Despite a frustrating and effective defensive effort from UMass Dartmouth (UMDM) on Wednesday in Watson Arena, the men’s ice hockey team broke away in the late second period to evenutally beat the Corsairs 5-2 and will advance to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament this Saturday.
The match began with two one-on-one breakaways by UMDM's front, but they failed to pressure the Polar Bear goalkeeper, Steve Messina '14, who started for Bowdoin for the first time since their win against Hamilton in the NESCAC quarterfinals two weeks earlier. According to head coach Terry Meagher after the game, a commmittee of team leaders and coaches decided to go with Messina even though Max Fenkell '15 had two strong performances in a row against Middlebury and Williams in the NESCAC semifinals and championship rounds.
"It was a really tough decision," Meagher said. "Max had his run and did really well. We have a young man [Messina] who we’ve been splitting with all season, who is as important a member of this team as anybody. We got the home ice bid by some spectacular play on Steven’s part on the road. If you look at his history, you look at what he did on a Wednesday night two or three years ago against Newman that was a spectacular performance, his work ethic, and how he handled himself when Max got the nod for the championship game—all those things entered into [the decision].
Bowdoin soon began working the puck on the Corsairs side, striking out with three well-placed shots in the opening minutes against the UMDM's goalkeeper, Ryan Williams. Williams stopped the early shots seemingly without much effort, including stopping three mid-air strikes in a row with his gloves only. After several minutes of continual Polar Bear aggression, the Corsairs' Nick Marquis hit a Bowdoin player from behind, starting a power play. The Polar Bears, who have had some trouble converting power plays this season, began heavily pressuring the Corsair goalkeeper yet again.
"It always helps to make that first big save—it kind of gets you into the game and boosts your confidence—but the defense did well all night," said Williams. "They had a lot of shots but they let me see most of them and tried to clear their way in front of the net and help with some of the rebounds."
As one of the Bowdoin forwards almost broke away from the last line of Corsair defense, defender Stephen Ginand extended the power play by tripping him with his stick. Jay Livermore '14 responded less than a minute later with his second goal of the season. The Polar Bears converted just before the time on the man-up situation resided. Passes from Ryan Collier '15 and John McGinnis '15 brought Livermore right in front of the net-minder nearly unguarded.
"I try to play hard and bring intensity to the team every game," said Livermore. "I was just trying to get a good, hard shot low on the net to make the goalie stop it."
The Corsairs, who rarely let more than two players cross the Polar Bear blue-line early in the match, recorded their first shots on goal with just five minutes left in the first period, and were held without a significant threat against Messina for the first 15. The Corsairs also tended to bring three or four players in front of the net whenever the Polar Bears entered their side of the ice. The period ended with 19 shots from the Polar Bears compared to just three from UMDM. Despite this, and mostly due to the strong play in front of the net by Williams, Bowdoin was only able to produce one goal by the end of the first.
"Tonight I saw one of the more remarkable performances by an athlete in their goaltender [Williams]," said Meagher. "It was like he was eating an ice cream cone out there on a Sunday afternoon—it was like a walk in the park."
The second period began much like the first, with continued pressure from the Polar Bear offense as they racked up six close shots against the Corsairs before the end of five minutes. However, on a breakaway from Corsair forward Evangelos Stefanou, he struck the puck at Messina, who deflected the shot but lost his balance, and was unable to get on his feet before the rebound was shot back over his head to even the score 1-1.
With the score tied, Bowdoin quickly began working on UMDM's side, and Dylan Shamburger '16 found the back of the net with a searing shot from the goalie's left after a gaggle of players blocked his vision on the right side. Livermore and Tim Coffey '15 assisted the first year in the go-ahead goal.
Shortly after, Rob Macregor '13 was penalized for a high stick, leading to a critical penalty kill attempt for the Polar Bears. Bowdoin, by taking advantage of several rebounds to move the puck on the other side, managed to chew up the penalty time without allowing a single shot on goal. Meagher said he was particularly proud of his team's efforts in blocking shots, and the extra blocking by his players kept Messina from being overly pressured throughout the game.
However, on the Corsairs' first shot on goal after the penalty ended, Casey Skolnik found the back of the net against Messina to even the score 2-2. After the score, Bowdoin's goalkeeper managed to stem the bleeding with two critical saves and prevented the Corsairs from gaining much momentum from the tying goal.
