By Ray Biggs,
D3hockey.com Managing Editor
Hartford, CT-With a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in progress, Trinity College Head Coach Matt Greason admittedly trusts his veteran leaders to handle many of the details on game day.
|Sean Orlando has registered a point in every 2017 postseason game for the Bantams, and his spectacular play continued Saturday. Photo: Eric Gulseth, D3hockey.com|
Considering the Bantams won it all two years ago with those players along for the ride, and the result of Saturday’s opening round matchup with Plattsburgh, that trust in experience was well placed when the puck dropped.
Senior Sean Orlando netted a pair of goals in the opening twenty minutes of play to establish a 2-0 lead, and classmate Brandon Cole squared it away with two more over the balance as Trinity (19-6-3) toppled a young Plattsburgh side (17-10-1) by a 4-1 count at the Koeppel Community Sports Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
The win is the first NCAA tournament win for the Bantams since they hoisted the big prize, and plants them into a home quarterfinal matchup with upstart Endicott for the right to advance to Utica.
"I thought these were two teams that competed incredibly hard with good gameplans going in," Greason said. "We had a couple of nice breaks early. When an All-American like Sean Orlando makes a play like he did to start the game, you think it might be a special night. It had to be a special night to beat such a good team... Fortunately we got those bounces, then stayed above pucks for the rest of the game and made the hard simple plays for the most part, and beat a really good hockey team that you're going to see for the next few years on the national stage.... It's a good win for us and i'm excited to keep working with these guys."
It didn’t take the Bantams all that long to grab hold of the matchup, and set a key precedent that would define the game’s outcome. Less than a minute into the contest, the Cardinals made the first mistake when Ayrton Valente was shipped off to the box for a trip at 0:41. Trinity instantly applied the pressure with a scramble at the netfront, but senior netminder Brady Rouleau thwarted that series.
The second wave of attack was where Trinity found paydirt, while setting the stage for an outstanding Special Teams performance that contributed to the win. The prolific Ryan Cole fed the puck up to All-NESCAC linemate Sean Orlando, and Orlando delivered a power play beauty, going backhand and over the top of Rouleau for the icebreaker at 1:16 to give the Bantams a 1-0 lead.
The Cardinals would get multiple chances to push back not long after. Just over three minutes in, Plattsburgh created a beautiful back-door setup from Patrick Egan that was thwarted by Morin. They were instantly given a chance to build on that opportunity when the Bantams touched up on the puck and were immediately placed a man short on a Ryan Cole minor. Plattsburgh would be kept almost exclusively to the outside on that power play, and on a second attempt on a Brandon Cole boarding penalty where Trinity's clearing game delivered numerous times to chew up the clock.
The misfires marked the start of a difficult day on both Special Teams fronts for the visitors, including an 0-for-4 outing with the man advantage where they were limited to just three shots total in those stretches. Plattsburgh head coach Bob Emery did not mince words when asked to describe the unit's fruitless efforts.
"I thought our power play sucked to be blunt," Emery said. "We at least have to get pucks to the net. If the power play's not going, you have to get to get pucks on the net. It hurt that we lost one of our best leaders at forward, and pretty much had to play three lines all night. That hurt us in the third. We had two forwards hurt and gone most of the game, but we can't make excuses. Kyle Hall is good on the power play and not having him hurt our power play."
The success on the penalty kill by Trinity paid almost immediate dividends in their 5-on-5 offensive. Fresh out of the box, Brandon Cole was sprung ahead through the neutral zone on a breakaway against Rouleau. The Cardinal goaltender won this round, stoning the one-on-one opportunity with his catching glove and the pure grit that backstopped Plattsburgh to the SUNYAC title.
Trinity made return appearances at the goal mouth not long after. And they would establish their presence in greater numbers to double their lead. Just moments after a flurry at the front of the net, Tyler Whitney fired a shot that leapt off the pads of Rouleau and onto the waiting stick of Orlando for the even strength goal and a 2-0 advantage that held until the first intermission. Shots on goal for the period were 13-6 in favor of Trinity. Greason pointed to his squad's collective track record in postseason games when describing a strong start in what can often be an emotionally volatile situation.
"It's the NCAA tournament and you never know what to expect really," Greason said. "It's a different set of emotions and preparation. Fortunately, we have a lot of guys who have played in NCAA games before and we were able to use that experience to get out ahead. There were no butterflies before, just excitement, and that helped us with that quick start."
