Men’s hockey edges Amherst in NESCAC quarterfinals

In a fierce battle between heated rivals, men’s ice hockey (14–8–3, 10–5–3 in the NESCAC) outlasted No. 5 seed Amherst 2–1 on Saturday afternoon to advance to the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament.

In Lansing Chapman Rink, the men looked to rebound from a 1-0 loss at Amherst a week ago, and they controlled the pace of the game early on. C.J. Shugart ’18 and co-captain Sam Gray ’17 forced quick saves from Amherst goalie Connor Girard before a cross-checking penalty on Amherst’s A.J. Klein 3:47 into the game gave the men a power-play opportunity. Yet the Ephs struggled to produce shots on goal, and the Purple and White blocked three shots to thwart the chance.

Amherst got its first power-play chance at 10:35 of the first, when assistant captain Colby Cretella ’18 was whistled for hooking. The Purple and White’s NESCAC-leading power play, which scores at a 27 percent rate, capitalized a minute later. From the left point, Amherst defenseman Tyler Granara powered a low wrist shot past goalie Michael Pinios ’19 to put the visitors up 1-0.

The first period was characteristically physical for an Amherst-Williams game. Amherst showed grit out of the gate, landing some powerful checks along the boards. Taylor Carmola ’17, David Italiano ’18, Frankie Mork ’17 and co-captain Tyler Young ’17 all connected on hard hits as well, rousing the 1325 fans in attendance. 

With 3:32 left in the period, the action got especially scrappy, when Young and Klein were handed matching two-minute minors for holding. Both players ended up on the ice before referees separated the pair. 

The coincidental penalties resulted in two minutes of 4-on-4 play, during which Roberto Cellini ’19 came up with one of the Ephs’ better chances of the period. After receiving the puck from Mork in the left circle, Cellini fired a powerful wrist shot headed for the far post. Girard made a fine glove save, however, and the frame finished 1-0 Amherst.

Co-captain Sam Gray ’17 had an assist in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Amherst. He has notched 12 this season and a total of 26 in his college career. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.

The Ephs tied the game at 3:53 in the second. Young sent the puck in from the left circle, and Marcus Mollica ’19 put it past Girard for his fourth goal of the year.

Shortly thereafter, Williams nearly scored again. Mollica skated up the right wing on an odd-man rush, and Mork got his stick on Mollica’s centering pass but put the puck just wide. 

The men dominated possession for the rest of the period. After Girard saved a shot from Cretella at 7:02, the rebound bounced dangerously in the Amherst crease. Although Ephs forwards battled to put the puck in, Girard stopped multiple follow-up tries, and the score remained 1-1.

With 1:01 left, the home side scored an improbable goal to take the lead. Young took a shot from the blue line, which Luke Stickel ’17 deflected high into the air. Girard was unable to locate the puck, and it landed in his cage to make the score 2-1 Ephs. The score marked Stickel’s third goal of the year.

“It was definitely a fortunate bounce,” Young said. “I’d never seen the puck go straight up like that, but somehow it came down and went into the net. With such evenly-matched teams, the smallest bounce will decide it.”

With a one-goal lead, the men looked to close out the victory in the third. The game got physical once again with 6:43 left, when Amherst’s Patrick Daly shoved a Williams player to the ice. Daly, who was ejected from the teams’ previous meeting for contact to the head, was sent to the box for roughing. 21 seconds later, Cellini gained possession deep in the Amherst zone, though Girard made an impressive stop to keep the margin at one.

Amherst’s best chance at an equalizer came with 4:18 remaining, when a sneaky wraparound shot by Joey Lupo was kept out by Pinios’ right pad. Roll was then called to the box with 3:54 left, dashing Amherst’s hopes of scoring. The visitors failed to put another shot on goal for the remainder of the game, and the Ephs were clear to the next round. The final shot counts were 28 for Williams and 23 for Amherst. 

Young said the men were unfazed by the first-period deficit. 

“Our experience helped us to stick to our game plan and not worry about the score,” he said. “We never panicked; we knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle, but we were also confident that if we played the way we knew we were capable of, we would come away with a win.”

The Ephs now lead the all-time series 93-39-4. Amherst had previously won all three games in the NESCAC tournament, including the 2014 semifinal and the 2015 final.

“Saturday’s win was a bit of redemption from the final two years ago,” Gray said.

The men will meet third seed Trinity in the semifinals, a battle of two high-powered offenses. Trinity’s NESCAC-leading offense scored 3.61 goals per game in conference play, while Williams was second with 3.17 goals per game. The Ephs have split the series with the Bantams this year, winning 3-1 at home on Feb. 3 and losing the away game 3-0 on Jan. 6.

“The goal from the beginning of this season has been to win it all,” Young said, “but you can’t think too far ahead. Right now we’re focused on Trinity.”

Yesterday, Italiano and Mork were named First Team All-NESCAC, and Cellini was named to the Second Team.

Top seed Hamilton, which plays Wesleyan in the other semifinal, hosts the final four of the tournament. The semifinal games will take place Saturday, and the winners will face off in the final Sunday at 2 p.m.