After an impressive 10-3-3 record in the NESCAC this season, the men’s hockey team entered the NESCAC Championships as dark horses to claim the league title.
Cruising past Colby 5-0 in the first round of the tournament, Amherst traveled to Hartford, Connecticut to face off against Wesleyan in the semifinals.
The strength of the Wesleyan squad came from its netminder, Tim Sestak. Entering the game, the junior had been a standout on the Cardinals’ squad. He averaged 1.58 goals against throughout the season, and compiled 640 saves over 21 games. Amherst was certainly a worthwhile opponent with a plethora of scoring threats. From the opening drop of the puck, the Mammoths never eased off the pressure on Sestak. In the third minute, first year Mitchell Shults blasted the puck from point-blank range, but Sestak managed to trap the puck between his pads. After this, the Mammoths dominated possession for most of the game, and easily manipulated the Wesleyan defense into creating scoring opportunities. Sestak, however, held firm. Making 65 saves, Sestak kept the Cardinals’ hopes alive. Wesleyan was also unable to score, and the game scraped into overtime.
Leading the Mammoths in the contest was Nick Bondra ’21. The forward had five shots during the Mammoth onslaught. With no team able to break the deadlock, 30 minutes of playoff, overtime hockey came and went. However, after 30 minutes, linemate P.J. Conlon ’20, fed Bondra after battling for the puck near the blue line, fed Bondra. In the anxiety of such a moment, Bondra’s cool demeanor prevailed, and his shot slipped by Sestak. Sestak set a NESCAC record with 65 saves, but was unable to secure the win for his side. The game also goes in the record books as the longest game in NESCAC history.
Another worthy opponent, however, faced them the next afternoon. Hosts and No. 1 seed Trinity awaited the Mammoths in the finals. The Sunday afternoon matchup, however, proved just as epic as the previous day’s. The Mammoths were scored upon at the start of the second period, and remained without a goal through the first two frames.
In the third period, senior Jack Fitzgerald scored his 23rd career goal for Amherst after a shot from Pieter von Steinbergs ’21 deflected into Fitzgerald’s path. Thirty seconds later, the Bantams retook the lead, but first year Sean Wrenn snuck the puck by the Trinity goalie seven minutes later to knot the game at two goals apiece.
With the three periods of regular time complete, the Mammoths entered their second overtime contest in as many days, this time with the NESCAC title on the line. Amherst and Trinity battled back and forth in the period, but Trinity forward Taggart Corriveau scored with just a tenth of a second remaining in overtime.
With the goal, the Bantams claimed their third NESCAC title in four years and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Mammoths were unable to secure an at-large bid, and thus their season ended in heartbreaking fashion.