Championship Weekend!!!

NSN will be webcasting both semifinal games on Saturday and the final on Sunday at this link. All three games will be played at Orr Rink in Amherst, MA, home ice for the highest surviving seed, no. 2 Amherst. Here is a link to the NESCAC release on championship weekend, which spends a disproportionate amount of space on Amherst.

Semifinals (Saturday):

no. 4 Williams v. no. 3 Conn College: 1 pm
no. 8 Tufts v. no. 2 Amherst: 4 pm

Finals (Sunday):

winner of Williams v Conn College game v winner of Tufts v. Amherst game: 2 pm

We are down to a surprising final four–Amherst, Conn College, Tufts, and Williams–with the 16th NESCAC champion to be crowned Sunday afternoon at Orr Rink in Amherst, MA. There are two frequent final four participants (Amherst and Williams) and two newbies (Conn College and Tufts). Of the four finalists, Amherst and Conn College closed out the season strong while Williams did a slow fade and Tufts struggled. In terms of history, of the four contenders, only Amherst is a previous NESCAC champion (2009 and 2012) while Williams has appeared in the championship game on two occasions (2011 and 2013), falling to Bowdoin on both occasions. As new participants in the final four, Conn College and Tufts will both be painting on a blank canvas.

Missing from the final four are three teams that, among them, have won 87% of the league’s prior 15 championships, with Middlebury having won 8 (2000-02; 2004-07; 2010), Bowdoin 3 (2011, 2012, and 2013), and Trinity 2 (2003 and 2008). So we will either see Amherst moving into a tie with Bowdoin for second place in terms of NESCAC crowns won or we will crown a new champion and expand the number of schools with NESCAC championships to five. As we know from last weekend’s results, featuring the no. 8 team (Tufts) upsetting the no, 1 team (Trinity), anything is possible with the one-and-done play-off format. Still, Amherst would appear to be the favorite to win it all heading into the weekend, with the caveat that there are signs of parity and balance as Amherst, Williams, and Conn College each split their season series with each other (Tufts is the outlier, losing all six games to the other three contenders).

Here is how we rate the four teams based on the probability of each team emerging as the NESCAC champion on Sunday:

1. Amherst: Of the surviving four teams, Amherst has the strongest offense (3.72 GPG) and the strongest defense (2.22 GPG). It has the best PP (28.3%) and the best PK (81.7%) of the remaining teams and the goalie with the best save percentage in the league in Danny Vitale ’15 (.942) and the league’s no. 1 goal scorer and no. 2 point scorer in freshman David White (16-10-26). Perhaps even more telling, it is the strongest performer of the surviving teams by a wide margin, having lost only twice in 2015.

As to its record against the other three contenders, there are signs of vulnerability: Amherst split the season series with Conn College (a 6-4 loss at Amherst on Jan. 16 and a 4-0 win in New London on Feb. 13) and Williams (a 4-3 loss in Williamstown on Dec. 6 and a 5-3 Amherst win in Amherst on Feb. 21) and swept Tufts in two close games (a 3-2 win at Amherst on Jan. 17 and a 3-1 win at Tufts on Feb. 14). The Jan. 16 6-4 loss to Conn College was when Amherst goalie Dave Cunningham ’16 went down with a season-ending injury late in the game to be replaced by Vitale, who was shaky in his debut, allowing goals on the only two shots he faced and taking the loss. Vitale has been near perfect ever since, losing only the Bowdoin game on Feb. 7 by a score of 4-3. Amherst’s achilles heel  is that it is often territorially dominated by large margins as it was in both Bowdoin games (a 4-2 win and a 4-3 loss), Amherst’s  3-2 win over Trinity, and the LJs’ 5-3 win over Williams, banking on Vitale and an opportunistic offense to bail them out and thatit sometimes get a late start (Mifflebury dominated the .

Amherst’s preview of play-off weekend.

