WILLIAMSTOWN >> The Williams College hockey team made history Monday morning.
The Ephs, regular-season NESCAC champions and one of the top 10 hockey teams in the country, received its first-ever berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
"Obviously, we're very pleased and thankful. We were looking forward to practice last week and we're looking forward to building on last week," Williams coach Bill Kangas said, "and having a great week this week to get ready for the weekend."
Williams will host MASCAC tournament champion Salem State Saturday at Lansing Chapman Rink. The Ephs (18-5-2) will face a team in Salem (22-5-0) that used to be a regular at Chapman when the Vikings were in the ECAC East. The face off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Ephs and NESCAC champion Trinity both earned bids. The defending national champion Bantams will also play in an opening-round game on Saturday, hosting UMass-Boston.
Williams has been sitting around since Feb. 27, when the top-seeded Ephs were upset by No. 8 Tufts 2-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals. After the game, several Williams players expressed optimism that Williams would still receive a bid.
"I thought we were going to have a good chance based on the overall body of work," said Kangas. "But clearly, you don't know until it actually happens."
Williams is one of 11 teams invited to the Division III Tournament. Should Willliams beat Salem, it would play the winner of the game between SUNY Geneseo and Salve Regina. If Geneseo wins, the game would be in upstate New York. If Salve wins, Williams would host.
The Division III Final Four will take place March 25 and 26 at the Herb Brooks Ice Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y.
While Trinity, Tufts and other teams across the country spent this past weekend battling for championships and the automatic bid that comes with the trophy, Kangas and his players were working out in the hope that the at-large, or Pool C bid, would come.
"It was tough," said Kangas. "Initially it was tough coming off the weekend. Tufts played incredibly well. We played well, we just couldn't score. That was hard. It was just one of those games. That's hockey."
The Williams coach said that it took his team a couple of practices to get into gear, but by the time Trinity was beating Amherst 5-1 for the NESCAC title, the Ephs were kicking it into gear.
"It was tough probably early in the week. We talked about the possibility if this opportunity presents itself, putting ourselves in this position and to be prepared," he said. "I thought the last four days of practice was pretty strong. I thought we had some great practices and some good energy."
Five of the top 10 teams in the final public East Regional rankings qualified for the tournament. Hobart, who will play the winner of the game between Trinity and UMass-Boston, was ranked No. 1 on March 1, the last time the regional rankings came out for the public. Of the top five, No. 3 Plattsburgh State and No. 5 Babson did not get into the tournament. Salve Regina was unranked and upset No. 10 Endicott to win the ECAC Northeast title.
Kangas said this tourney run isn't just about the current Williams team.
"It's really a reflection on the entire program, from the start in 1903 until now," said Kangas. "It's a reflection on all the players and all their hard work. All the coaches, I think of Bill McCormack. I think of all the guys that put all the effort into this. It's not just one year, it's a process.
"It's for everybody else and what they've done for our team and program."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.