Spartans Unable to Solve NEC

Spartans Unable to Solve NEC

HENNIKER, N.H. – The Castleton men's hockey team held an early lead and fought back late, but it wasn't enough as New England College skated away with a 5-3 victory over the Spartans on Friday evening at Lee Clement Arena.

Castleton falls to 6-13-3 on the season and 2-12-1 in conference play with the loss. NEC snaps its two-game skid to improve to 12-8-2 overall and 7-7-1 in NEHC action.

Kurt Johnson led the Spartans with three assists. Ryan O'Toole got the Spartans on the board with his sixth goal of the season and finished with two points on a goal and an assist. Trevor Hanna and Matt Bloomer both potted their fifth goals of the season, while Ryan O'Malley and Ryan Smith each added an assist. Ryan Mulder was strong in net with 35 saves despite falling to 5-6-3 on the season.

For the second straight game, Castleton nabbed an early lead on the power play. The Spartans controlled the first half of the period thanks to back-to-back 5-on-3 situations and O'Toole cashed in at the 6:34 mark. Caleb Fizer took the original shot from the center of the point, before Johnson tipped the rebound over to O'Toole at the doorstep for the put-back goal.  

The Spartans' lead was brief, however, as NEC answered with the equalizer less than two minutes later. After killing off the second penalty of a 5-on-3, the Pilgrims skated down on a 2-on-1 break and Joe Osaka beat Mulder to his right with a one-timer at 8:28. After back-and-forth action through the middle stages of the period, Daniel Bergqvist caught Mulder off guard with a shot from the top of the left-wing circle as NEC held a 2-1 lead at the first intermission. 

The Spartans came out firing in the second but NEC struck first when Osaka won a battle on the boards and found Nick Frankich in front, where he sent a wrist shot over the shoulder of Mulder 7:52 into the period.

Hanna cut into the deficit less than two minutes later on the power play once again. After Nicholas Rein was sent off for interference, Hanna won the ensuing faceoff and six seconds later drilled a wrist shot over the shoulder of NEC net minder Kyle Shapiro at the 9:42 mark of the period. The Pilgrims got the final blow of the frame as Frankich tallied his second goal at the 14:16 mark to give the home team a 4-2 lead after two periods.

Despite holding two power-play opportunities in the third, including a five-minute major man advantage, Castleton was unable to find the back of the net until the final minutes when Bloomer cashed in to make it 4-3. Smith forced a turnover near the goal line to open the opportunity for Bloomer with 2:57 left in regulation. Mulder raced for the bench in the final minute, but Osaka issued the final strike with an empty-net goal as the Pilgrims held on for the 5-3 victory.

NEC held an advantage in shots, 40-26. Castleton finished 2-for-5 on the power play but was hampered by 28 penalty minutes on 10 infractions as the Pilgrims netted the game-winner on the power play and finished 1-for-6 with the man advantage.

Castleton is back in action at 4 p.m. on Saturday as it travels to Southern Maine to face the Huskies in a NEHC clash.