The final weekend for the Icers means a few things. First, play hard (but not stupid) to maintain momentum heading into the tournament. Second, a few line-up changes would be in order to give some players rest, and give some of the injured players the chance to shake off some rust. That means Dominic Morrone and Eric Steinour were back in the lineup, along with Alan Clark, who would be making just his 2nd start in as many seasons.
The third thing is that it's senior weekend. And in keeping with proper fashion here at BSD, I'll give them a proper send-off, haiku style:
In just two seasons
You showed off some awesome skills
A break-out junior
season turned into
captain Matt Kirstein
John Conte, only
thing tougher than your D was
that Jersey accent.
Thank you, Steve Thurston
For giving us your defense
For one more season.
February 26, vs Robert Morris, 6-3 W: Both teams opened the game in the hopes of controlling the action from the start. Although the Colonials came out with some early energy, it would be Taylor Cera who would get the first goal of the game, giving the Icers the 1-0 lead with 6:30 left in the period. It would be much of the same until Ryan Paradis would extend the lead five minutes into the 2nd period. But some lazy play from the Icers let the Colonials cut the lead to 2-1 just a few minutes later. That goal would wake some of the Icers up, as Tim O'Brien (from Chris Cerutti) would respond just 49 seconds later, giving the Icers the 2 goal advantage. Those two would flip roles just 39 seconds later, giving the Icers the 4-1 lead. The Icers would return to sloppy, but the Colonials wouldn't be able to score before the second period came to an end. The third period would start with another Cerutti goal, this one on the powerplay. Penalties would then rule the period, and a Robert Morris powerplay goal halfway through the period would cut the lead to 5-2. The teams would share goals from there (including Cerutti's hat trick goal), giving the Icers the 6-3 win.
February 27, vs Robert Morris, 7-5 W: Another game, another player getting some time to shake off the injury rust - this time, Dan Loucks was returned to the line-up. The first period began rather lethargic - both teams generating opportunities, but not a lot of energy on this final Saturday of the regular season. Halfway through the period, Tim O'Brien would give the Icers the 1-0 lead. That lead would be short-lived, as the Colonials would counter just 38 seconds later. The Icers would regain the lead when Dominic Morrone would shake off the appendectomy rust and put one past the Colonials' goalie. More lazy play in the second period would give the Colonials the chance to tie the game at 2-2. From there, the Icers would pick up their play and start to control the game. Cerutti and O'Brien would work together yet again to give Timmy his second goal of the game, but that 3-2 lead would soon be 3-3, as the Colonials would capitalize on some more sloppy play from Teddy Hume. Nick Seravalli would put the Icers back up on a nice power play goal, but another big rebound given up by Hume led to another Colonial power play goal, making it a 4-4 tie heading into the 3rd period.
Steve Thurston would make it a senior day to remember, giving the Icers the 5-4 lead five minutes into the 3rd period. But tempers would start to pick up, and a train of players to the box or an early trip to the showers would be the theme for the period. RMU would score on one of these penalties, but Timmy O'Brien would get his hat trick goal and retake the lead at 6-5. Seravalli would extend the lead just a few minutes later to the final score of 7-5.
Figured I'd mix it up a little this week...
Overall Standings: Overall - 31-4-1; ESCHL - 19-2-1; ACHA Ranking - 2nd.
Reflections and Ramblings: I'll start with info on the Lady Icers before moving on to the national tournament, since it might this update might get lost otherwise. The Lady Icers faced UMass in the first round of the ECWHL post-season tournament, worked hard, but couldn't hold on, losing 9-4. In the consolation game, they took on UConn and picked up some momentum for the National Tournament with a 4-3 win. Next up is the national tournament (in Blaine, MN), which uses pool play before determining the final four teams. The Lady Icers will begin with a game against RMU(IL) on 3/11, followed by games against URI in the morning on 3/12, then against Liberty that evening. Top two teams from the pools go on to the semis on Saturday.
So, it's finally time for me to stop putting off the National Tournament preview. Visual representations of the tournament brackets can be found here or here (if you enjoy it in .pdf form). Looking at the opening round match-up, you never want to take an opponent lightly in a win-or-go-home tournament. But seriously - they're the Kangaroos of SUNY-Canton. It's just hard to focus on the game sometimes when you're laughing that hard. As long as the Icers don't go into complete suck mode, they should be able to get past the first round with little problem. The second round won't be as easy, which will be a showdown with either Oklahoma or Central Oklahoma. Last weekend, OU handled a streaking Central Oklahoma team fairly easily. While the tournament can change things, I still think OU is the better team and should take down their in-state rival. As for the Icers-Sooners second round match-up, I still like the Icers at this point. Yes, they play sloppy at times, but the Icers are still playing strong and scoring seemingly at will, and Oklahoma isn't as good this season as in previous years. The Icers should be able to make it to the semis.
Looking at some of the other teams, Lindenwood should destroy Rutgers, and then get some challenge from the winner of the Oakland/Minot State game (which that 8/9 match-up should be a good one). Illinois should take down Stony Brook easily, and Iowa State should do the same with Kent State. (As a side note, KSU got in because Slippery Rock pulled out of the tournament due to an injury to their goalie. I guess they decided that, without their top goalie, they would stand no shot whatsoever and turned down their autobid, giving #12 Kent State the bump into the tourney.) That will set up an interesting 4/5 match-up with Illinois vs Iowa State. Really, it looks to be a toss-up to me, and I'll lean towards Iowa State because of their recent play.
The biggest possible upset of the first round could be the 3/14 match-up between Ohio and host Robert Morris. Ohio really struggled at times this half of the season, and if Robert Morris can keep it close, the home crowd could play a huge factor. I'll go ahead and call an upset here, with host Robert Morris taking down #3 Ohio. They will then go on to face Liberty, who should easily take down a slumping Arizona State team. At that point, Liberty should be able to take down RMU(IL), making the semis look like this:
#1 Lindenwood vs. #6 Liberty; #2 Penn State vs. #5 Iowa State
I still think Lindenwood and Penn State are the two best teams in the ACHA this season and will face off for the championship this year. This year, however, Lindenwood doesn't look to be as dominant, and if the Icers play a solid game, the Icers' offense should be able to overpower Lindenwood and take home the first ACHA National Championship since 2003. Some wishful thinking involved? Perhaps, but nothing seems to be a real reach here. Penn State and Lindenwood are the top two seeds for a reason, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them play for the championship this year.