HARRISVILLE, R.I. – Junior Alex Larson turned aside all 46 shots he faced to backstop the Nichols College men’s ice hockey team to its second-consecutive Eastern College Athletic Conference Northeast Championship with a 3-0 shutout of Salve Regina University Saturday afternoon at Levy Rink.
Larson – who continues to lead the nation in save percentage at .952 – stopped 81 of the 83 shots he faced in the conference tournament for a save percentage of .976. For his efforts, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Classmate Frank Butler (East Haven, Conn.) scored the only goal the Bison needed on the power play in the second period, and empty net goals from senior Daniel Bufis (Linden, N.J.) and sophomore Sean Swansen (Salem, N.H.) in the final minute sealed the win.
“Salve Regina is a very good hockey team, especially on offense,” said Nichols third-year head coach Kevin Swallow, who was named ECAC Northeast Coach of the Year for the second time last month. “Our game plan was to come in and play good, strong defense, and we executed it well. Alex Larson played a great game. Mike Schwartz (Long Beach, N.Y.) was an absolute warrior for us out there. We protected Larson well and kept everything to the outside. He made the saves he had to.”
Seahawks netminder Alexander Devine (Hampton, N.H.) was nearly flawless, stopping 22 of the 23 shots sent his way. Senior captain John Scorcia (Hudson, Fla.) was held to just two shots after scoring four goals in the semifinal win over Johnson & Wales (RI) on Wednesday. The loss was the second in three years in the ECAC Northeast Championship for Salve Regina, who finished its season 12-10-3.
Salve Regina outshot the Bison 16-7 in the opening stanza but could not solve Larson. Their best scoring opportunity came 12 minutes in when sophomore Jonathan Felteau (Peabody, Mass.) snapped off a one-timer that rang off the left post.
Scorcia’s best scoring chance of the evening came at 13:44 of the second when he collected a rebound and got off a shot from in tight that Larson was able to knock away. Later in the stanza, junior Peter Gintoli (Shelton, Conn.) was sent off for high-sticking at 15:07, and the Bison capitalized on their second and final chance with the extra skater. Butler and junior Tyler Beasley (Indianapolis, Ind.) played catch with the puck before Butler one-timed a shot from the left circle that beat Devine high at 15:59 to put the Bison up 1-0. The goal was his 20th of the season.
In the third, senior Matthew Carroll (Hackensack, N.J.) rang his shot off the right post just over one minute in, keeping the game 1-0. Later, Swanson was close to doubling the Nichols lead when he broke down the left wing and snapped a shot that missed the far side.
With Devine on the bench to give the Seahawks a 6-on-5 with just over one minute on the clock, Bufis potted his third of the season at 19:14. Swanson’s insurance marked off a long clearing attempt by senior d-man Chris Gularte (Salinas, Calif.) closed the scoring at 19:33.
Butler and Scorcia were named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Nichols defenseman Steve Lecey (Cedarburg, Wis.), Salve Regina sophomore forward Evan Schultz (Durham, N.H.), Curry forward Jordan Reed, and Johnson & Wales (RI) forward Brian Brouillard.
The Bison now wait and see who they draw in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, which begins next Saturday, March 14. Last year, Nichols traveled to Geneseo, N.Y., where they were edged by the Knights, 3-2.