By Justin McKinney, Sports Editor
The men of Plymouth State hockey certainly held the upper hand against UMass Dartmouth hockey this season as the Corsairs fell to the Panthers 7-1 and 7-2 in their regular season meetings.
However, this past Tuesday night belonged to the Corsairs as they bested the Panthers 3-1 in Plymouth to advance to the MASCAC Championship against Fitchburg State and fight for a spot in the NCAA tourney.
The first half was a defensive battle as the two MASCAC rivals fired a total of 17 shots on each other’s nets with no scoring. Senior goalie Drew Michaels was standing on his head in the crease as he turned away several opportunities set up by the Panthers.
While the Corsair defense held strong, the offensive attack stifled by what was equally affective play coming from the Panthers defense. While the Corsairs defensive effort throughout the first and most of the second periods, the Panthers did eventually find the back of the net.
With traffic in front of the net and a well set up one-timer, the Panthers beat Michaels to gain a one goal advantage about midway through the second. Despite Plymouth flying back onto the ice following the goal, the Panthers could not stay out of the penalty box and gave the Corsairs a pair of power plays in less than five minutes of regulation.
While the first of the two fell flat, it was junior Jonathan Ruiz of the Corsairs who eventually beat the Panthers net minder to tie the game at one. Ruiz was assisted by sophomore Steven Leonard, the goal is Ruiz’s 27th of this season including playoffs.
While the third period began as a battle of defenses as teams exchanged nine shots split almost evenly between the two of the, it was senior defensemen Jerry Laasko who took a slap shot from the blue line and managed to hit twine giving the Corsairs a 2-1 lead with fifteen minutes left to play.
It was Michaels and the rest of the defensive unit though that held strong throughout the third and forced Plymouth into a panic that they could not recover from.
In perhaps his most important game as a Corsair yet, Michaels showed that he had what it took as he recorded 27 saves on 28 shots and a scoreless third period.
The Corsairs and the Falcons of Fitchburg have split their three games in the regular season as each team stole a game and they each went home with a point as they tied their first meeting. However, given the hot streak the Corsairs are riding, one must think they are the favorite heading into Saturday night.
This Tuesday’s win against Plymouth marks the Corsairs second win against a nationally ranked opponent this season as they downed the sixth ranked UMass Boston Beacons in December and Plymouth this week with Plymouth holding a national ranking of fifteenth in the country.