2017 NESCAC Men's Hockey Championship Preview

2017 NESCAC Men's Hockey Championship Preview

Hamilton College hosts the 2017 NESCAC Men's Hockey Championship at Russell Sage Rink on Saturday, March 4 and Sunday, March 5.

NESCAC preview

The weekend kicks off Saturday with a semifinal between Trinity College and Williams College at 1 p.m. followed by Wesleyan University at Hamilton at 4:15. The semifinal winners meet in the final on Sunday at 2 p.m. The NESCAC champion earns an automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Division III Men's Hockey Championship.

The Continentals went 1-0-1 against Wesleyan this season with a 2-0 win in Middletown, Conn., back on Dec. 3 and a 3-3 tie at home on Jan. 28. Hamilton came all the way back from a three-goal deficit in the most recent meeting.

Trinity and Williams split their two games this season as each team won on its home ice. The Bantams blanked the Ephs 3-0 in Hartford on Jan. 6 but Williams got its revenge in Williamstown, Mass., with a 3-1 victory on Feb. 3.

The Continentals (18-3-4 overall) are the top seed for the championship for the second time in 18 years (also in 2011). Hamilton finished in first place in the NESCAC standings with a conference record of 11-3-4. The Continentals have won six straight games and are ranked eighth in both the D3hockey.com and USCHO.com Division III Top 15 polls this week. Hamilton is also fifth in the East Region according to the NCAA. The Continentals are second in Division III in scoring defense with 1.60 goals allowed per game and second in penalty kill at 90.1 percent (82-for-91). Hamilton has not allowed more than three goals in any game this season. The Continentals are making their 15th appearance in the championship but have never played in the final.

Goaltender and NESCAC Player of the Year Evan Buitenhuis '18 leads Hamilton. Buitenhuis leads the division with a .948 save percentage and is second with a 1.52 goals against average. On offense, Brandon Willett '18 and Jason Brochu '19 are tied for the team lead with 12 goals, although Willett is injured and out for this weekend. Jon Carkeek '17, who is an all-conference second team selection on defense, leads the way with 17 assists. Neil Conway '18 has a team-high 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists).

Wesleyan (13-8-4) is the seventh seed for the championship and finished in seventh place in the conference standings with a record of 7-7-4. The Cardinals reached the semifinals with a 5-4 win at Colby College in last Saturday's quarters, but they are 3-4-2 in their last nine games. Before this season, Wesleyan had just one win in eight championship appearances. The Cardinals average just under eight penalty minutes per game and lead Division III in penalty kill at 93.7 percent (74-for-79).

James Kline, Walker Harris and Dylan Holze are tied for the Wesleyan team lead with nine goals. Harris is the conference's rookie of the year. Kline also leads the team with 16 assists and 25 points. Dawson Sprigings (2.55 gaa, .906 save pct.) has started 16 games in goal, including the quarterfinal win at Colby. George Blinick (1.66 gaa, .944 save pct., 3 shutouts), who has made nine starts, is a more than capable backup for Sprigings.

Trinity (16-6-3) is the third seed for the championship and finished in third place in the conference standings with a record of 11-5-2. The Bantams reached the semifinals and extended their win streak to six games with a 4-1 victory against Tufts University in last Saturday's quarters. Trinity's last loss was against Williams. The Bantams are ranked 11th in both Division III polls and seventh in the East Region by the NCAA. The defending conference champions are searching for their fourth title in 17 appearances. The Bantams also won the tournament in 2003 and 2008. Trinity is fourth in Division III in scoring defense with 1.84 goals allowed per game and sixth in penalty kill at 88.1 percent (96-for-109). They lead the NESCAC with 4.24 goals per game.

The Bantams feature a pair of 100-point career scorers in Sean Orlando and Ryan Cole. Orlando is tied for the team lead with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) with Tyler Whitney, who has a conference-high 19 assists. Anthony Sabitsky tops the NESCAC with 16 goals, and he and Cole have 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) apiece. Cole is tied for the division lead with five game-winning goals and Sabitsky has four. Goaltender Alex Morin is one of the best in Division III with his 1.79 goals against average, .929 save percentage and three shutouts in 23 starts.

Williams (14-8-3) is the fourth seed for the championship and finished in fourth place in the conference standings with a record of 10-5-3. The Ephs reached the semifinals with a 2-1 win against rival Amherst College in last Saturday's quarters. Williams has appeared in all 18 championships but has never won a title. The Ephs played in the final in 2000, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Williams is receiving votes in both Division III polls and the Ephs are ranked eighth in the East Region by the NCAA. Williams has the best power play out of the four semifinalists at nearly 25 percent (24-for-98).

The Ephs' David Italiano is tied for the conference lead with 19 assists and 31 points. Roberto Cellini has a team-high 14 goals and is second to Italiano with 26 points. Tyler Young (7 goals, 13 assists) has 20 points this season. Michael Pinios made 22 saves in the Amherst win. Pinios owns a 2.64 goals against average and .888 save percentage in 19 starts this season.