Written by Mike Rouleau
Willimantic, Conn. — The Eastern Connecticut State University club hockey team claimed the title of American Conference champions of the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) on Feb. 21 with a 4-2 victory over Southern New Hampshire University. The team finished with a regular season record of 11-1, the second best record in the 32-team NECHA.
“The key to our success is the quality of our players,” said John Brancati, head coach. “They are dedicated and determined; they have the will to win.”
Eastern’s overall American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) record was 22-2-1, with more than half of their games played against teams outside of the NECHA. There are more than 400 collegiate teams nationwide in the ACHA.
“The team really gelled this year, culminating with their hard fought championship victory,” said Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch, the team’s faculty advisor. “My whole hearted congratulations go to these fine young men and the coaching staff.”
Eastern’s team — which became an official NECHA member only two years ago — was ranked higher in the ACHA than any previous American Conference team. “No team in the American Conference has made it into the final rankings (top 12) of the Northeast Region. We are the first,” said Brancati.
“If we went into the regionals, we would have made noise,” continued Brancati. He explained that rankings for Division II in the ACHA are not based solely on record, but also on votes. Because Eastern’s team is new to the league, “No one knew who we were. My team had enough strength but not enough exposure to get votes.”
While the team may have lost its chance for further competition this season, word is spreading throughout the league about Eastern. “Toward the end of the season, a lot of people were reaching out, saying they want to play us next year,” said Brancati. “That’s good for us because now people know who we are.”
Next year, should the team make the playoffs, its reputation will result in more votes, enabling them to be higher ranked and potentially reach the ACHA Northeast Region playoffs.