FOXBORO, Mass. – Senior defenseman Matt Buckley (Canton, Mass.) scored the game-winning power-play goal at the 7:03 mark of the third period as the Saint Anselm College men's hockey team punched its ticket to the Northeast-10 Conference Championship tournament title game with a 3-1 win against Stonehill College Saturday afternoon at Foxboro Sports Center.
Saint Anselm erased an early 1-0 deficit by scoring the final three goals in Saturday's semifinal matchup that was physical from the start. Just 30 seconds into the game Saint Anselm was whistled for a boarding penalty that put the Skyhawks on an early power-play chance. The Hawks, who led the conference in penalty kill percentage this season, maintained that trait by shutting out Stonehill on its three power play opportunities on the afternoon.
Stonehill would open the scoring however at the 12:29 mark of the first period as NE-10 First Team honoree Robbie Dorgan one-timed a Richard Harris pass past Saint Anselm freshman goaltender Shane Joyce (Pembroke, Mass.) to snatch an early lead for the Skyhawks.
However, Saint Anselm continued to pressure the Stonehill defense, outshooting the hosts 17-8 in the first period and 14-9 in the second frame. Eventually the Hawks found a crack in Stonehill's NE-10 Goaltender of the Year Chris Tasiopoulos' armor with just over five minutes remaining in the second period. Freshman forward Easton Miller (Mission Viejo, Calif.) tied the game at 1-1 on a deep shot from the point off an assist from junior forward Bryan Sullivan (Burlington, Mass.).
With most of the momentum flowing into Saint Anselm's locker room into the second intermission, the Hawks continued to pressure the Skyhawks' zone before Buckley launched home another shot from the point that beat a screened-off Tasiopoulos for the would-be game-winner.
Stonehill nearly answered with a pair of Kevin Aufiero shots just a few minutes later, but his first attempt ricocheted off the post. Two minutes after that, Aufiero's one-timer was halted by a diving Joyce to preserve the 2-1 lead for Saint Anselm.
As the time ticked away and the intensity ratcheted up, play got a bit ugly down the stretch of the third period. Stonehill was whistled for three game misconduct penalties over the final 1:15 of the game, and Saint Anselm took advantage with an empty net power-play goal by Sullivan in the closing minute to seal a statement victory.
Joyce, an NE-10 Second Team nominee, picked up his 10th win of the year, improving to 10-9-3 overall and collecting 24 saves Saturday afternoon. Tasiopoulos recorded 40 saves while giving up two of the three goals scored.
The win improves Saint Anselm to 10-13-3 overall and avenges a 1-1 overtime tie with Stonehill in the teams' regular season matchup just over a week ago. The Skyhawks dropped their first game against an NE-10 opponent with the loss, finishing their season with a 14-6-4 overall record.
Saint Anselm will move on to the NE-10 Championship game for the 14th time in the 16 years the league has hosted the postseason tournament. The Hawks own the highest winning percentage of all teams in the conference with a 22-9 overall mark since the 2000 Championship series.
The Hawks will play the winner of Saturday night's other semifinal game featuring host and top-seeded Saint Michael's College and #4-seed Assumption College in South Burlington, Vt. Should the Purple Knights prevail, they will welcome Saint Anselm for the Championship Final on Saturday, Feb. 28. If the underdog Greyhounds pull off the upset, the Hawks would host Assumption at Sullivan Arena next weekend.