CLINTON, N.Y. - Hamilton College's Nick Ursitti '20 scored with 1:30 left in the third period and lifted the Continentals to a 5-4 win against the Wesleyan University Cardinals in a 2017 NESCAC Men's Hockey Championship semifinal at Hamilton's Russell Sage Rink on Saturday.
The top-seeded Continentals (19-3-4 overall) will take on No. 3 seed Trinity College for the conference title at Sage Rink on Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m. Trinity erased an early 2-0 deficit and defeated No. 4 seed Williams College 4-2 in Saturday afternoon's first semifinal at Sage Rink. The Bantams (17-6-3) are the defending NESCAC champions. Hamilton and Trinity will bring seven-game win streaks into Sunday's final.
Ursitti led the Continentals' offense with two goals -- his first multi-goal game at Hamilton. Defenseman Bennett Morrison '20 chipped in a goal and an assist and Neil Conway '18 was credited with a pair of assists. Evan Buitenhuis '18 made 26 saves.
Jordan Jancze notched a goal and an assist and Dawson Sprigings turned away 26 shots for Wesleyan (13-9-4). Jancze's goal with 7:42 remaining in the third period had given the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. Wesleyan's record dropped to 2-9 all-time in the championship.
The Continentals tied a program record with their 19th win this season. Hamilton posted a 19-6-1 record in 1996-97. The Continentals are ranked eighth in both the D3hockey.com and USCHO.com Division III Top 15 polls this week. Hamilton is also fifth in the East Region according to the NCAA. The Continentals had not allowed more than three goals in a game this season before today, and they have scored 19 in their last four. Hamilton is 1-0-1 against the Bantams this season with a 4-1 win in Hartford back on Dec. 2 and a 2-2 tie at home on Jan. 27. The Continentals are making their 15th appearance in the championship but will play in their first final on Sunday.
Trinity is ranked 11th in both Division III polls and seventh in the East Region by the NCAA. The defending conference champions are searching for their fourth title in 17 appearances. The Bantams also won the tournament in 2003 and 2008.
Hamilton's first lead was Ursitti's game-winner. A shot by Conway from the left circle bounced off Sprigings, Ursitti pounced on the loose puck in the low slot and punched it into the back of the net for his fifth goal. The Continentals trailed 1-0 in the first period, 3-1 in the second and 4-3 in the third.
The Cardinals called their timeout and pulled Sprigings for an extra skater after Ursitti's tie-breaking goal. Wesleyan was able to put two shots on net in the final minute but Buitenhuis stopped both of them. Ian Nichols '19 won a neutral-ice faceoff with 2.9 seconds left and clinched the victory. The Continentals finished with a 47-36 advantage in faceoff wins.
Hamilton's Conor Lamberti '17 tied the score at 3-3 at 10:34 of the third when he knocked in a loose puck at the right post for his third goal. Sterling Bray '20 picked up his 11th assist.
Jancze put the Cardinals back in front with his second goal this season less than two minutes later when a pass by Spencer Fox from the right circle was redirected in the slot past Buitenhuis. Ursitti tied the score with 4:56 to go when he received a pass from Nichols in the high slot, skated towards the net and scored on a wrist shot between the circles.
Wesleyan grabbed a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Cam McCusker at 7:29 of the first period. Buitenhuis went behind his net to play the puck after it had been dumped into the zone by the Cardinals. McCusker intercepted his pass at the bottom of the right circle and scored into an open net for his ninth goal.
Jon Carkeek '17 tied the score with his fourth goal for the Continentals on a wrist shot from the point during a power play at 11:48 of the first. Jason Brochu '19 and Rory Gagnon '19 collected assists on the play. Wesleyan jumped back in front with 2:47 left on the fourth goal this season for Quincy Oujevolk as he stuffed in a rebound from the right post after Buitenhuis had stopped a shot by Jancze.
The Cardinals took a two-goal lead at 5:19 of the second period. A shot by James Kline bounced off Buitenhuis and Vincent Lima poked in the rebound for his fourth goal.
Hamilton cut its deficit in half on another power-play goal with 1:42 remaining in the second. Morrison skated along the blue line from above the left circle to the right and scored his sixth goal on a wrist shot. Conway recorded an assist and leads the team with 18 and 26 points. Wesleyan entered the weekend No. 1 in Division III in penalty kill at 93.7 percent (74-for-79) but the Continentals were 2-for-4 on the power play.