WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Junior Rory Nickerson (West Chatham, Mass.) scored the game-winning goal a minute, 16 seconds into overtime Tuesday night, lifting Plymouth State University's men's ice hockey team to a 3-2 ECAC Northeast Conference victory over Western New England College in the regular season finale at Olympia Ice Center.
The dramatic victory clinches fourth place in the conference for Plymouth State along with the fourth and final home ice advantage in the first round of the ECAC Northeast play-offs, which begin this Saturday. PSU won its fourth straight game and sixth in the last seven outings, improving to 12-9-2 overall and 9-5-1 in conference play, while WNEC completes its season at 5-16-3 overall and 2-11-2 in the Northeast.
PSU led 1-0 after one period, courtesy of a goal by freshman Chris Cadieux (Nashua, N.H.), assisted by senior Michal Bodnar (Olomouc, Czech Rep.) and junior Paul Feeney (Lowell, Mass.). The Panthers extended the lead to 2-0 in the middle frame, as Bodnar scored from Cadieux and classmate Deni Bojadzic (Gothenburg, Sweden) at 8:39.
The Golden Bears pulled even in the third period, as senior Mike Nutcher (Hamden, Conn.) tallied a power play goal at 13:03 and junior Dave Wright (New York, N.Y.) added the equalizer with just 1:28 remaining in regulation. Senior Michael Szmeiter (Plainville, Conn.) assisted on both goals for WNEC.
The Panthers had a 25-16 advantage in shots over the first two periods, but the Bears outshot PSU 13-6 in the third period. Nickerson scored on PSU's first shot in OT, with assists from classmate Dennis Kane (Westford, Mass.) and senior Max Wernert (Greenwich, Conn.), as Plymouth State finished with a 32-29 shot advantage for the game.
Freshman goaltender Karl Helgesson (Lerum, Sweden), who leads the conference in saves percentage and ranks third in goals against average, made 27 saves to earn the win for PSU. Senior Matt Ruggeri (Billerica, Mass.) recorded 29 saves for the Bears.
The fourth-seeded Panthers will host either Fitchburg State or Johnson & Wales this Saturday (Feb. 26) at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round of the playoffs at Waterville Valley Ice Arena, depending upon the outcome of Wednesday's (Feb. 23) regular season finale between JWU and Salve Regina. A Johnson and Wales victory would send the Wildcats to Waterville Valley, while a tie or a Salve win would send Fitchburg State to face the Panthers.
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