BEVERLY –– Five minutes after the final whistle, Endicott senior Eric Manoukian took a knee at the blue line, tears flowing as sophomore Ryan Willett and coach R.J. Tolan wrapped their arms around him. Tolan told Manoukian that he loved him like family, a testament to the culture forged in the Gulls locker room.
The Endicott men’s hockey team fell in its first NCAA Division III semifinal appearance, losing 3-1 to second-ranked Hobart at a sold-out Raymond J. Bourque Arena on Friday. The Statesmen (28-2-0) will take on No. 3 Adrian (25-4-2), the defending national champion, on Sunday (7 p.m.).
The No. 4 Gulls (23-3-2) enjoyed an unprecedented season, winning the Commonwealth Coast Conference for the third time in eight seasons as a varsity program. The Frozen Four was the first semifinal appearance across all sports in school history.
“It was an amazing thing to be a part of,” said Tolan. “To think of where the program was when we started . . . now to be hosting a final four in front of a capacity crowd, it was an amazing experience.”
Hobart junior Austin Mourar scored the winner with 6:51 to play, one-timing a pristine feed from Shane Shell on the power play past Gulls sophomore Ryan Wilson (22 saves). The Statesmen converted just once on six opportunities with a man advantage, but the lone tally proved enough. Sophomore Luke Aquaro added an empty netter to seal the victory and senior Brenden Howell scored in the second period.
The Gulls did not convert any of their four power play opportunities, generating just four shots during the man advantages. The Statesmen cut off the middle of the ice, forcing perimeter shots by generating pressure on the puck carrier.
“The other goalie made some saves,” said Tolan. “They force you to make three passes under that duress. It’s hard to do.”
After a scoreless first period, UMass Lowell transfer Jackson Sterrett flew down the left side on a two-on-two rush and netted a wrist shot to put the hosts ahead.
“Obviously, we wish tonight went a little different but we are very thankful, and it was a great run,” said Endicott senior forward Noah Strawn, a Wareham native who played at Old Rochester.
Adrian knocked out No. 10 University of New England, 8-7, in an overtime thriller in the afternoon semifinal. Bulldogs senior Alessio Luciani drove across the crease and slotted a goal inside the left post for the winner. Six of the combined 15 goals were scored in the third period as Adrian rallied from down 5-2 in the second period.
Hobart coach Mark Taylor recruited Tolan to play at UMass Lowell, coaching him from 1998-2002. Taylor was awarded the 2023 Edward Jeremiah Award as the American Hockey Coaches Association Division 3 Men’s Coach of the Year this season.
“I really hope things go his way [in the championship game],” Tolan said of Taylor. “I was really happy for him to get that National Coach of the Year award. He’s put in weekend after weekend, day after day of grinding and recruiting. It’s great for him to get that opportunity.”
Cam Kerry can be reached at email@example.com.