Men's Hockey Crowned NE-10 Champs; Daniels Named M.V.P.

Men's Hockey Crowned NE-10 Champs; Daniels Named M.V.P.

SO. BURLINGTON, Vt. – Senior Johnny Daniels (Andover, Mass.) polished off his four-year career with quite the statement Saturday night. In his final game in a Saint Anselm College men's hockey uniform, Daniels recorded a hat-trick with all three goals coming in a wild third period and added an assist to lead the Hawks to the program's ninth Northeast-10 Conference Championship with a 6-3 victory over Saint Michael's College at the Purple Knights' C. Douglas Arena.

For his efforts, Daniels—who was also an All-NE-10 Second Team nominee this season—was honored as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Joining the senior on the All-Tournament Team was senior defenseman Matt Buckley (Canton, Mass.) and freshman goaltender Shane Joyce (Pembroke, Mass.).

Saint Anselm finishes its championship campaign with an 11-13-3 overall record while Saint Michael's ends its season at 9-16-2.

Saint Anselm, which made its 14th finals appearance in 16 possible NE-10 Championship tournaments, has clashed with Saint Michael's in an NE-10 postseason contest for the ninth time since 2000, including for the sixth time in a final. Despite boasting an all-time record of 16-9-3 against Saint Michael's, Saturday marked just the second time the Hawks have beaten Saint Michael's for the NE-10 crown. Saint Anselm also improves to a stunning 9-5 in NE-10 Championship title games.

The sellout crowd in South Burlington witnessed quite the show Saturday night, with a back-and-forth affair that had plenty of scoring action. Both teams attempted 11 shots in the opening 20 minutes, with junior Mark Meads (Middleton, Mass.) having a chance less than 90 seconds in. Yet the speedy Hawk forward was stopped point blank on the left side by Saint Michael's goaltender Dave Donzanti. Purple Knight senior John Teulings was also turned away by a strong Joyce glove denial as both teams were looking to draw first blood.

Saint Anselm would do just that at the 6:20 mark of the opening frame, as sophomore Nick Leonard (Methuen, Mass.) put the Hawks on the scoreboard first. After junior forward Bryan Sullivan (Burlington, Mass.) carried into the right circle, a Purple Knight skater missed the puck on a clearing attempt, leaving Leonard to follow the loose puck toward the crease, where he deked a diving Donzanti and went to the left side. 

First-year Eric Salzillo had a Saint Michael's chance in the slot turned away less than a minute after the goal, and junior Kevin Altidor followed by having a second attempt denied. Donzanti came up with a stop of Daniels at the left post just after the midpoint of the first period to keep it 1-0. Saint Michael's Connor Mitchell took a short lead pass and briefly found himself in alone on Joyce but was turned away at 13:10, and Hawk sophomore Vin D'Amato (Sutton, Mass.) rang the upper left corner of the post with 4:25 left. 

Donzanti kept Saint Michael's within one goal less than five minutes into the second period with a glove save of Daniels, who skated in during an odd-man rush, and Altidor had a pair of power-play shots from the doorstep stopped around 11:30 before Donzanti came up with a sprawling save of Meads' streaking short-handed attempt. The Purple Knight netminder stopped Sullivan directly off an ensuing face-off before Saint Michael's cracked the scoring column on the same man advantage. Senior Mark Higgins sent a lateral pass for Danny Divis, whose slapshot found the upper right corner at 9:27. Just 2:06 later, the Purple Knights converted on a 5-on-3 power play, with NE-10 Player of the Year AJ Pieprzak knocking in a one-timer from the right circle off a pass from William Côté. Altidor also assisted before rushing up the right side just after the goal, getting turned away at the right post. 

Junior defenseman Tyler Estee (Bow, N.H.) knotted the game with 53.9 seconds left in the second frame during the Hawks' opportunity of a 5-on-3 advantage. Estee fired a one-timer off of sophomore Peter Sikalis' (Acton, Mass.) pass from just inside the blue line and into the right side, sending the teams into the second intermission locked at 2-2.

It didn't take Daniels very long to break the tie, as just 1:14 into the third period the senior skated across the blue line and sent a low skidding shot off the ice and found the 5-hole for the go-ahead unassisted tally.

As the clock ticked in the third period, the intensity amplified as Dickman had a pair of shots deep in the Saint Anselm zone go for naught, being denied point blank at the three-minute mark and then again on a slapper from the left circle three minutes later. Yet the skillful Purple Knight finally came through with the tying marker just over the midpoint of the third period. Sophomore Shawn Morrow hustled to gain possession behind the Saint Anselm net, and the puck ended up with Côté, who sent a one-time pass from behind the left side of the net to Dickman, who beat Joyce on the doorstep.

Daniels put Saint Anselm ahead for good just 40 seconds later, taking advantage of a failed clear deep in the Purple Knight end and converting from low in the left circle on assists from Sullivan and senior Joey Agliato (Hauppauge, N.Y.). Dickman again looked to knot the score, making a short-handed rush up the right wing but having a shot from the right circle stopped by Joyce at 16:58.

The Hawks tacked on two insurance tallies in the final 76 seconds. First-year Nick Gorski (Sandown, N.H.) had an initial shot stopped by Donzanti, but the rebound popped up in the air and Meads knocked in the loose puck at the left post at the 18:44 mark to ice the win. With an empty net, Sullivan batted a lead pass down the center of the ice to a streaking Daniels, who scored once more as the Saint Anselm bench celebrated.

For the game, Joyce recorded a game-high 30 saves en route to all-tourney status, also improving his rookie season record to 11-9-3 overall. Dickman, who joined classmate Pieprzak as Saint Michael's representatives on the All-Championship Team, notched 25 saves in the loss.

Saint Anselm, which was selected to win the NE-10 back in the Preseason Coaches' Poll, won its fourth straight road game and finished an impressive 8-6 away from Sullivan Arena on the year. The Hawks also played its best hockey of the season to close out the year, amassing a 5-1-1 record in the month of February alone.

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[Website photo courtesy of James Buck/SMC Athletic Communications]
[Video highlights courtesy of the Northeast-10 Conference/Pack Network]