Men’s Ice Hockey Takes Conference ChampionshipsBy John Rae and Jim Goodman
With three strong victories this week, the MIT ice hockey team was able to capture the New England College Hockey Association Championship. MIT entered the playoffs as the first seed with a 10-0-0 record in league play this season. The playoff format had the top four teams from each half of the league qualifying for the playoffs. The top seeded team from each bracket would play the lowest seeded team in the other bracket.
The first round of the playoffs took place Tuesday night at the Johnson arena. MIT played a strong Springfield college team. Earlier in the season MIT had defeated Springfield 5-1, but Springfield came into the playoffs with much more intensity then they had shown during the regular season. Springfield dominated the early portion of the game, but MIT was able to escape the early onslaught with some excellent goaltending by John Zehren ’99. About ten minutes into the first period the momentum turned and MIT began to dominate the game. Two goals late in the first period sent MIT into the locker room with a comfortable lead. For the rest of the game MIT was unstoppable. Four goals by John Rae ’99 and an amazing solo effort goal by J.D. McNally ’01 pushed MIT way out in front and they never looked back, advancing to the next round of the playoffs with a 7-1 victory.
The semifinals looked like they were going to be very tough as MIT had to face Franklin Pierce College. Franklin Pierce defeated Bates college 9-2 to advance to the semifinals and they were excited to face MIT. Franklin Pierce was the fifth ranked team in the northeast and only the top four teams were invited to the national tournament. They believed they deserved to go instead of MIT and they were determined to prove it in the playoffs. Franklin Pierce came out flying and jumped on MIT right at the start of the game with an early goal. Franklin Pierce continued to dominate the game for much of the first period, but as always Zehren kept MIT in the game. With time winding down in the first period, the Engineers were able to tie the game on a gritty goal by Mark Cappellari ’01. Cappellari stole the puck behind the Franklin Pierce net and was able to fight his way in front and squeeze the puck by the goalie on his right side.
The second period proved to be MIT’s best period of the game as they opened up the flood gates on Franklin Pierce to put the game out of reach. Less than a minute into the second MIT picked up their second goal of the night on a power play. This goal appeared to frustrate the Franklin Pierce players who then took several more penalties. MIT’s power play was on fire as they scored twice more. With two more even strength goals, MIT walked off at the end of the second period with a 6-1 lead. The Engineers seemed to sit back on the lead in the third period, but was able to advance with a 6-2 victory.
The championship game had MIT facing Worcester Polytechnic Institute in a battle of the engineers. WPI has played MIT extremely tough in the past. The two schools split their last four matches. WPI was backboned by a tremendous goaltender who has had MIT’s number for the past two seasons. For the second straight game, MIT fell behind in the early minutes of the game. A WPI player was able to get open in front of the net and deflect in a pass from the corner to put WPI up 1-0. This time MIT was not able to bounce right back, and they ended the period down by a goal.
The beginning of the second period did not treat MIT well, as a WPI player broke through the MIT defense and scored on a partial break away. Down 2-0 the Engineers did not give up and were able to claw their way back into the game. MIT’s first goal came from Rae on a brilliant pass by Brett McKeone G. Less than two minutes later MIT struck again on the power play. Avishai Geller ’01 was able to walk out of the corner and beat the WPI goalie with a low shot. MIT took a couple of penalties that forced them to play shorthanded several times in the second period, but they were able to hold off the WPI attack and escape the second period with a 2-2 tie.
MIT fell behind again in the third period, as a WPI player was able to sneak a shot between goalie Zehren’s legs. Down 3-2 late in the third period, it looked bad for MIT, but a tremendous individual effort by Geller allowed MIT to tie the game. Geller broke down the right side of the ice and was able to beat two defenders and walk to the front of the net. With three WPI players hooking him, Geller was able to get a shot off. The WPI goalie made the save but was completely out of position for the rebound, which Rae was able to tuck into the empty net. From that point on MIT was on fire. They had several excellent chances late in regulation, but were not able to beat the WPI goalie. With the score tied at 3-3 after regulation the game went into sudden death overtime.
The first opportunity of overtime was for WPI, but Zehren made the save with no trouble. After WPI’s scoring chance MIT attacked with a vengeance. They controlled the play for nine minutes of overtime but were unable to get any great scoring chances until WPI took a penalty. MIT’s best weapon, their power play, was ready to go to work. The first minute of the power play was slow as WPI played strong defense and did not allow MIT any opportunities. MIT was forced to regroup from their own end on a bad bounce on a pass back to the point. Defenseman Jim Goodman G found Rae streaking up the side boards with a quick pass that caught the two WPI forecheckers flat-footed. With Rae’s speed and hands the outcome was all but assured. Rae side-stepped one of the two remaining defenders and found Geller all alone in front of the net. Geller made no mistake and buried it in the back of the net to give MIT the overtime victory and the league championship.
With the win, the team is now off to play for the national championship in Salt Lake City. Their round robin bracket has them facing St. Louis University, University of California, Los Angeles, and the two time defending National Champions Life College. Hopefully they can advance to the semifinals where they could face teams like University of Michigan or Michigan State.