With the final standings being released on Friday, Feb 27th, the final games on the Icers' schedule were basically pointless. The ESCHL playoffs were more for titles and bragging rights than anything else - even moreso since the lack of a 6th team means that there is no autobid for the conference. Then a final game against Pitt was more of a glorified scrimmage - it's only use is that it was a full-speed, full-contact scrimmage.
(Again, sadly, no personal pics - I was entertaining friends, as well as just enjoying the entire experience as the ESCHL playoffs were officially the final games I'll watch in the Greenberg for a long time.)
What Happened: The Greenberg hosted the 2nd ESCHL playoffs, as all 5 teams played for some late season respect. The opening night game saw fledgling Drexel and Navy play in a quasi-play in game. A quiet and rather boring first period gave way to a bit more exciting 2nd. That's where Drexel would grab the momentum and the lead, and not look back, taking down Navy, 4-1.
Drexel had little time enjoy anything from that victory, as they would face the top seed and host in Penn State. Drexel would come out with some energy and would take the early lead seven minutes into the first period. The Dragons have tasted a win in State College before, so another upset bid was on their minds. But the Icers had not forgotten either, and Tim O'Brien's power play goal with 6:13 not just tied the game up, but opened the flood gates for the rest of the period. Steve Peck would add a second PPG 61 seconds later, and Marek Polidor and Brandon Rubeo would add two more goals in the final two minutes of the period, giving the Icers a commanding 4-1 lead after one. The teams would tack on a goal each in the second period, and Timmy's goal in the 3rd period was the final word in an easy 6-2 victory. In the other semi-final, Delaware and Rhode Island played in a hard-fought game. Delaware would take the early advantage and would withstand a late push by URI, winning 6-3 and setting up a championship game of the ACHA's #2 and #3 ranked teams.
The game was a good back-and-forth battle for control of momentum, with little to show for it on the scoreboard. Freshman Nick Seravalli, getting some playing time thanks to the players overseas and a slew of injuries, would find the net first for the Icers, scoring 7:22 into the period. The Icers would take that lead into the intermission, and Taylor Cera would cushon the lead just 90 seconds into the second period. But the Blue Hens weren't going away. UDel's goalie would continue to make stop after stop, and eventually Delaware would cut into the lead on the power play late in the 2nd period. Any momentum Delaware was hoping to carry into the third period was quickly killed, as Tim O'Brien would strike again, this time just 20 seconds into the period. Marek Polidor would add another late goal, but it was more than enough as the Icers would take the game and the ESCHL tournament, 4-1. Keeping with NHL lore, the team (including acting-coach Bill Downey) refused to touch or lift the championshp trophy, but accepted some various league awards. Kyle Mills won the sportsmanship award; Tim O'Brien was named tournament MVP and 2nd-Team ESCHL team; Luke DeLorenzo and Steve Thurston were named 1st-Team ESCHL.
The Icers would close out the regular season with a lone Friday game at Pitt. It was a game to get some players back into full speed with the team, as DeLo and Zimmel returned from China; for others, it was a chance to rest up one more weekend, as was the case for Brandon Rubeo and captain Frank Berry. A sluggish start allowed Pitt to score first, 5 minutes into the game. But senior defenseman Brent Tranter wouldn't let that last long with a goal just 20 seconds later. The scoring would then stop until early in the second, when Carey Bell put the Icers up 2-1. But Pitt would not go away, scoring a few minutes later to tie the game up at 2-2. Matt Kirstein would continue his breakout season, putting the Icers up once again with 8:30 minutes to play in the second. Kirstein would cap the scoring in the third period, but not before Steve Thurston and Tim O'Brien found the back of the net on their own, beating Pitt 6-2.
What it Means: Again, all of this was moot as the final standings and bracket for the National Championship Tournament were released the Friday of the ESCHL tournament. Here's the full bracket. We play Duquesne this Saturday, and if we win there, we'll face the winner of the URI/Ohio game. The seedings are then reset for the semi's with the top seeded team facing the lowest seeded team remaining.
The wins were nice, but again, they had no major impact. On the plus side, Signet looks to be in top form at the right time - he'll likely see most of the action at the tournament, with Hume probably taking Saturday's game against Duquesne.
With the two players in China and a few injuries, it game the depth players some full speed game-time, which is always useful. Guys like Mike Diethorn, Dave Herel, and Taylor Cera have all played well and are viable plugs into the offense. The question will be who to sit instead. But I guess if you're going to have a roster problem, you'd rather want too much depth than not enough.
What's on the Horizon: I'll start a separate thread for the tournament when it starts. They'll have live streaming video available for those interested. You'll need to sign-up and then pay $9 for the tournament, but I figured it's an option for those really interested. (And yes, I've already bought mine.)
As for the tournament itself, I'm not expecting too many surprises this year as compared to some of the more recent tournaments. Duquesne is decent, but if our boys come to play, it will be a roll. Sadly, same can be said about Penn State Berks and their daunting challenge of having to face #1 Lindenwood. Berks gets in by being the regular season champion of their league. Berks might put up a fight, but Lindenwood is just too damn good right now. The only upsets I can see happening are #11 West Chester of #6 Iowa State, and # 10 Ohio over #7 URI (8/9 matchup is a toss-up, but I rarely consider that an "upset"). The only hope is that Ohio and URI continue to hate each other and beat the crap out of each other enough to where our second round game against the winner is a lot easier. Still, you never want to face a regular, and hated, foe that early in the tournament.
On a somber note, we send our thoughts and best wishes to Steve Thurston and his family. Steve was not around for the ESCHL playoffs, as he was home with his family to watch over his father's struggle with cancer. Sadly, William Thurston would pass during the weekend. While Steve returned to the team to play against Pitt and in the tournament, we can only hope for the best in what is surely a hard time.