With an 0-2 hole, the challenge was out there for Plattsburgh to get back into it. The visitors did so in somewhat timely fashion on the heels of a prime scoring chance for the Bantams. Nearly three and a half minutes into the second period, Valente made an ill-advised pass down the boards that was poked back ahead by the defense to create a 2-on-1 in on Rouleau. The combination of upperclassmen Tyler Whitney and Ethan Holdaway didn't cash in, and that left the door open for the Cardinals to go from tripling their deficit, to slashing it in half.
Enter second line winger Joe Drabin. Off that missed rush, Cam Owens jetted ahead and connected with Drabin six seconds later, and the freshman knocked his twelfth goal of the season past Morin to get the Cardinals on the board and slim the differential to just one.
"We were down 2-0 at the time, and we knew we needed a goal at some point soon," Drabin said. "Cam made an unbelievable play, going end to end and just put it on my tape."
Plattsburgh came up short on one of their better chances to tie the game shortly after when a spinning feed by Drabin was left to Ross Sloan, who lingered in position at the front of the net but couldn't sky the puck over the pads of Morin. Trinity would again turn to their power play to re-open a two goal advantage before the midpoint off of a tripping minor committed by Antoine Fournier, with Brandon Cole connecting with the nylon off an Ethan Holdaway setup for his seventh goal of the season and a 3-1 lead.
Plattsburgh showed urgency with some hard net drives on a late power play, but could not change the status quo and were left with a two goal deficit. The late man advantage stretch came from a thunderous front side neutral zone hit dished out by Liam Feeney on Jesse Neher, with Feeney getting the gate for elbowing. Shots on goal for the second period were numerous with an 18-13 count favoring the Bantams.
As the third period evolved, the Bantams oriented their game towards the defensive end, taking fewer chances up front and employing a responsible backcheck to contain Plattsburgh's attempts to pull closer and hold the Cardinals to just eight shots. With Rouleau pulled for the extra attacker late, Brandon Cole sealed the deal with his empty net tally from the left wing, and the Bantams walked away with a workmanlike victory on home ice. Trinity outshot Plattsburgh for the evening by a final 39-27 count.
The Bantams delivered a dominant combined 6-of-7 special teams effort for the evening, with Tyler Whitney dishing a pair of assists to help fuel the overall offensive. Alex Morin stopped 26 of 27 for his seventeenth win of the season, while Brady Rouleau stopped 35 of 38 shots against him in defeat.
The loss for Plattsburgh ended a brilliant run into the NCAA tournament that once seemed like a long shot earlier in the season for a young team. The Cardinals, who played just two seniors and four upperclassmen in Saturday's lineup, were picked to finish third in the SUNYAC coaches' poll. Furthermore, they struggled out of the gate with a 6-8 record through their first fourteen games before a simply phenomenal 11-1-1 turnaround and conference title win in the 13 games entering Saturday. That was reason enough for Emery to be proud of his club's accomplishments despite their NCAA exit.
"I just told the guys, we were picked third in our league... then finished second and won it," Emery said. "We had four upperclassmen playing tonight and Hall was hurting, so we really had three playing. I'm a pretty hard nosed guy to people who know me, and I'm not trying to sugarcoat anything. We're disappointed, but we turned this season around and that's something to be proud of. Our guys stepped it up, our goaltender played well in the second half, that's what got us here. Nobody picked us to be here from the get-go, never mind when we were 6-8."
The veteran Bantams will put their nine game win streak and national championship dreams to the test against a new opponent in the quarterfinals. That opposition comes in the form of upstart Endicott, who made plenty of noise with their 4-3 road win at Hobart on Saturday.
"I know they're talented and have a ton of transfers," Greason said. "RJ is a great coach and obviously they're believing. They have some swagger to go out to Hobart and beat a great team on the road. I'm excited to start breaking down some video and come up with that gameplan."
As the Bantams prepare for that challenge, Greason will again trust the experienced group of players who have continually raised the bar for his program.
"What a lot of people don't see on the ice is how special our leadership group is," Greason said. "I don't think there's ever been a Trinity team that has had higher day one expectations with what we had coming back. We needed great leaders to do this... and right next to me is one of the best captains in the country in Samuel Johnson. I'd put him up against anybody, he's one of my favorite kids i've ever coached. It's his leadership along with Sean (Orlando), Ethan (Holdaway), and Will Sleeper that has allowed this team to get their heads straight and come prepared to battle."