Desperate to get another lead, Bowdoin led a spirited offensive effort after the score, hitting shot after shot against the Corsairs goal without any luck. The effort earned them a penalty against a Corsair player for hooking, leading to the Polar Bears' fourth power play of the night. With time expiring on the penalty and in the period, and from just in front of the Corsairs blue line, Bowdoin's Kyle Lockwood '14 scored with a laser beam that completely caught Williams off guard. The period ended just after Livermore was charged with a penalty, meaning the Polar Bears started the third period ahead by a goal but down by a player.
The third period began with several solid attempts by UMDM to score while ahead a player. Collin Downey '15, after intercepting a pass around the middle of the ice, was able to work the puck to McGinnis, who sent it spiraling past Williams to earn a morale-boosting shorthanded goal.
Almost as soon as the Polar Bears' penalty ended, another began as Rob Toczylowski '13 was charged for boarding a Corsair player. This time around, the Polar Bears hung onto their lead by preventing UMDM from scoring during the play.
After close to ten minutes of constant shot attempts from the Polar Bears, they finally managed to find the back of the net again as defenseman Alexander Milley '13 fired a shot through a crowd of players for his first goal of the season, bringing the score to 5-2. UMDM soon called a timeout to calm their nerves before a power play, but were unable to convert and only managed to pressure Messina once.
The last few minutes of the period were largely uneventful, with the Polar Bears riding the three goal lead into the final buzzer while restricting UMDM from any substantial offensive efforts.
This season Bowdoin averaged 36.3 shots per game, and ended the match on Wednesday with 55. They also held the Corsairs to just 22 shots, whereas opponents have averaged 29.4 shots per game against their net-minders.
"I think they weren't used to such a fast-paced team," said McGinnis. "We were getting a lot of pucks deep, we were beating them on the forecheck, getting them cycled into the corner. They were just packing it in—we had a lot of room on the outside and we were just hitting shots and looking for rebounds."
"We've never won a game based on shots on net," said head coach John Rolli of UMDM. "We knew that the shots on net would probably be like they were. We liked the score though. This has been a never-say-die team all season long, but we came up against a very strong opponent that should likely challenge for a national championship—they're that good."
The offensive shooting spree from Bowdoin saw shots from a myriad of Polar Bears pressure the composed UMDM goalkeeper and by the end of the game only two Bowdoin players on the ice (one of which was the goalie, Messina) did not have a shot attempt against the Corsairs. But of the Polar Bears' top five goal scorers this season, only McGinnis had a goal against UMDM.
"If you're really going to take a good run at [the NCAA's], your primary scorers are going to have to produce," said Meagher. "Some of them are in the tank—it was great to see McGinnis finally break the ice. If you look at our scorers, they've been struggling a bit. Secondary scoring is definitely important and I think that was the difference tonight. If we're going to make a run at this thing, our primary scoring has to find itself."
The game was a heavily penalized outing, with a total of 18 minutes worth of penalties against nine players—five Corsairs and four Polar Bears. Bowdoin's special teams had a large hand in the win, killing all four power plays and scoring a shorthanded goal in one of them.
The Polar Bears now have a three day turnaround before their next game against Utica, which will take place at Utica at 8:30 p.m. According to McGinnis, the team did well this weekend despite not having quality footage or a long turnaround to prepare for UMDM on Wednesday.
"We usually get some good tape going from the other NESCAC teams," he said. "We didn't really get too much [from UMDM]—I don't know if they had some camera problems—we got a couple of looks at a couple of their shorthanded penalty kills and a couple of forechecks off the opening draw, but that was pretty much it... At this point, you can't worry about who you're playing, you just have to play with what you got and give it all you got."
With the win against the Corsairs, Bowdoin's season is now among its best ever. With its 23rd win, the team broke the previous season win record established in the 1985-86 season, when Bowdoin's legendary coach Meagher was in his second season as a head coach.
"If you look at the long and rich tradition in the history of this program, that is a remarkable accomplishment by them," Meagher said.
Update, March 6, 11:27 p.m.: Article was updated to include information about the breaking of the programs' season win record that stood for 27 years.