NESCAC QF preview: # 8 Hamilton at # 1 Bowdoin

# 8 Hamilton (4-12-2) faces # 1 Bowdoin (13-3-2) at 1:00 PM on Saturday at the Sidney Watson Arena in Brunswick, ME.

Key stats (NESCAC play only to ensure accurate comparisons):

The Bowdoin  offense was # 1 (76 goals and 4.22 GPG) in the NESCAC while Hamilton’s was # 9 (42 goals and 2.33 GPG) – a mere 34-goal advantage for Bowdoin
The Bowdoin  defense was # 4 (47 goals allowed and 2.61 GPG) in the NESCAC while Hamilton’s defense was # 7 (64 goals allowed and 3.56 GPG) – a 17-goal advantage for Bowdoin

One of Bowdoin’s Achilles heels is its fondness for the penalty box — a high 14.6 PIMs per game for 2nd worst in the league; however, Hamilton does not have much of an advantage in this area, clocking 12.2 PIMs per game for the 4th worst record in the NESCAC

Bowdoin’s combined special teams were dramatically better than Hamilton’s  at 55.6% (# 1 in the NESCAC) versus 39% for Hamilton (dead last in the league), with Bowdoin having a decided edge in the PP (# 2 at 26.9% versus Hamilton’s  # 10 at 11.5%), while the PK numbers were much closer but with Bowdoin having a slight edge at 79.6% (# 6) versus Hamilton’s 74.6% (# 9).

Bowdoin’s defensive stats took a major hit in a bad 10-5 loss to Trinity on Feb 18 in a game where less was at stake for Bowdoin (the game took place after the Polar Bears had already clinched first place in the NESCAC) than was at stake for the Bantams (3rd place versus 5th place and a chance to host a play-off game).

Preview:

Stats generally do not decide games but in this case Bowdoin has a decided advantage over Hamilton in both offense and defense. The wild card is whether Bowdoin’s poor defensive performance on Monday against Trinity was a harbinger of things to come or a one-time aberration that was a function of the game not counting for Bowdoin in terms of its finish in the NESCAC. We tend to think that it was an aberration but nagging doubts remain that there are vulnerabilities in the Bowdoin defense. Go to this link for an article in the Bowdoin Orient that discusses the Trinity game and includes comments from Co-captain Dan Weiniger and Coach Terry Meagher about the game.

Bowdoin starts with a major advantage in that its offense is deep, fast, and talented, with top scorers including: Ollie Koo (17GP: 11-8-19); Colin Downey: 15GP: 5-13-18); John McGinnis (18GP: 7-11-18); Harry Matheson (17GP: 7-10-17); Daniel Weiniger (18GP: 11-4-15); and Rob Toczylowski (18GP: 9-5-14) . For Hamilton, its offensive options are much more limited, with only two top scorers in freshman Marko Brelih (18GP: 6-10-16) and senior Anthony Ruberto (18GP: 7-7-14). Hamilton’s offense was hampered all season long by the fact that the Continentals’ no. 1 scoring threat and all-NESCAC first teamer junior Mike DiMare, after struggling with an injured hand for the first part of the season, then suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Hamilton’s January 15 OOC 3-2 loss to  SUNY-Cortland.

Bowdoin had a strong season, losing only 3 times in 24 games but all 3 losses came in the last 5 weeks of the season. Hamilton struggled all season long and finished the season poorly, winning only once in its last 8 games and sliding from 7th to 8th place and allowing Colby to leap frog it into 7th place. Bowdoin won both regular season games, defeating Hamilton 6-2 in Clinton, NY, on Jan. 5 and defeating the Continentals in Brunswick, ME, on Feb. 2 by a score of 5-2. In the January game at Hamilton, the Continentals were in the game for its first half, holding a 1-0 lead for more than 30 minutes, before Bowdoin exploded for 6 goals and won the game going away. The more recent game in Brunswick was a different affair, with Bowdoin jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the 1st period and controlling play in a very chippy game with lots of PIMs (36 for Hamilton and 24 for Bowdoin but Hamilton had 6 PP opportunities while Bowdoin had only 2 PPs because the Hamilton PIM numbers were inflated by misconducts).

Bowdoin’s smallish senior class  (5 regulars and a back-up goalie) has had a great career in the NESCAC play-offs but has important unfinished business this year in the form of the unique opportunity to win Bowdoin’s first NESCAC championship for the second time (it happened once before on their watch but not officially as the college ordered that the 2011 championship be vacated after unearthing evidence in May of 2011 of a post-season party that involved “hazing”). Those seniors with unfinished business and excellent play-off histories include forwards Daniel Weiniger, Rob Toczylowski, and Rob MacGregor, d-men Tim McGarry and Al Milley, and seldom-used back-up goalie Connor Shannon. In 2012, Bowdoin finished 2nd in the regular season but fell to # 3 Middlebury in the semifinals. In 2011, Bowdoin went the distance from the # 5 spot, defeating # 2 Williams in the finals for the NESCAC championship by a score of 5-2. In 2010 (freshman year for this year’s seniors), Bowdoin finished # 1 in the regular season but fell to # 2 Middlebury by a score of 3-2 on a late goal. So this group of seniors’ NESCAC resumes include a 2010 appearance in the finals, a forfeited championship in 2011, a 2012 appearance in the semifinals, and 2 regular season championships (2010 and 2013).

Hamilton’s senior class consists of 2 forwards (Anthony Ruberto and Andrew Jelinek), 3 d-men (Brian Infante, Andrew White, and the injured Phil DiDonato), and back-up goalie Cam Gibbar. They had an outstanding season as sophomores, finishing # 1 in the regular NESCAC season but then being eliminated by # 8 Wesleyan in the first round. Of more relevance to Saturday’s game is their freshman year (2010) when the Continentals came in to the play-offs at the # 6 spot, defeating # 3 Williams in OT, 3-2, in the first round, only to fall to # 1 Bowdoin in the semifinals by a score of 6-2.

Bowdoin has a pair of good goalies in junior Steve Messina and sophomore transfer Max Fenkell, with Fenkell having the better numbers. Messina has put up good (but not great) numbers this year (.902 (# 8) in save percentage and 2.87 in GAA (# 7)) but also comes with the invaluable experience of having backstopped Bowdoin as a freshman to the 2011 NESCAC championship with three straight outstanding performances.  Because Bowdoin Coach Terry Meagher has stuck to a strict system of rotating goalies in league play, it is likely that Messina will get the start in the Hamilton game since Fenkell got the start in Monday’s loss to Trinity, making the Hamilton game Messina’s turn. Joe Quattrocchi has been Hamilton’s work horse in net, with decent numbers (.898 in save percentage (# 9) and 3.14 in GAA (# 9), especially considering the wave of injuries that Hamilton experienced this year.

In sum, Bowdoin has many advantages on paper as it enters this game, including better numbers at both ends of the ice, a strong record vis-a-vis Hamilton this year and in recent play-off history, and the desire to erase the memory of the forfeited 2011 NESCAC championship. Still, it’s a one-game elimination tournament against a team (Hamilton), with nothing to lose and every reason to give it their all. This game does not get decided until it gets played.

Prediction: Clear advantage to Bowdoin

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