WILLIAMSTOWN >> Now the hard part begins.
The top-seeded Williams men were shocked by No. 8 Tufts in the NESCAC hockey tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, giving up two second-period goals in a 2-1 loss at Lansing Chapman Rink. With the loss comes a seat squarely on the NCAA Division III tournament bubble.
"This time, it didn't happen unfortunately," Williams captain Zander Masucci said after the game. "Hopefully, the season's not over. Hopefully, we get a national at-large bid."
There are four Pool C, or at-large bids in the 11-team tournament. Williams will have to wait and see how the other conference tournaments play out.
Keith Campbell's goal at 12:53 of the second period broke a tie and put the Jumbos ahead for keeps. Tufts scored two goals in just over a minute of the second period to take the lead after C.J. Shugart had scored for Williams in the first minute of the second.
Tufts goalie Mason Pulde did the rest. The junior from Lexington, whose brother Marc played at Williams and graduated in 2010, stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced all afternoon. Mason Pulde was especially strong in the third period when Williams outshot Tufts 17-5.
"I think it feels special, just because I haven't had the best outings here. The two times that I've played here, I actually had some of my worst games," said the Tufts goalie. "I was definitely a little nervous going in because I hadn't done that well."
Williams goalie Michael Pinios had a 21-save day, but couldn't be faulted on either of the Tufts goals. The first one came off a blast from the right point by defenseman Sean Kavanagh. Pinios was lined up to make the stop, but the puck hit a Williams player and deflected into the goal. Campbell's goal was off a busted play exactly 1:05 after Kavanagh's goal.
"They played very, very well and had two good bounces in the second period and were able to capitalize," Williams coach Bill Kangas said. "I thought we had moments, but I thought ... I give them a lot of credit."
When the Ephs took the ice for the start of the third period, being down wasn't exactly unfamiliar territory.
"Definitely. We were down [two goals] four games in a row," said Masucci. "It's not like we haven't been in that spot before. This time it just didn't happen, unfortunately."
It wasn't like Williams didn't have its chances in the last period. Tufts' Dan Kelly was whistled off for slashing, and Willliams went on the attack. The Ephs had a really good scoring chance when Tyler Young tried to stuff the puck in from just outside the crease, but Pulde held his ground. Young's linemate, Roberto Cellini, was robbed by Pulde.
But the best chance for Williams came with about 10 minutes left in the game as the Ephs sprung defenseman Frankie Mork free. Mork ripped a shot from the top of the slot, but Pulde did the splits and made a nifty pad save.
With Williams' loss, second-seeded Trinity will host the semifinals and final next weekend in Hartford, Conn. The Bantams beat No. 7 Colby 3-1. The other semifinal will feature two teams that pulled off upsets. Amherst, the No. 6 seed, beat No. 3 Bowdoin 8-5 while fifth-seeded Middlebury beat No. 4 Hamilton 2-1 in overtime.
But all Williams can do now is sit around and wait until the NCAA Division III seeds are announced a week from Monday.
"We've been close, three of the last five years in the [NESCAC] finals, so not to get there is tough," said Kangas. "We work so hard [for home ice advantage] and to see it slip away like this, in the initial reflection, it's hard to take."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.