March 14, 2009

Courtesy of Amherst

AMHERST, MA - The fourth-ranked Amherst College men's ice hockey team took on sixth-ranked Hobart College Saturday evening in the National Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 NCAA Division III Championship at Orr Rink. The Lord Jeffs suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in overtime, ending their record-breaking season at 22-5-1.

Amherst set a program record for wins in a season--besting the previous record of 19--and played host in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. The Jeffs' win in the opening round marked their first NCAA Tournament victory, while their win over Middlebury in the NESCAC Championship finals earned them their first conference title. The Class of 2009 finishes with 62 wins in four years, which is tied for the most among any graduating class in the program's history.

After getting off to a 4-3-1 start the Jeffs won 18 of their next 19 games, a span that included a 14-game winning streak. Amherst scored at least three goals in each of its wins, scoring at least four goals on 15 occasions. During their impressive run, the Jeffs boasted the nation's best defense and one of the best defenseman in Division III, and had two of the country's top goaltenders splitting time in net.

Amherst earned a spot in this evening's quarterfinal with a 4-1 win over Babson mid-week, while the Statesmen defeated Nichols 3-0 at home in their opening round game. Amherst and Hobart have met just three times since 1999, with the Statesmen holding a 2-1-0 series advantage.

The first 10 minutes of game play came and went without a single penalty called and neither team putting together a significant scoring chance. With both teams seeing an unfamiliar foe this late in NCAA Tournament play, both the Jeffs and Statesmen seemed to be going through a feeling-out period.

With 8:23 to play in the first period, Hobart's Christopher Bower was whistled for the first penalty of the night. His boarding penalty in front of the benches gave Amherst an early chance to go on the power play. The Hobart penalty kill unit looked extremely strong, as the Lord Jeffs failed to get more than one shot on frame.

Minutes later, Amherst senior defender Shane Lennox (N. Vancouver, BC) was sent to the box for cross-checking. On the ensuing power play, Bower put home a short-range snap-shot by Amherst goaltender Cole Anderson (Sylvan Lake, Alberta). Anderson got a glove on the shot, but the puck popped up and over him for the game's opening score. Gregory Alberti and Daniel Organ grabbed the assists on the Bower score.

With less than a minute to play in the first period, Amherst's best scoring chance of the frame came on the power play. Senior defender Rylan Burns (Jasper, Alberta) found real estate at the blue line and put a low slap shot toward Hobart netminder Keith Longo. The puck was deflected by junior Teddy Vickers (Chilliwack, BC) in the slot, setting up sophomore Luke Arnold (Lincoln, MA) for a shot from just off the crease. Arnold failed to put his stick on the puck, and force Longo into a save.

Amherst started the second period on the penalty kill after sophomore forward Jason DeGiovanni (Brooklyn, NY) was called for a misconduct foul as the teams left the ice. Amherst killed off the Hobart extra-man opportunity, only to be sentenced to a 5-on-3 session 20 seconds later.

Early in the 5-on-3, Hobart hit the pipe before Amherst senior captain Jeff Landers (Hanover, MA) cleared the rebound out of danger. With just seconds remaining on the kill, Hobart's Aleksey Koval rattled Anderson's crossbar.

Amherst's amazing season included the program's first NESCAC title.

Less than two minutes after Amherst's pair exited the penalty box, senior forward Keith Nelson (Manalapan, NJ) beat Longo on a break down the right side, putting a shot between the Statesmen netminder's legs. Sophomore Matt Rhone (Dedham, MA) and Landers picked up the assists on the equalizer.

With 13:20 to play in the first, Longo was whistled for goaltender interference, putting Amherst back on the power play with a chance to take the lead. The Lord Jeffs were able to kill off the penalty, before having to fight through another portion of a 5-on-3 later in the period. The Jeffs responded like everyone would expect the nation's top penalty kill unit to, and kept the score knotted at 1-1.

At the 2:07 mark of the second period, with Amherst still showing 51 seconds on a power play opportunity, Hobart was called for tripping to give the Jeffs a shot on the 5-on-3. The Statesmen played out the first penalty with only a few chances on net for Amherst. The Lord Jeffs were unable to sneak a second score by Longo, and the period ended with the two teams tied at 1-1.

At the end of two periods, each team had been called for five penalties, with four of Amherst's five resulting in a pair of 5-on-3s for the Statesmen. Just 1:54 into the third, Vickers was sent to the sin bin for cross-checking. With 25 seconds remaining on the Vickers penalty, Landers was sent to the box for cross-checking, giving Hobart another 5-on-3. Anderson and the Amherst defense stepped up once again, killing off the Statesmen power play without incident.

Neither team put a significant scoring chance on frame over the next half of the third period, and with 8:00 to play in regulation, both benches were still looking for someone to break the tie. Amherst was given a golden opportunity with just 5:21 remaining when Hobart was called for a penalty. Less than halfway through the power play, Landers was called for slashing while trying to break up a short-handed breakaway from the Statesmen.

After Hobart transitioned from a 4-on-4 to its power play, Anderson made a nice save on a centering attempt, before grabbing the loose puck to force a face-off. The Jeffs killed off the penalty, as the game went back to 5-on-5 hockey with just two minutes remaining in the third.

Neither team put one past the opposition's goaltender in the third period, and the final horn of regulation sent the game into overtime.

Early in the first overtime session, Anderson made an amazing save on a bid from Blake Bonham. Amherst responded with a shot from close range by senior Joel Covelli (Carlisle, Ontario) that Longo denied.

With 12:45 to play in the first overtime, a bad bounce caught a Hobart defenseman off guard at the blue line, sending Amherst's Luke Arnold (Lincoln, MA) and Powers in on a 2-on-1. Arnold found Powers on the left side for a shot that Longo saved.

With 8:50 to play in the overtime session, Hobart's Jason Merritt picked up a loose puck in the slot, and snuck a shot under Anderson that trickled into the net for the game-winner. With the goal, Hobart advances to the National Semifinals with a 2-1 result, while the best season in Amherst program history comes to a close at 22-5-1.