NESCAC semifinal preview: # 5 Middlebury at # 1 Bowdoin

# 5 Middlebury (11-5-2) faces # 1 Bowdoin (13-3-2) at 4:00 PM on Saturday at the Sidney J. 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 Middlebury’s was just a shade less productive at # 2 (70 goals and 3.89 GPG), producing a small 6-goal advantage for Bowdoin
The Bowdoin defense was # 4 (47 goals allowed and 2.61 GPG) in the NESCAC while Middlebury’s was just a shade less effective at # 6 (53 goals allowed and 3.89 GPG), resulting in another small 6-goal advantage for Bowdoin

Bowdoin has once again been plagued by its longstanding fondness for the penalty box — a high 14.6 PIMs per game for 2nd worst in the league; as one of the better behaved teams in the league, Middlebury has a distinct advantage in this area, spending only 9.8 PIMs per game for the 4th best record in the NESCAC

Bowdoin’s combined special teams were just a tiny bit better than Middlebury’s at 55.6% (# 2 in the NESCAC) versus 54% for Middlebury (right behind Bowdoin in the # 3 spot), with Middlebury having the best PP in the league but Bowdoin just behind the Panthers (a 29.4% success rate for the # 1 Panthers versus 26.9% for the # 2 Polar Bears), while the PK numbers were slightly better for Middlebury but not that good for either team (a 81.6% kill rate and # 4 in the league for Middlebury and a 79.6% kill rate for Bowdoin (# 6)).

Bowdoin’s defensive stats, especially its special team 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.

Bowdoin has a slight statistical advantage over Middlebury but it is too small to be much of a predictor.

Preview:

In terms of head-to-head records between these teams, Bowdoin took the season series (1-0-1) while Middlebury has dominated Bowdoin in past NESCAC play-off games, winning all 5 contests, including 4 championship games. If you go further back in time, the picture is less clear cut as, before the NESCAC became a playing conference in the 1999-2000 season, Bowdoin and Middlebury both played in the ECAC East where the post-season play-off record was more balanced, with Bowdoin beating Middlebury on the way to post-season championships on at least 2 occasions. As to this season’s record in head-to-head match-ups, the two teams tied 4-4 in the second game of the regular season on Nov. 17, with Middlebury recovering from a 2-goal deficit to tie the game in the 3rd period. The picture was different on Jan. 19 in Middlebury, when Bowdoin took a lead early in the first period and kept the Panthers off the scoreboard, winning 3-0.

This game will feature the two strongest offenses in the league so a shoot out is possible although that rarely happens in the play-off environment. Five of the top six remaining NESCAC scorers will be playing in this game (the league’s top three scorers, Wesleyan’s Keith Buehler and Nick Craven and Colby’s Nick Lanza, play for teams that were eliminated in the quarterfinals). Middlebury’s top scorers are Louis Belisle (18GP: 11-9-20) (# 4 in the league) and Derek Pimentel (16GP: 5-14-19) (# 5). Bowdoin’s biggest guns are Ollie Koo (17GP: 11-8-19) (tied with Pimental for # 5), Colin Downey (15GP: 5-13-18), and John McGinnis (18GP: 7-11-18), who are tied with Trinity’s Jackson Brewer for the 7th spot in scoring. Right behind Belisle and Pimentel in top point getters for Middlebury are 2 of the Panthers’ super frosh, Matt Silcoff (17GP: 9-7-16) and Evan Neugold (18GP: 6-8-14). Not to be in any way out done, Bowdoin’s top scorers also include Harry Matheson (17GP: 7-10-17), Daniel Weiniger (18GP: 11-4-15), and Rob Toczylowski (18GP: 9-5-14). Both teams have many offensive weapons, with Bowdoin having an eye-popping 7 players with more than 20 points on the season (including OOC games) and 12 players with point totals in the double figures.

Bowdoin has been rotating a pair of goalies in junior Steve Messina and sophomore transfer Max Fenkell. Messina started and won the Hamilton game in the quarterfinals, giving up 3 goals in the early going but shutting the door the rest of the way and giving Bowdoin the chance to tie the game and eventually win it. Fenkell has better numbers than Messina (.929 (# 3) versus .902 (# 8) in save percentage and 2.14 (# 4) versus 2.87 (# 7) in GAA) and is undefeated but also lacks Messina’s post-season experience (Messina backstopped Bowdoin as a freshman to the 2011 NESCAC championship and has a post-season record in the NESCAC of 5-1). Because Bowdoin Coach Terry Meagher has stuck to a strict system of rotating goalies in league play and because Fenkell was in net for both Bowdoin regular season games with Middlebury, it is likely that Fenkell will get the start since Messina got the start in last Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Hamilton.

For Middlebury, the likely starter will be sophomore Mike Peters, who came on strong at the close of the season and has started the last 4 games, including Middlebury’s 4-3 win over Amherst in the quarterfinals. With a 2.1 GAA and a .924 SV% in NESCAC regular season play, Peters has the best numbers among the 4 goalies that have seen time in the Middlebury net this season (the other three are sophomore Dan Fullam, junior Nick BonDurant, and freshman Liam Moorfield-Yee).

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. Middlebury closed out the season strongly, winning 6 of its last 8 regular season games after some mid-season struggles, with a 7-1 loss to Plattsburgh in January being the low point, and then going on the road to defeat Amherst, 4-3, in the quarterfinals.

Bowdoin’s senior class (5 regulars and a back-up goalie) has important unfinished business this year in the form of the opportunity to win Bowdoin’s first NESCAC championship for the second time (Bowdoin actually won the championship in 2011 on the ice but not officially as the college vacated the championship). Those seniors include forwards Daniel Weiniger, Rob Toczylowski, and Rob MacGregor, d-men Tim McGarry and Al Milley, and 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. Some two months later, the Bowdoin administration vacated the 2011 championship after unearthing evidence of a post-season party involving “hazing.” 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). It’s a nice resume but one that has an unfinished feel to it because of the 2011 forfeiture.

Middlebury’s group of seniors is motivated by a last chance to reclaim some of Middlebury’s NESCAC magic, which was last on display in their freshmen year in Brunswick, ME, when they defeated Bowdoin 3-2 and danced out of town with Middlebury’s last NESCAC crown. Middlebury’s seniors include co-captains and D-men Chris Steele and Mathieu Castonguay and forwards Chris Brown, Trevor Pollock, and Brett Brazier. In 2010, Middlebury went the distance, defeating # 1 Bowdoin on its home ice in the championship game by a score of 3-2. In 2012, Middlebury made it to the finals where it fell to Amherst by a score of 4-3. In 2011, a play-off Middlebury would like to forget, # 7 Colby bounced the # 2 Panthers from the play-offs in the quarterfinals on their home ice by a score of 2-1. So the Middlebury resume, while not quite as good as Bowdoin’s, is not too bad either, with a 2010 championship, a 2012 appearance in the finals, and a loss in the 2011 quarterfinals.

In sum, Bowdoin has small advantages on paper as it enters this game, including slightly better numbers at both ends of the ice, a good record against Middlebury this year, and the desire to erase the memory of the forfeited 2011 NESCAC championship. Middlebury’s numbers are almost as good as Bowdoin’s and its seniors are motivated by a desire to return to the mountaintop after 2 consecutive subpar seasons (subpar by Middlebury’s high standards) without a NESCAC championship of any sort.

Prediction: Slight edge for Bowdoin

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One Response

  1. Why Bowdoin won’t win the NESCAC championship: dumb penalties followed by stupid penalties followed by untimely penalties.

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