WILLIAMSTOWN -- The No. 12 Williams Men's Hockey team (16-6-3) survived a late flurry from the Colby Mules (7-15-3) to hang on for a 2-1 win in Saturday afternoon's quarterfinal matchup.
The Ephs jumped out to an early 2-0 advantage with goals in the first two periods, but the Mules made a game of it by scoring with just four seconds left in the second period to cut the Eph lead to 2-1.
Colby put considerable offensive pressure on the Williams defense late in the third period, but goaltender Sean Dougherty '15 and the Eph back line stood their ground to prevent the game-tying goal and earn the victory.
"If you're in the playoffs, you've got to find a way to do it," head coach Bill Kangas remarked after the victory. "Especially in the first game, because you're a high seed, you're at home, you're kind of expected to do well. But we're very fortunate and pleased to get the win today."
On paper, the Ephs certainly entered the game as the favorite, having defeated Colby by a score of 9-2 earlier in the season and Amherst and Hamilton last weekend to earn the second seed in the conference. From the game's early stages, though, it was clear that this would be a much closer contest.
The Mules, winners of three straight entering Saturday afternoon's matchup, put together a solid defensive effort in the opening minutes, disrupting the Ephs' offensive flow and forcing several turnovers. Midway through the period, however, the Ephs were finally able to hit their stride.
After killing a Colby power play, the Eph offense got a pair of nice chances off wrist shots by forwards Evan Dugdale '13 and Cody Skinner '13 from close range.
With seven minutes left in the first frame, the Ephs' pressure finally paid off with the help of a Colby turnover in its own defensive zone. Forward Nick Anderson '14 pounced on the errant puck and attempted a deke around a Mule defender. Anderson lost the handle, but a trailing Craig Kitto '15 picked the puck up in stride and slid it back to Anderson, who buried a wrist shot under the crossbar from the right side to give the Ephs an early 1-0 advantage.
Williams took this momentum into the start of the second period, getting a flurry of shots and a power play opportunity right out of the gate. None of these shots found the back of the net, however, as the Mules called on goaltender Sam Parker to make a series of saves to keep the Eph lead at 1-0.
Defensively, the Eph back line held strong throughout the majority of the period, keeping the puck out of their zone and quickly clearing rebound attempts.
After nearly a full period of back-and-forth, defensive hockey, the offenses finally came alive with under one minute remaining in the second. The scoring started after a successful late-period penalty kill from the Ephs aided in part by great save by Dougherty, who sprawled across the crease to deny a 2-on-1 attempt from Colby.
Thirty seconds after the successful kill, Kitto extended the lead to 2-0 on a great individual effort in the offensive zone. Picking the puck up in the neutral zone, Kitto weaved around two Colby defenders as he skated on goal and flicked an off-balance wrist shot that slid into the net from the left side for his second point of the afternoon.
"He's a guy that has some tremendous skating ability," noted Kangas of his sophomore forward. "He can stress out most teams because he's so quick, and that's a factor every time he's on the ice."
Kitto's goal did not put his team of the woods yet, though, as Colby added a crucial goal with just four seconds remaining in the period. Scoring for the Mules was forward Matt Gelnaw, who flicked a backhanded wrist shot on Dougherty with time running out. Dougherty made the initial save, but Gelnaw got his own rebound and tapped it in on the right side to narrow the deficit to 2-1 heading into the final period.
Just as they had in the second, the Ephs came out to a hot start in the third frame, as the senior line of Dugdale, Skinner, and co-captain John Wickman '13 generated a number of scoring chances with timely passes and sharp puck movement.
The rest of the period was all Colby, though, as the Mules fought desperately to keep their season alive. The Mule offense almost notched the equalizer on a point blank wrist shot from the left side with seven minutes remaining in the game, but Dougherty was there for the key save to keep the Ephs on top.
Dougherty was a rock in goal all afternoon, stopping 27 of the Mules' 28 shots in 60 minutes of play. In the Colby net, Sam Parker made 26 saves on 28 Eph shots in 59:22 minutes of play.
The Mules pulled Parker with under a minute remaining for one last offensive gasp, but the Eph defense kept the puck in the corners and held on in the game's final seconds.
The Ephs will take the week off before traveling to Brunswick, ME next Saturday, where the top-seeded Bowdoin Polar Bears will host the NESCAC semifinals and finals. Williams will square of against the #3-seeded Trinity Bantams (14-6-3), who defeated the #6-seeded Wesleyan Cardinals in overtime to advance to the semifinals. Host Bowdoin will play Middlebury.