WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- The Williams Ephs (19-5-2, 14-2-2 NESCAC) defeated the Salem State Vikings (22-6-0, 16-2 MASCAC) 7-1 tonight at the Lansing Chapman Rink to advance to the next round of the NCAA Division III tournament. The Ephs were dominant, scoring seven goals from six different goal scorers. Junior George Hunkele had two goals on the night to lead his team to victory.
Nineteen wins in a season is a Williams NCAA Division III school record.
The Ephs, a member of the NESCAC, earned an at large bid after accruing the best regular season conference record (14-2-2) to place themselves in Pool C for the tournament. The Ephs ended their season with an overall record of 18-5-2, falling to the Tufts Jumbos in the first round of the playoffs. This game marks the team's NCAA tournament debut, head coach Bill Kangas getting his first opportunity on the national stage in his 27th year as head of the program. Additionally, Kangas was named the 2016 NESCAC Coach of the Year. Williams comes into this matched ranked 9th according to D3hockey and 10th according to USCHO.com.
Standing on the opposite bench was Vikings's head coach Bill O'Neil. O'Neil, in his 35th year as coach of the program, has led his team to their eighth NCAA tournament appearance. The Vikings' tournament record coming into the match was 6-10-1, their last appearance in 2014. Salem State earned an automatic bid by winning their conference championship (the MASCAC) in a decisive 4-0 victory over Plymouth State, their overall season record coming in at 22-5-0. Salem State came into this match ranked 15th according to both D3hockey and USCHO.com.
In net for the Ephs tonight was freshman Michael Pinios. Pinios came into this match with a .940 save percentage on the season. Pinios was named Co-Rookie of the Year, as well as a member of the All NESCAC Second Team. In the opposite crease was junior Marcus Zelzer, who came into the contest with a .932 save percentage. Zelzer was named MASCAC Player of the Year.
The Ephs got on the board first in the contest, using the final seconds of the first period to their advantage. After winning a faceoff in the lower right circle, George Hunkele gained possession of the puck and fired a wrist shot from a bad angle low in the zone, beating Zelzer over his shoulder. This goal brought the game to 1-0 at 19:36 of the first, and marked Hunkele's eighth goal of the season. Hunkele was assisted on the play by sophomore Colby Cretella (sixth assist).
"Coach always tells us that the last two minutes are big, and the first two minutes are big in a period, so getting one in the last two minutes was huge as far as momentum goes," noted Hunkele on the effect that his first goal had.
After the first period, the Ephs led in shot count 15-5.
"I want to congratulate Williams College and Bill Kangas for their game tonight, I thought they played tremendously," lauded Salem State head coach Bill O'Neil. "Their speed was problematic, we didn't adjust to it well, their transition game was surgical, and they scored timely goals. We were on our heels. We weren't able to catch up to it."
The Ephs continued their momentum into the second period, capitalizing early on to extend their lead to two. At 1:30, sophomore Joe Welch used his speed coming into the zone to beat Viking defenders, ultimately gaining room and converting on a wrap around, bringing the game to 2-0. Welch, with his third of the season, was assisted on the play by Cretella (seventh assist).
"I think what really helped us in the second period to build on our lead was the fact that our three forwards were really engaged and able to keep a tight gap with our defense," noted Kangas. "Our third forward was supporting the puck and pressuring the puck, but we had our other two forwards coming back with speed so we were able to create some transition."
At 3:06, Williams freshman Roberto Cellini was on the receiving end of a hard hit carried out by Vikings's Derek Makimaa. Makimaa received a five minute major and a game misconduct on the play for high sticking with contact to the head. Cellini was injured on the play, left the ice to be evaluated, and a delay of game resulted.
Consequently, the Ephs had a five minute man advantage. At 6:16, the Williams squad was able to convert on the opportunity. Williams's special teams unit came into this match with a 20.8% conversion rate on the power play. Colby Cretella earned his third point of the game, firing one through from the lower right circle, beating Zelzer on the play after receiving a cross pass from junior Frankie Mork, who was stationed at the left point. This marked Cretella's eighth goal of the season. Cretella was assisted by Mork (eighth assist) and freshman Michael Lata (second assist). This goal brought the game to 3-0.
At 15:38, the Ephs extended their lead to 4-0. On a fast paced play in the offensive zone, senior Matt Werner was able to convert on a backhander in the slot, after the puck transferred around the circle from Lata (third assist) to senior captain Zander Masucci (12th assist), and ultimately to Werner. This was Werner's first goal of the season.
The Ephs rounded out the period with one more, bringing the game to 5-0 headed into the locker rooms. At 19:41, in the midst of a hectic offensive burst from the Ephs, sophomore David Italiano (14th assist) was able to deflect a shot fired from senior Greg Johnson (fifth assist) to get the puck behind Zelzer. George Hunkele was ultimately awarded the goal, after his tip propelled the puck to finally cross the goal line. This marked Hunkele's second goal of the game, and ninth goal of the season.
Captain Zander Masucci spoke to how the team retains composure on the bench while garnering a big lead: "It's pretty simple, we just stick to what we do. With everyone on the bench, once we score, we're excited, but then we refocus and get ready for the next shift."
Hunkele followed that up by calling upon the team's personal experience this season: "Coming from behind so many times this season, we know that it's definitely possible to come back, no matter how many goals you're down. Seeing our team do that so many times, it showed us how important it is to stay on the team we face, and to not give them an opportunity to do the same to us as we did to others."
The shot count after two periods was 30-10 in the Ephs's advantage (15-5 on the period alone).
Salem State scored their first goal of the game at 11:19 of the third period. Sophomore Michael Casale, from the left point, was able to get one past Pinios, who was heavily screened on the play. Casale, with his 16th goal of the season, was assisted on the play by senior Andrew Bettencourt (12th assist). This goal brought the score to 5-1.
The Ephs responded shortly thereafter, at 13:12. After stripping the puck from a Viking player in the neutral zone, Williams outnumbered Salem State on an odd man rush into the offensive zone, and junior Luke Stickel (third assist) made a cross pass to sophomore C.J. Shugart who wristed one past Zelzer. This was Shugart's seventh goal of the season, and was also assisted by sophomore Dan Doherty (second assist). This goal brought the game score to 6-1.
Williams sealed the deal at 16:42, bringing the game to its final score of 7-1, as a result of clean puck control around the perimeter. Freshman Keanu Hilaire (second assist) crossed the puck to the left point, Masucci on the receiving end of the pass. Masucci (13th assist) then made a cross pass down low to junior Alex Hagerty (fifth goal) who was in the left slot, and Hagerty finished off the play, beating Zelzer on the blocker side.
The game ended with a final score of 7-1, and shot count rounded out at 38-19 for Williams.
With this victory, the Ephs eliminated Salem State and now continue on to the next round, facing off against SUNY Geneseo next Saturday in Geneseo at 7:00 p.m.
"It's a difficult time in the locker room, when it comes to an end it comes to a screeching halt. I'm really proud of our team, I thought we had a tremendous season," commented Coach O'Neil. "We won a lot of games in different ways, and we have good players with character and leaders on our team. And it didn't show in this game tonight the way we wanted to, but hats off to Williams for making it the way that it went."
Williams and SUNY Geneseo met in late November, just the third game of the season for the Ephs, and SUNY Geneseo shut the Ephs out 3-0.
"It's relieving and it's really exciting for the program to get the win tonight. But that's one heck of a team in Geneseo, they came to this rink early on and beat us," stated Masucci. "We're going to enjoy the next 24 hours and refocus and regather as a team on Monday. But you better believe we want revenge, and we're going to do everything we can to prepare for next weekend."