three weeks ago, Middlebury sat in fifth place in the NESCAC and was in danger of going on the road in the first round for the first time ever. The Panthers responded by winning their last five outings and leapt into the second spot, highlighted by a 7-3 victory at Castleton in the season finale. The Panthers continued to roll in the quarterfinals on Saturday against Tufts, recovering from an early 1-0 deficit with five consecutive goals en route to a 6-2 decision. The offense has been clicking for Middlebury at the right time, outscoring opponents by over a 2-to-1 margin with 3-plus goals in 10 of its last 11 games - all victories. While the offense ranks second only to Bowdoin in the NESCAC, the defense has also performed well with an average 2.40 goals allowed per game, third among conference teams. The Panther power play is also of note with a 25-percent conversion rate that is tops among the semifinalists. At the forefront of the Middlebury offense is sophomore Martin Drolet (Lachine, Quebec), Drolet, the 2009 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and an All-NESCAC First Team selection, leads the conference in scoring with 35 points on 14 goals and 21 assists. Freshman Mathieu Dubuc (Blainville, Quebec) joins Drolet among the top 10 in the NESCAC in points with 27 (13-14-27), as he is one of five Panthers to post 10-or-more goals. He also leads all league rookies in scoring.
Standing in the way of Middlebury's quest for an unprecedented eighth conference crown will be an old tournament foe, fifth-seeded Trinity (15-8-2, 11-6-2 NESCAC). The Panthers and the Bantams share nine of the previous 10 NESCAC titles between them and the playoff series is deadlocked at 2-2, as all four previous meetings have occurred in the final. The last time these two met in the postseason they nearly played two games. Trinity won its second NESCAC title in 2008 over Middlebury in double-overtime by a 3-2 score. Although the Bantams and the Panthers didn't finish atop the conference standings, they both had the best record when looking at play against NESCAC teams in league competition with Trinity going 7-1-1 and Middlebury posting a 6-0-3 record. The two foes tied in the lone meeting of the regular season, 2-2 on Jan. 15 in Hartford, extending Trinity head coach and Bowdoin alum Dave Cataruzolo's unbeaten streak against the Panthers to 3-0-1. Backstopping the Bantams has been junior goaltender Wesley Vesprini (Lexington, Mass.). The hero during Trinity's run to the championship in 2008, Vesprini owns a .929 save percentage (3rd NESCAC) and 2.34 goals against average (5th) with a 15-7-2 record and three shutouts. Up front, junior Adam Houli (Howell, N.J.) leads the offense for the second year in a row, tallying a career-high 15 goals along with 10 assists for 25 points. Of Houli's 15 markers, which are tied for second in the NESCAC, seven are special teams goals, five on the power play and two short-handed.
2010 NESCAC MEN'S ICE HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals, Saturday, February 27th
No. 7 Tufts 2 at No. 2 Middlebury 6
No. 5 Trinity 2 at No. 4 Amherst 1 (OT)
No. 8 Colby 1 at No. 1 Bowdoin 2 (OT)
No. 6 Hamilton 2 at No. 3 Williams 1 (OT)
Semifinals, Saturday, March 6th at Bowdoin
No. 6 Hamilton (15-8-2) at No. 1 Bowdoin (18-5-1) - 1:00
No. 5 Trinity (15-8-2) vs. No. 2 Middlebury (17-4-4) - 4:00
Championship, Sunday, March 7th at Bowdoin
Game time - 2:00