SATURDAY'S STORYLINE: No. 2 (USCHO) / No. 3 (d3hockey)-nationally ranked Norwich opens its quest for its 11th ECAC East Tournament title by hosting Southern Maine at 7 p.m. at Kreitzberg Arena.
The No. 1-seeded Cadets won their 17th straight ECAC East regular season title to earn the top seed for the ECAC East Tournament. Southern Maine comes in as the No. 8 seed and is coming off a 5-3 victory over Castleton in its regular season finale.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A berth in the ECAC East Tournament Semifinals will be on the line Saturday. Norwich will be looking to advance to its sixth straight ECAC East Semifinal appearance, while Southern Maine will be looking to make its first appearance since 2012. In other quarterfinal matchups, No. 2 UMass Boston hosts Skidmore; third-seeded Babson hosts New England College, while No. 4 Castleton takes on No. 5 Univ. of New England. The ECAC East Championship will be held on Saturday, March 7 at the highest-remaining seed. The winner of the ECAC East Tournament will gain an automatic bid into the 11-team NCAA Tournament.
THE SERIES: Tonight marks the 31st all-time meeting between Norwich and Southern Maine. The Cadets hold a commanding 27-3-0 lead in the series, including two wins earlier this season by scores of 5-0 and 5-1. Norwich has eliminated Southern Maine from the playoffs three out of the last four years with two wins in the ECAC East semifinals in 2011 and 2012 and then a win in the quarterfinal round in 2013. Norwich won the first meeting 7-1 in 1988. Southern Maine's last win came in the 2007-08 season opener when they downed the Cadets 8-3.
THE COACHES: Norwich is led by Mike McShane, who is in his 20th year at the helm of the program and has compiled a 430-113-31 record. He is 674-331-68 all-time in 34 seasons between NU, St. Lawrence and Providence. He just recently moved into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time NCAA college hockey men's career coaching victories list, passing Boston College legend Len Ceglarski. McShane also was just named the ECAC East Coach of the Year for a record ninth time.
Southern Maine is led by Ed Harding, who took over the team from long-time Husky head coach Jeff Beaney at midseason and is 5-9-1 over that span.
SCOUTING THE CADETS: Norwich (21-3-1, 17-1-0 ECAC East) is led offensively by sophomore forward William Pelletier (14-21-35) who ranks second in the nation in points per game. Pelletier was named the ECAC East Player of the Year on Thursday, becoming the 13th NU player to win the league's top-player award in the last 17 seasons.
Junior Dean Niezgoda (12-12-24), along with seniors Alec Thieda (2-17-19) and Gerard McEleney (9-10-19) each have posted career highs this season. Thieda was named to the ECAC East All-Conference First Team, while Niezgoda earned Honorable Mention recognition.
Sophomore Tyler Piacentini (8-9-17) rounds out the top-five offensive leaders for the Cadets. Freshmen Alec Brandrup (5-7-12) and Kevin Salvucci (4-8-12) were each named to the ECAC East All-Rookie Team.
In goal, sophomore Ty Reichenbach and freshman Braeden Ostepchuk have split the time. Reichenbach is 11-1-1 with a 1.48 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. He leads all of Division III in goals against average and was named to the ECAC East Second Team on Thursday. Ostepchuk is 9-2-0 with a 1.52 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.
SCOUTING THE HUSKIES: Southern Maine (6-18-1, 3-14-1 ECAC East) is led offensively by senior forward Stephen Gallo (4-6-10) who is the lone Husky in double-digit points this season. Junior Chad O'Brien (5-4-9) and sophomore Todd Bannerman (4-5-9) follow close behind Gallo in the team scoring race. Junior Zach Dymock and freshman Alex Pantalone (4-4-8) round out the top-five offensive leaders for Southern Maine. In goal, freshman Kyle Shapiro has compiled a 4-18-0 record with a 3.46 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. Shapiro was named to the ECAC East All-Conference Rookie Team.
By the Numbers: (national rank)
Norwich: 4.48 (5th)
Southern Maine: 1.40 (73rd)
Norwich: 1.44 (1st)
Southern Maine: 3.44 (54th)
PENALTY MINUTES PER GAME-
Norwich: 9.5 minutes (66th)
Southern Maine: 11.4 minutes (43rd)
Norwich: 23.4 percent (16th)
Southern Maine: 11.4 percent (70th)
Norwich: 88.6 percent (4th)
Southern Maine: 78.4 percent (57th)