WILLIAMSTOWN — Shorts and flip-flops may have been the fashion statement before practice Wednesday, but the members of the Williams College hockey team are in full-blown playoff beard mode.
"We're feeling good," Williams defenseman Zander Masucci said before taking the ice on Wednesday. "It's been a standard week of practice. We're doing everything we need to do to be prepared."
Williams will leave campus on Friday afternoon in preparation for Saturday night's NCAA Division III Elite Eight game against SUNY-Geneseo. The winner advances to the Final Four, March 25-26, at Lake Placid, N.Y.
"It's obviously something we had set as a goal to be playing this late in the season," said winger Tyler Young, in full warm-weather regalia. "It's great. The weather's unbelievable.
"You come to the room in flip-flops, like you were saying, is awesome. Obviously, you want to be one of those teams playing at the end of the year."
Both teams enter the game with 19 wins, Williams is 19-5-2 and Geneseo is 19-4-6. While it has been well documented that Williams is making its first-ever NCAA Division III tournament appearance, this is Geneseo's fifth appearance. The Knights earned the automatic bid from the NCAA by winning the SUNYAC Tournament title. Williams, the regular-season NESCAC champion, lost in the quarterfinals to Tufts and earned its way into the tournament with a Pool C at-large bid.
Both teams had impressive opening games in the tournament. Williams knocked off MASCAC champion Salem State 7-1 last Saturday. Geneseo scored an identical 7-1 win over ECAC Northeast champion Salve Regina.
"We had a good showing against Salem State. We've had some good practices, both this week and last week. Obviously, we're feeling good," said Williams wing Matt Werner. "You never want to be over-confident. You still have a lot to work on, even this late in the year. You can always get better at a lot of things."
The biggest question for Williams coming into the game is the status of its No. 1 line. Freshman center Roberto Cellini was carted off on a stretcher during Saturday's win over Salem. He did not return to the game.
Williams head coach Bill Kangas said that Cellini's condition and availability is a "trainer's situation." Kangas said the freshman from Montreal is doing well.
"He's day-to-day. Leave it at that," said Kangas. "Anytime you see anybody down, it's hard. But we have good people taking care of him."
The veteran head coach said that, under the assumption that Cellini won't play, the chess pieces will start to move around.
The line with Cellini centering Young and David Italiano has combined to score 22 goals and 35 assists. Cellini himself had six goals and 10 assists. Three of the six goals were game-winners, sharing the team lead with Italiano.
"You make some adjustments as the game goes on anyway. If you watch NHL games, coaches make adjustments, players have to adjust to situations," said Kangas. "We have a good team and guys who have played different roles.
"It's an opportunity for guys to step into different situations. I'm pretty comfortable."
Saturday's game is a rematch of a regular-season game at Lansing Chapman Rink. The Knights beat Williams 3-0 on Nov. 28. It was Geneseo's eighth game and only Williams' third. Every Williams player says the team is much different than it was back then.
The Knights may also be a different team. But like that night, they bring one of the highest-scoring lines in the nation into the game. Freshman Anthony Marra centers seniors Stephen Collins, the SUNYAC player of the year, and Trevor Hills. Collins has 22 goals and 24 assists, Hills has 22 goals and 18 assists, while Marra is the "facilitator" with nine goals and 27 assists.
"That was early on," said Masucci. "We've worked on a ton since then, shoring up some transition elements to our game. I think it's also important to look at what kind of team they are. They're hot as well.
"They ran through the SUNYAC playoffs and they smoked Salve too. They're ready to go."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.