There were two schools of thought regarding the bizarre twist of fate that caused Williams to draw Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. The first was that it was terribly unlucky for the Ephs as Amherst would get extremely fired up to play its rival. The second was that it was excellent for Williams because it would be thrilling to crush the Lord Jeffs on home ice and end their season. The second thought proved correct on Saturday, and in addition to the joy of defeating Amherst 2-1, Williams fans recieved a well-played, dramatic game.
The game had three phases. In the first seven or eight minutes Amherst came out flying, and the Ephs were on their heels. As a result of skating the puck up ice adeptly and keeping it in at the points by pinching well, Amherst had the majority of possession and offensive chances. During this phase of play, Amherst got two power plays but never got a great scoring chance.
After killing off the penalities, the more physical Eph team began enacting its game plan. With forward David Carrillo ’00 back from injury and Steve Rettke ’02 inserted into the lineup, the Ephs had four balanced forward lines, all of which could forecheck viciously.
Throughout the remainder of the first period and the second, the Ephs dumped the puck into the Amherst zone, won one-on-one battles down low and along the boards and threw the puck towards the slot to generate quality scoring chances. Due to Williams’ physical dominance, the Jeffs could not clear the slot to prevent Eph forwards from crashing the net and getting rebound scoring opportunities.
Ushering in this new phase in the hockey game was an Eph power play seven minutes into the first period. Eric Demment ’01 recieved the puck at the point and realeased a medium-paced low wrist shot on the Amherst goaltender Nick Rieser, knowing that Steve Owen ’01 was in front of the net. Rieser made the save and the rebound came to the near side of the net where Owen was positioned. Owen poked the puck across the net mouth to the far side of the net where Bobby Moss ’01 slammed the puck home, putting the Ephs up 1-0. Over the rest of the first period, the Ephs had many great scoring chances in the slot, but Rieser stopped all of them.
In the second period, the Ephs remained dominant on the forecheck, but Amherst slowly improved its ability to get the puck through the neutral zone. At the 13:26 mark, Joe Butler ’01 possessed the puck in the neutral zone and chipped it ahead of himself. Moss skated with speed onto the fluttering puck and had a break-away from the blue line onto the goal. As he approached Rieser, Moss deked from the backhand to the forehand and then faked a shot. When Rieser commited, he wristed the puck through the five hole to put Williams on top 2-0.
Only two minutes after Moss’ second goal, Eph goaltender David Haimson ’00 made the decisive play of the game. Amherst had a two-on-one, which became a two-on-zero breakaway. The Amherst player with the puck skated to Haimson’s right and appeared as if he would take the shot. Then, at the last possible second, he dished the puck off to his teammate on Haimson’s left to set up a perfect scoring chance. However, Haimson did a split and made what was most likely his best save of the entire year. That stop allowed the Ephs to take their 2-0 lead into the second intermission.
The flow of play in the third period was vastly different than the previous two. Amherst forced Williams to play fast-paced, run-and-gun hockey.
Amherst’s strategy was to keep its forwards high when Williams had the puck in the offensive zone. Then, when Williams eventually gave up the puck, Amherst tried to jump start the play with quick passes up the ice. This strategy yielded many rushes for Amherst, but it also gave up Williams rushes on the counter attack.
Amherst’s strategy succeed two minutes into the third as Chris Orszulak broke up ice in the transition game, got hit with a perfect pass in the neutral zone and skated the puck across the blue line. Orszulak was joined on the opposite side of the ice by teammate Bob Miele.
When the oncoming Williams defenseman went for Orszulak with the puck, he passed it across the net mouth to Miele, who elevated the puck and brought the score to 2-1.
Amherst maintained its aggressive play throughout the period but the Ephs defense stayed solid. A byproduct of Amherst’s transition game was that Amherst’s neutral zone turnovers gave the Ephs odd-man rushes.
However, in the words of Dan Houck ’02, Reiser “played on his head.” This allowed Amherst to take even greater gambles as the period waned.
In the last five or so minutes, Amherst tried frantically for scoring chances, but the Ephs returned to forechecking and winning one-on-one battles to control the puck. In the end the Ephs held on to win as a result of great defensive play, bolstered by the return of Eric Demment ’01 and Bill Gilchrist ’03.
Two-goal scorer Moss said, “The advantage we had on Saturday came from the fact that the previous week we played Middlebury and Norwich. Those teams made us play more physically and move the puck crisply. Agasinst Amherst we did both those things and when we did give up chances Haimson made all the stops. Those games made us raise our level of play and were still peaking.”
The win advances Williams to the NESCAC Final Four, where it will first play second-seeded Colby on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
If the Ephs win, they will face the winner of Middlebury-Hamilton in the finals. Should the Ephs win both games, they would make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.