For the first time since the vacated NESCAC championship of 2011, the men’s ice hockey team has been crowned NESCAC champions after defeating Williams in a 2-1 battle on Sunday afternoon.
The game began with early back and forth between the two teams, but the puck began to find a home on Williams’ side of the ice, with the NESCAC's goals-against-average leader Sean Dougherty blocking shot after shot from the Polar Bears.
Colin Downey ’14 broke the first period scoring drought during a power play with an untouched laser beam after John McGinnis ’15 and Ollie Koo ’14 feigned a shot on Dougherty’s left but instead passed the puck in front of the net, where Downey struck it past the goalie's reach into the opposite corner of the net.
Williams picked up their offensive hustle after the score, but Bowdoin soon began to pressure Dougherty again. As the Williams defenders were watching the last few seconds on the clock go by, Harry Matheson ’14, set up by Koo and Downey, was able to get between several Williams defenders to score with only five seconds left in the period, bringing the score to 2-0.
The Polar Bears ended the first period with twice as many shots as Williams, 18-9. In 78 periods this season, the Polar Bears have only pressured the net more than 18 times in a single period eight separate times.
Goalie Max Fenkell ’15, after having played 60 minutes for the Polar Bears in their 4-2 win over Middlebury on Saturday, was not pressured as much during the start of the second period, with only six shots on goal in the whole period.
According to Head Coach Terry Meagher after the game, the decision to go with Fenkell instead of Steve Messina ’14 was one decided by a committee of coaches and players.
“If we don’t come to a consensus, we just do a straight up vote in the council, and I’ll honor the majority of the athletes,” said Meagher. “We were going to do what we thought would give us our best chance to win it at that particular time, and they elected to come back with Max. It was a collective leadership council decision.”
After the first man-up situation of the second, Fenkell stopped a close one-on-one strike from Williams forward Nick Anderson, who managed to slip by several Bowdoin defenders and shot from just inside the penalty circle.
The Polar Bears had trouble pushing any pucks past Dougherty during the second, who somehow stopped a mid-height strike by Dylan Shamburger ’16 by punching the puck from in front of him with the pad of his glove.
The second half was much more rough than the first, with five penalties from Williams and two from Bowdoin. At one point, a small fight broke up after a huddle of players crowded the Polar Bear's zone and the Ephs' Anderson was charged for slashing with his stick during the scuffle. A short while later, Williams forward Eric Rubino extended the Polar Bear's power play by forcefully knocking a Bowdoin defender to the ground from behind after the referee had already blown the whistle.
“We’re a frustrating team to play.” said McGarry after the game. “They couldn’t get the puck out of their zone, and that’s frustrating for any hockey player.”
Despite Williams’ continued rough play, the Bowdoin players managed to mostly maintain their composure.
“The phrase for the weekend was ‘quiet confidence,’” McGarry added. “We didn’t want to be mouthy, we didn’t want to be riding too high or too low—we just wanted to stay even-keeled.”
The Eph’s defense somehow managed to stem the Polar Bear onslaught in the second, killing five penalties during the second period. Part of this was Dougherty's constant diligence in the goal, stopping 12 of 12 pucks in front of the net. The Ephs only pressured Fenkell six times.
Desperate for a score, Williams brought the Bowdoin lead down to one just a minute into the third period after a defensive miscue left Mark Lyons in front of the net, nearly undefended. He quickly passed to Evan Dugdale, who smacked the shot in past Fenkell's left side for his first allowed goal of the day.
Now with only one goal separating the lead, Williams focused fire on Fenkell in the goal, and he managed to deflect two key shots during the Eph's offensive push. At one point leaping in the air to stop a high puck, he deflected shot after shot to keep Williams from tying the match.
Despite a flurry of action late in the game, Bowdoin hung onto the score for dear life as the buzzer rung out before Williams was able to score.
"I thought we played as well as we have all year with 4 minutes left with a lead," said Meagher. "I think that was the highlight of the game."
Mid-way through the third period, the crowd at Sidney Watson Arena received news that the women had also won the NESCAC Championship, bringing home their first NESCAC trophy since 2004. The men's win marked the first time in Bowdoin history that the men and women were NESCAC champions in the same year.
The 2013 NCAA D-III tournament bracket was announced at 10 p.m. on March 3. The men's team will be playing at Watson Arena on Wednesday against the Universtiy of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
If the team moves on to the second round of the NCAA tournament, they will playing over the College's winter break. According to McGarry, the team most likely won't be heavily affected by the lack of a student crowd during any games that occur over Bowdoin's spring break.
"It really doesn't matter for us," McGarry said. "We play with fans and we play without fans. We've really worked on creating our own energy and creating our own buzz. We still have the town here, and the town's been great all year long."
On the win, Meagher said he felt that the "energy from the crowd was a huge factor." During the last few minutes, the entire arena shook as students, alumns, and local Brunswick residents cheered on the Polar Bears.
Update March 3, 10:45 p.m.: Article changed to reflect the announcement of the men's first round opponent in the NCAA tournament, UMass.-Dartmouth.