2. Conn College: The Camels are the biggest surprise of this season, showing great improvement as they went from seventh place to third place in a single year and won more games than any other Camels’ hockey team  (14), and could easily continue to surprise this weekend. Conn College finished the season on a roll, winning 8 of its last 10 games and ousting a feisty Hamilton club in the quarterfinals by a score of 4-3 in overtime. Conn College’s strength is its defense, allowing only 2.44 GPG, with only no. 1 Trinity and no. 2 Amherst producing better defensive numbers. The Camels are back stopped by junior Tom Conlin, who emerged as one of the league’s top goalies this season, being named to the all-NESCAC second team and finishing third in the league in save percentage with a solid number of .922. Conn College also has a fine trio of scorers in Northfield Mount Hermon teammates Tim DiPretoro ’16 (6-13-19 for sixth in the league), J.C. Cangelosi ’15 (8-9-17 tied for ninth in the league), and Joe Birmingham ’16 (6-5-11).

Conn College has a solid record against the other three play-off contenders, splitting the season series versus Amherst (a 6-4 win on Jan. 16 in Amherst and a 4-0 loss in New London on Feb. 13) and Williams (a 2-1 loss in Williamstown on Nov. 21 and a 3-1 win in New London on Jan. 30) and sweeping Tufts (a 2-1 win in Malden on Feb. 6 and a 4-1 win in New London on Feb. 7). With Conn College’s strong close to the season and its momentum, it would not be surprising to see the Camels continue their outstanding season for at least another day by ousting Williams in the semifinals.

Conn College’s preview of play-off weekend.

3. Williams College: The Ephs stumbled to the finish line, winning only once on the last five games of the regular season and barely escaping Bowdoin in the quarterfinals in OT (4-3) even though the Polar Bears started a wobbly freshman in net in place of Bowdoin’s injured play-off ace Max Fenkell. Of great concern for Williams has been the subpar performance of its defense and goalie Sean Dougherty. The Williams PK was eighth in the league with a kill rate of just 76.6%. Dougherty, who spent most of his NESCAC career at or near the top of most goalie statistical categories, slumped in his final season to eighth in the league in save percentage at .908.  The Williams’ defense, which typically is at nor near the top of the league, finished sixth this year, allowing 2.61 GPG. On the bright side, the Williams’ offense was strong and diverse, producing 3.06 GPG (fourth in the league), with a nice  distribution of scoring among several top-tier forwards (Craig Kitto ’15, David Italiano ’18, Tyler Young ’17, and C.J. Shugart ’18).

There is room for optimism for Williams fans as the Ephs compiled a solid record against the other three contenders during the regular season, with a sweep of Tufts (a 9-0 win in Williamstown on Nov. 22 and a 4-2 win in Malden on Jan. 31) and splits with both Amherst (a 4-3 win in Williamstown on Dec. 6 and a 5-3 loss in Amherst on Feb. 21)  and Conn College (a 2-1 win for Williams in Williamstown on Nov 21 and a 3-1 loss in New London on Jan. 30). The Ephs could easily pull things together, as they eventually did in OT versus Bowdoin in the quarterfinals, and, with a good game from Dougherty, oust the Camels to reach the finals for the third time in five years.

Williams’ preview of play-off weekend.

4. Tufts: The temptation is strong to place Tufts ahead of Williams in the predictions based on its stunning 2-1 upset of Trinity in the quarterfinals but a close examination of the Jumbos’ record shows a weak finish to the regular season (winning only twice in the last 8 games) and that it was swept by each of the three other contenders during the regular season (a 9-0 loss to Williams in Williamstown on Nov. 22 and a 4-2 loss in Malden on Jan. 31; a 3-2 loss to Amherst in Amherst on Jan. 17 and a 3-1 loss to the LJs in Malden on Feb. 14; a 2-1 loss to Conn College in Malden on Feb. 6 and a 4-1 loss to the Camels in new London on Feb. 7).

Tufts finished ninth in the league in offense (2.06 GPG) and its defense was almost as unimpressive, finishing in eighth place (3.5 GPG). Both its power play and its penalty kill were next to last in the league at an 11.9% success rate and a 75% kill rate. On the bright side, goalie Mason Pulde ’17 has good save percentage numbers at .914 for fourth in the league and was brilliant against Trinity last weekend and rookie Brian Brown was one of five players tied for ninth in the league in scoring with a solid stat line of 10-7-17.

All-in-all, the numbers suggest that the Jumbos should plummet back to earth in the semifinals versus Amherst and exit the post season but stranger things have happened when the game is actually played as we were reminded last weekend.

Here’s a link to the Tufts’ perspective on the game.

Here’s a link to video of the two Tufts’ goals against Trinity and an interview with HC Brian Murphy.

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