WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – Andy Espinoza's goal with 0:12.1 left in overtime made the difference as the Wesleyan Cardinals (14-4-2, 12-0-2 NESCAC) topped the Williams Ephs (13-6-1, 9-4-1 NESCAC), 2-1, in an exciting, dramatic game that came down to the very last moments.
When the game was on the line, Wesleyan was able to make two outstanding plays. With just 1:03 remaining in the third period, Wesleyan forward Walker Harris was able to overcome heavy traffic and hit a wrist shot into the top-right corner of the net to tie the game at 1-1 and force overtime. And with just ten seconds left in overtime, a perfect centering pass off a rebound set up forward Andy Espinoza's game-winning goal in a contest that proved to be thrilling from start to finish.
"In the end, it's a play here and a play there, and they just happened to make one more play than we did," remarked Eph head coach Bill Kangas after the heartbreaking loss.
In a similar fashion to last night's match against Trinity, the Ephs were able to finish the first period with a lead despite being outshot by a considerable margin. Williams came close to scoring the game's first goal when both freshman forward Nick Altmann and senior forward Marcus Mollica hit the left post. Mollica's attempt was an especially good chance, as Wesleyan goalie Tim Sestak was scrambling back to the net after going behind to make a pass.
But with three minutes to go in the period, Williams got on the board after senior defenseman and captain Keanu Hilaire dragged the puck across the crease and delivered a picture-perfect pass to Altmann, who hit a one-timer just over the reach of Sestak to put the Ephs up 1-0. The Cardinals, despite taking 15 shots to the Ephs' 6, were stymied thanks to an impressive start by senior Michael Pinios, who saved all 15 Wesleyan shot attempts.
Both teams threatened in the second period, but the score stayed put. The closest call of the period came when nine minutes into the period Altmann skated to his left and took a wrist shot that hit the crossbar – his second pipe hit of the day. Williams managed to survive three penalties thanks to a superb effort by both Pinios and the penalty-kill team, which allowed just two power-play shots in the period. Unlike the first period, the shot margin was dead even at 9-9, but the Ephs were unable to take a single shot on goal after Altmann's near miss.
In the third period, Williams had another golden opportunity to extend its lead when junior defenseman Max Fuld dribbled the puck right through a Wesleyan defender's legs. But Fuld's ensuing shot clanged off the right post, marking the fourth time that a Williams shot hit pipe. The Ephs and Cardinals traded blows for most of the period, but both Sestak and Pinios stifled any potential scoring chances until the very end.
Wesleyan was on the verge of their losing their first NESCAC match of the season. But in desperation mode, the Cardinals were able to deliver. After pulling Sestak with under two minutes to play, Wesleyan forward Walker Harris dramatically tied the game in heavy traffic by sneaking a shot to Pinios' left with just 1:03 to go. Both teams took shots in the final minute, but were unable to score, so an already tight game went to overtime.
In overtime, the Ephs had a power play opportunity following a penalty on Wesleyan forward Vincent Lima, but were held to only one shot, which was saved by Sestak. As the clock ticked down, Pinios was able to save a shot to his right by forward Tyler Wyatt with 14 seconds to go, but a centering pass off the rebound to Espinoza came just in time, as Espinoza hammered it in right past the outstretched glove hand of Pinios to seal the game.
The two teams proved throughout that they were evenly matched. Wesleyan took 35 shots to Williams' 34, while neither team was able to convert on any of its power plays. It took a heroic effort by Wesleyan to tie the game and win it in overtime, and the Ephs still played a gritty, physical game. Pinios saved 33 of 35 (94.3%) Wesleyan shot attempts, and Altmann came just a couple of inches short of a hat trick.
Despite the tough loss, Kangas is optimistic that the Ephs will bounce back for next week's doubleheader. "Obviously, this team's been pretty resilient. They tend to find ways to learn from this, and it's hard to learn right now, but I think the guys will be pretty motivated this week, and I think we'll have a good week of practice."
Next Friday and Saturday, the Ephs look to bounce back when they play a home-and-home against Middlebury.