PLYMOUTH, N.H. - For the first time in four years, the Plymouth State College ice hockey team has been invited to the Eastern College Athletic Conference North-Central-South play-off tournament.
The Panthers, led by second-year head coach Sal Leale, are seeded eighth in the tournament, and will travel to Fitchburg, Mass., this Wednesday (Mar. 4) for a 7:30 p.m. meeting against top-seeded and ECAC North regular season champion Fitchburg State.
PSC won seven of its last nine regular season games to grab the final play-off spot. The Panthers, 11-13-1 overall, placed fourth in the ECAC North with a 9-6-1 mark, finishing behind Fitchburg State, Johnson & Wales (which is ineligible for the play-offs as a first-year varsity program), and Worcester State, which received the seventh seed.
"We had as one of our primary goals to make it to the play-offs," said Leale, "and we've accomplished that. We would've liked to win a few more games along the way, but we're very young and we lost some games early in the season because of our youth."
The other first round games are #7 Worcester State at #2 St. Michael's, #6 New Hampshire College at #3 Wentworth, and #5 Bentley at #4 UMass Dartmouth. The semi-finals are scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 7, with the championship game next Wednesday, Mar. 11, and the site of the highest remaining seed.
Under the formula the ECAC uses to determine the play-off participants, losses to teams outside the North-Central-South alignment are not counted against a team. Thus, Plymouth State's losses to Cortland State (twice) and Fairfield were not considered, reflecting PSC's overall record as 11-10-1 instead of the 11-13-1.
"Obviously, Fitchburg State is a very good team," said Leale. "We're playing with confidence now and we're going to show up and give it everything we've got and see what happens.
PSC and Fitchburg State played to a 5-5 overtime tie in the first meeting on Nov. 15th at Waterville Valley, but the Falcons handed the Panthers an 8-1 setback in Fitchburg in Jan. 13th.
The Panthers are led by sophomores Kevin Creighton (Falmouth, MA), Eric Ryan (No. Chelmsford, MA) and Rich Vega (New Milford, CT), who all average more than a point a game. PSC also has one of the top freshmen in the league in Erik Nadeau (Waterville, ME), and the blue-line unit is led by junior captain Steve Colonna (Flmouth, MA).
This will be PSC's sixth appearance in the ECAC play-offs, and the first under Coach Leale. The Panthers participated in 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1994 under former coach Dave Webster.
Oddly, the Panthers finished 12-9-1 overall and placed second in the ECAC North last season with an 8-3-1 mark, but did not receive a play-off invitation. This season, the record was not as good, but the result was better.
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