WATERVILLE — The Colby College hockey team doesn’t like to dwell on the past. On Saturday afternoon, however, the Mules will stare it down.

Just a year after losing at home to Wesleyan University in the New England Small College Athletic Conference quarterfinals, sixth-seeded Colby will meet the Cardinals in the NESCAC semifinals with a chance at making program history.

With a win Saturday, Colby (13-10-2) will advance to the conference championship game for the first time since the league adopted the current playoff format in 2001.

“We can’t get ahead of ourselves, but nothing would surprise me with this team,” Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we played for a few more weeks.”

Colby and Wesleyan meet in the first semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m. with No. 1 Trinity College, ranked sixth nationally, playing seventh-seeded Williams in the late game. The NESCAC championship pits Saturday’s winners against one another on Sunday with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament on the line. All three games will be played in Hartford, Connecticut.

No current member of the Colby roster has played a meaningful March game for the Mules during their career, having never advanced past the league quarterfinals previously.


How Colby got to this point is a remarkable exercise in perseverance. The Mules lost six of their first seven games in January, dropping out of the national rankings while being outscored 27-13 during that stretch.

It culminated with a 3-2 loss on home ice to Middlebury, which finished dead last in the NESCAC.

Since that point, though, Colby has been a different team. The Mules have gone 6-2-2 since, including the team’s current five-game unbeaten streak through last weekend’s 5-1 quarterfinal final win over third-seeded Amherst.

“It feels like two seasons ago,” senior Phil Klitirinos said of the midseason swoon. “Every team goes through struggles. It just so happens that ours was six or seven games or whatever the case was… Now, we’ve strung together a couple of wins in a row. Hopefully, it continues.

“We’re having a blast. Every day we come to the rink, we’re having fun.”

“There was a lot of peeling back of layers — personally and collectively,” MacDonald said of his team’s ability to rebound from the January dip. “There was a significant autopsy of what are we doing as a team, what is our brand and what do we want to be known for. The fact that we were able to rebound is totally on the guys in the locker room.


“The players have the ownership piece, and they did a fabulous job creating a clean canvas for themselves.”

Not surprisingly, MacDonald believes the good play began — where else? — on the practice sheet.

“It all started with a workmanlike attitude in practice,” MacDonald said. “We’ve strung together, in the last three weeks, 90 percent of our practices — if not more — have been really high-end. That gives you that level of confidence and certainty that we’ve conditioned ourselves to respond to certain elements and environments.”

The Colby senior class has helped lead the resurgence for the NESCAC’s most potent offense (3.32 goals per game), particularly in the playoff win against Amherst. The Mules’ seniors accounted for four of the five goals, with big winger Mario Benicky scoring twice and assisting on another goal and linemate Klitirinos adding a goal and an assist.

On the back end, defenseman Michael Decker earned all-NESCAC honors and netminder Sean Lawrence (2.16 goals against average, .936 save percentage) made 36 saves against Amherst.

“Our goalie’s been really hot, which makes it easier for everyone,” said Benicky, who has 10 goals as part of a Colby team with its scoring spread out across all four lines.


“I think Mario’s had chances all year,” Klitirinos said. “He’s got probably the best shot in the league. Sometimes it goes in, and sometimes it doesn’t. When we needed him to step up in a big game, he stepped up.”

The Mules aren’t interested anymore in what happened in January or in discussing last year’s promising season cut short. Last weekend is the most recent history the Mules want to talk about.

With one small exception.

“It’s always fun when you get to play meaningful games at the end of the year,” Klitirinos said. “It’s hockey. Anything can happen, especially in our league with a one-game elimination. They beat us (last year), and now we get a chance at a bit of redemption against the same team, right?”

Notes: Colby and Wesleyan met twice during the regular season, with each of those contests coming during the respective Mules’ streaks. Colby lost 5-1 at Wesleyan in mid-January but earned a 3-3 tie in its final home game of the season on Feb. 11. … Senior Cam MacDonald leads Colby with 12 goals this season, one of 11 Mules with three or more goals this season. … Klitirinos leads Colby in overall scoring with 7-17-24 totals.

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