MINNEAPOLIS — Sean Orlando has a knack for the special teams.
The Trinity sophomore led the nation in power play goals for the second season in a row this year. And in the first semifinal at the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey championship Friday in Minneapolis, Orlando notched two of his three assists on special teams to lead the seventh ranked Bantams to a 5-3 win against the second-ranked Adrian Bulldogs.
Orlando’s first assist, on even strength, tied the game 1-1 in the first period.
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His second was the back breaker.
With Trinity up 2-1 midway through the second period, senior defenseman Andrew Tallett went to the penalty box for tripping. Just when the momentum was ready to turn back to the Bulldogs, the Bantams struck. Orlando and Ethan Holdaway sprung a two-on-one shorthanded break from the red line.
“I was thinking pass the whole way,” Orlando said. “Once I saw the D go long, I just threw a little pass over there.”
Holdaway accepted that pass, made a sharp move around Adrian goalie Scott Shackell and knocked in an easy backhand.
The goal put Trinity up 3-1. Although Adrian added a goal six minutes later, it was sandwiched between two Trinity power play goals — the second on which Orlando got an assist — that left the Bantams up 5-2 at the intermission. Adrian added one more goal in a competitive third period, but it was not enough.
Orlando’s shorthanded goal proved to be the dagger.
“It’s one thing that’s underrated about Sean’s game is his ability to think the game, get shot leads, use his stick, and I think that’s one of the things that makes him such a special, talented kid,” Trinity coach Matthew Greason said.
“To get a shorty in a situation where, if they scored, the game would probably really change directions. To get that shot was a special play by a special player.”
Orlando arrived at Trinity by way of Westminster, a boarding school in Trinity, Connecticut. As a freshman, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Orlando proved his offensive prowess, tying for third in the nation with 22 goals in 26 games and tying for the national lead with 12 power play goals and six game-winning goals.
His numbers were slightly down this season. In 27 games leading up to the national semifinals, Orlando had 14 goals, but the 10 with a man advantage again led Division III, and his finishing ability proved to be a catalyst for the nation’s fourth-ranked power play.
Adrian learned that the hard way on Friday.
“They’ve got guys that can score,” Adrian coach Adam Krug said of Trinity’s power play. “They move the puck well, and they’ve got guys jumping in and out of holes. They do a good job. It was very effective.”
For a time, however, Trinity didn’t even know if it would make the NCAA tournament.
The Bantams came into the NESCAC tournament with the regular-season conference title, the nation’s No. 2 ranking and a seven-game winning streak, only to lose 2-1 to last-seeded Tufts in the opener.
Trinity indeed qualified for the 11-team NCAA field via an at-large berth, but that meant the Bantams had to start in the first round rather than receiving a bye into the quarterfinals.
Trinity skated past Nichols 4-2 in the first round and then beat Plattsburgh State 5-1 in the quarterfinals to qualify for the national semifinals. Greason called that game “the best job we did all year of being consistent and persistent.”
The Bantams took it one step further in the semifinals.
Adrian came into the game as the nation’s hottest team, having won 12 straight games since Feb. 23 with a potent offense that included three of the top five scorers in Division III.
On Friday, however, it was the Bantams who proved to be hotter.
“They’re a good team, they can skate and they know how to finish,” Krug said.