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The fourth-seeded Salve Regina Seahawks beat the fifth-seeded Western New England Golden Bears 5-2 on Wednesday night at St. George's ice rink to advance to the Commonwealth Coast Conference Semifinal-Round.
These two teams faced off against each other in three great regular season battles with the Seahawks coming out on top in all three. Despite this, Salve head coach Zech Klann made it very apparent that the regular season victories don't mean that much now. "Anybody can win in the playoffs right, that's the one thing about hockey... you have that regular season and then you have the playoff season and tonight you have to erase everything that has happened in the past," Coach Klann said.
On the other side of the ice, the Golden Bears earned their fifth seeding by having the best record that the program has had in the CCC. "We worked our way into this," said Golden Bears head coach Mike Young when asked about his message to his team tonight. "We deserve to be here, so I told them I believe in them, but it doesn't really matter if I believe in them, they gotta believe in themselves, so they got an opportunity to show that."
The game opened up scoreless for most of the first period, with Salve dominating the puck, but Golden Bears' goalie Colten Lancaster keeping them at bay in net. Salve's Mitch Walinski finally broke the tie at 7:19 with a beautiful wrist shot at the top of the point that was assisted by Anthony Azzano. Seahawks led 1-0 at the end of the first.
Salve continued their momentum heading into the second period as they quickly jumped ahead 2-0 with a goal by Joseph Kile in the 17-minute mark of the 2nd. The goal came off Azzano's second assist of the night, this time making a pinpoint full ice pass to Kile. The Golden Bears quickly responded to this now 2-0 hole by taking advantage of a Salve turnover. Everest Schneider's rocket to the back of the net that made it past Seahawks' goalie Levi Mitchell, would cut Salve's deficit in half with 16 minutes left to play in the period. With more life in WNE now, their more aggressive play was rewarded seconds later with a shot deflected in by Conor Leach off of a shot by Shane Miller to make it 2-2. This score would hold up through the rest of the second period as tensions flared between the two teams in front of a great crowd.
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With momentum seeming to start to shift towards the Golden Bears, penalties in the third period proved to be the issue that doomed them. With 15:31 left to play, a tripping penalty gave Salve Regina a power play that they took full advantage of. Hoon Kim sent a gorgeous wrist shot streaming into the back of the net to put Salve up 3-2 with just under 15 minutes to play. The Golden Bears then found themselves in another tough situation as they received a five minute penalty that would see their froward Billy Hefferle receive an ejection from the contest.
The Seahawks only needed seconds to capitalize as Johnny Mulera set up Kile for a one timer for his second goal of the night to make the score 4-2 in favor of Salve at the nine minute mark. Salve wasn't done adding more insurance to their lead however, as with a little less than two minutes to play Logan Calder snuck in a rebound shot that was assisted by Walinski and Mulera that put the score 5-2. This deficit proved to be too much for the Golden Bears to overcome as the Seahawks found themselves advancing by a score of 5-2.
After the game, Coach Klann was exceptionally proud of how his team performed. "For us, we have to keep our confidence going from tonight," said coach when asked what to expect next week for the semifinal round. "It wasn't an easy game, by all means, we had to dig through it. Just proud of the guys staying together."
The Seahawks look ahead to the CCC Semifinal where they will face off against top seeded Endicott College next week. Meanwhile, Western New England looks to build upon this successful 2022-23 campaign and come back even stronger next season.
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