By James Paleologopoulos
With two matchups left before the end of the regular season and the start of the Men’s Hockey Championship on Feb. 25, the Fitchburg State Falcons (7-7-2) are dueling not only for a high seed in the State Conference tournament, but for the first time, for a berth in the NCAA Division III Championship as well.
The Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference has been allotted a spot in the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championship bracket, which “the winner of the conference championship tournament will receive,” according to a press release sent at the beginning of the semester.
“There’s four, five teams that could win it (and) we’re right there,” Fitchburg State Head Coach Dean Fuller said of the Falcons’ chances of grabbing the MASCAC title for a second year running. “We’re talking about it.”
Though the 2011 champions have firmly clinched a place in the Conference’s Top Six, with Framingham (3-10-3) and Westfield State (3-9-4) left fighting for the last spot, the stakes for the 2012 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship are now higher than ever before.
However, with the championship scheduled to start within the next two weeks, the Falcons hockey team finds itself stuck in the middle of the standings at fourth place. After a recent 8-4 loss to UMass Dartmouth and a non-Conference overtime struggle with Assumption on Feb. 11, the Fitchburg State Falcons added another match to their recent win-less skid (0-3-1), including a 6-3 loss to Worcester State the week before and a 2-2 tie against Salem State before that.
That being said, Fitchburg State University’s offense has withstood the onslaught brought on by MASCAC’s leading teams Plymouth and Salem. The Falcons have brought in an average of 3.6 goals a match over the course of the last month with forward Trevor Lawler leading as top scorer with 11 goals.
And even with recent struggles and losses in mind (8-4 loss to Plymouth), Fitchburg State’s goalie Bobby Leiser collected the MASCAC honor of “Goalie of the Week” at the beginning of February.
“Bobby’s been a very, very patient man,” Fuller said of the honored Falcon. “He’s played behind for us and he’s solid. We have a lot of confidence in him and you’ve got a have a solid defender like that.”
While the coming two conference matches against Westfield State University and Plymouth may not be crucial qualifying matches (though Westfield’s chances may be on the line), they will play vital roles in indicating the Falcon’s ability to survive and thrive in the coming tournament and, potentially, the NCAA Division III Championship.
“We’ve got our captain Kris Threlkeld back, who broke his ankle against Plymouth for a semester, so now we have depth,” Fuller added. “We go 3-4 lines deep, which is the healthiest we’ve been. We’re looking forward to it; we really are.”
For their final two games, the Falcons will be going to Westfield to face the Owls on Feb. 18 at 5:25 p.m., only to come back to Fitchburg and finish the season against Plymouth on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.