WILLIAMSTOWN, MA - Co-captain Matt Masucci's overtime goal lifted the #2-seeded Williams College men's hockey team (16-7-3) over the #8-seeded Wesleyan Cardinals (8-11-1) and sent the Ephs to their second NESCAC final in school history.
Forward Mark Lyons '13 also stepped up big for the Ephs, adding the team's other two goals.
The first period was hard fought, as both sides came out playing with intensity and physicality. Williams got the majority of scoring chances in the early going, their best one coming from Brian Malchoff '11 at the ten-minute mark. The senior defenseman skated down the left side of the offensive zone and made a swift cross-ice pass from left to right across the crease, but Wesleyan goaltender Matt Hadge got his pad on the puck to deny the goal.
Following Malchoff's effort, the Ephs got a flurry of scoring chances but they were all denied by Hadge. At the seven-minute mark, the Cardinals put some pressure on Williams goaltender Ryan Purdy '12 by almost scoring off a redirected slapshot from the blue line. Despite these chances, neither side could light the lamp and the first 20 minutes ended in a scoreless tie.
Both offenses picked up their pressure in the second period, and the Ephs jumped on the board first with a power-play goal at the 14-minute mark. The goal was set up nicely by Ben Contini '11, who carried the puck in on the right side and shot it on net. The puck bounced off the goalie's pads and onto the stick of Mark Lyons '13, who tapped it in to give Williams a 1-0 advantage.
Lyons almost scored again at the eight-minute mark when he just missed a cross-ice pass in front of the net from Masucci.
Wesleyan came on strong in the latter half of the period. With five-minutes remaining, Cardinal forward Adam Kaiser skated through a poke check in the offensive zone and dropped the puck back to forward Tommy Hartnett, who buried a wrist shot into the bottom right corner of the net to tie the score at 1-1.
The Cardinals kept up their attack and almost took the lead when defenseman Micah Ehiorobo ripped a slapshot off the pipe with four minutes remaining.
Wesleyan finally found the net with less than two-minutes to go in the second on a power-play goal from forward Tom Salah. Salah controlled the puck behind the net and made a quick wraparound attempt to his left that snuck by Purdy for the goal, giving Wesleyan a 2-1 advantage heading into the final 20 minutes.
The Ephs were not losing for long, as Lyons added his second goal of the afternoon less than two minutes into the final frame. Assisting on the goal was Masucci, who avoided defenders and skated down to the left corner, where he made a cross-ice pass to Lyons on the doorstep to tie the score at 2-2.
Wesleyan got a golden opportunity two minutes later, when Lyons was ejected on a game misconduct for hitting from behind, giving the Cardinals five minutes on the power play. The Williams defense held strong, however, getting a strong forecheck and limiting the Cardinals' scoring chances.
Head Coach Bill Kangas was very pleased with his team's effort on the penalty kill: "I really thought that was when the seniors stepped up. They dug down and said, 'we're going to kill this off.' They were determined to keep them out of the zone…these guys find a way, and it was just another challenge and the seniors really understood that."
Both teams battled to get the game-winner as the clock ran down, but Purdy and Hadge held strong to keep their teams in the game and send it into overtime. Hadge made an amazing 51 saves on 54 shots in 73:28 minutes of play, while Purdy finished with 28 saves on 30 shots in 73:28 minutes.
The Ephs appeared to score just over a minute into overtime, as the home crowd erupted after Cody Skinner's shot seemed to cross the red line. After conferring, however, the referees waved off the goal and play continued.
Malchoff was the hero in the Ephs' overtime win over Wesleyan earlier in the season, and he would be instrumental yet again in the game-winner. Taking the puck up the left boards in the neutral zone, the senior defenseman took on two Cardinal players and found John Wickman '13 on the right side of the net. Wickman controlled the puck and found a streaking Matt Masucci on the left side, who tapped it in to send the Ephs to the NESCAC finals for the second time in program history.
When asked about his heroic goal, Masucci commented, "Brian [Malchoff] passed it up to Wick [John Wickman] and he had a bad angle and I was just screaming to drop it back. When I got it, I just closed my eyes and shot it and it went in."
The Ephs will await the results of this afternoon's game between Bowdoin College (16-7-1) and Colby College (12-10-2), which is set to start at 4 PM. The finals will take place at 2 PM Sunday at Lansing Chapman Rink in Williamstown, MA.