MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – The Wesleyan University men's ice hockey team will be competing for a spot in its first-ever NESCAC Championship on Saturday afternoon, as the fifth-seeded Cardinals will take the ice against sixth-seeded Colby in semifinal-round action at 1 p.m. from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
The Cardinals (13-7-5, 8-6-4 NESCAC), who are competing in their 10th NESCAC postseason, have reached the semifinals in back-to-back seasons, and for the third time in school history. Wesleyan went 1-0-1 against the Mules (13-10-2, 9-7-2 NESCAC) during the regular season, including handing Colby a 5-1 loss on Jan. 13.
Colby unleashed a furious rally during the second meeting on Feb. 11, as the group overcame a three-goal deficit entering the third with three tallies in the opening four minutes, 29 seconds, during a 3-3 tie.
The Mules hold a 2-1 all-time advantage against the Cardinals in the playoffs, winning in the quarterfinal round in 2000 and 2008. The Cardinals, however, have the last playoff win in the rivalry, outlasting Colby, 5-4, in last year's quarterfinals.
Wesleyan was knocked out of the 2017 playoffs by Hamilton, 5-4, in the semifinals, and the squad extracted some revenge last Saturday, as they posted a 2-1 triumph over the fourth-seeded Continentals (15-7-3, 9-6-3 NESCAC) in Clinton, N.Y.
Sophomore goalie Tim Sestak was outstanding once again in net, turning away 25-of-26 shots, and sophomore forward Tyler Wyatt, who is tied for first in the NESCAC with 16 assists, put the visitors on the board with 1:31 left in the first, redirecting a shot from just beyond the right circle by junior captain Chad Malinowski.
Hamilton found the equalizer at the 3:19 mark of the second on a power-play tally by sophomore defenseman Bennett Morrison, who blasted a wrist shot into the lower right corner of the net.
The game appeared to be heading toward sudden-death overtime, but sophomore forward Walker Harris carried the puck up toward the point, and rifled a shot on goal, which was tipped into the back of the net by junior forward Andy Espinoza with 1:46 showing in the third.
Top-seeded and No. 6-ranked Trinity (18-5-2, 14-3-1 NESCAC), and seventh-seeded Williams (14-10-1, 9-8-1 NESCAC) will cross paths in the other semifinal-round matchup on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in Hartford, Conn. The Bantams defeated Tufts in the opening round, and the Ephs upset Connecticut College.
AT A GLANCE: FIFTH-SEEDED WESLEYAN
- Senior forward Dylan Holze leads the NESCAC with 16 goals and 26 points, and is tied for first with two short-handed goals. He was named a semifinalist for the 18th Joe Concannon award on Feb. 20, which is given annually to the best American-born NCAA Division II/III hockey player in New England.
- Sestak, who garnered NESCAC Player of the Week laurels on Feb. 5, has been a steady force in net, coming up with timely saves all season, as he has an impressive 9-5-5 record. The Darien, Conn. native ranks fourth in the conference in goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.933). On Feb. 3, he earned his first shutout win as a Cardinal, blanking Williams in a 3-0 win. He also stopped all 18 Amherst shots during a 0-0 draw at the Spurrier-Snyder Rink on Jan. 27.
- One of the best qualities of the 2017-18 Cardinals has been their great balance, as eight players currently have 10 or more points, headlined by Holze, Wyatt (25 points), Harris (23), sophomore forward Spencer Fox (16), senior forward Cam McCusker (14), Malinowski (14), senior assistant captain Jordan Jancze (12) and freshman defenseman Matthew Zandi (10).
AT A GLANCE: SIXTH-SEEDED COLBY
- The Mules come in with a high-powered offense, as the unit leads the NESCAC with 3.32 goals per game. Colby has scored five or more goals seven times this year, including during a 5-1 win at Amherst in the quarterfinals on Feb. 24.
- Senior goalie Sean Lawrence (12-7-2) ranks third in the conference in save percentage (.936) and fourth in winning percentage (.619).
- Senior forward Phil Klitirinos is tied for first in the NESCAC with 16 assists, and freshman forward Justin Grillo has compiled 18 points on six goals and 12 assists, as he ranks second in the NESCAC in freshman scoring.
- Senior defenseman Michael Decker has recorded three goals and 14 assists, checking in at No. 2 in the NESCAC in defenseman scoring.
AT A GLANCE: TOP-SEEDED TRINITY
- The Bantams have taken a by-committee approach this year, with eight players tallying between 11 and 21 points. Senior forward Anthony Sabitsky (10 goals, 12 assists) and sophomore defenseman Liam Feeney (four goals, 16 assists) have led the charge, as Feeney is tied for first in the NESCAC in assists and leads all defensemen in points (20).
- Trinity is a complete team, as it is tied for first in the conference in scoring defense, giving up only 1.68 goals per game, and is ranked second in scoring offense with 3.24 goals per game.
- Freshman forward Dylan Healey has come up big in clutch situations with three points in short-handed situations and four game winners, as the Goshen, N.Y. native ranks first and second, respectively, in the categories within the conference.
- Senior goalie Alex Morin (16-5-2) maintains the best winning-percentage mark in the conference (.739) and the second lowest goals-against average (1.75).
AT A GLANCE: SEVENTH-SEEDED WILLIAMS
- Ephs junior forward Roberto Cellini (seven goals, 16 assists) leads the team in points (23) and is tied for first in the NESCAC in assists (16).
- Senior forward C.J. Shugart has compiled the second-most goals in the league (14), and ranks second on the team with 20 points, while senior forward David Italiano has added a nice scoring punch, activating the goal light five times on the power play.
- The Ephs have relied on a pair of goaltenders this season, with junior Michael Pinios (8-5-0) compiling a .615 winning percentage, and senior Stephen Morrissey (6-5-1) leads the team in goals-against average (2.31) and save percentage (.922).