ECAC Preview: Feb. 14-15, 1997 by Jayson Moy
"Every win this time of year is critical." — Cornell head coach Mike Schafer.
"It’s been a crazy year." — Clarkson head coach Mark Morris.
"It just gets a lot tighter in league play." — Colgate head coach Don Vaughn.
"The team you played the first time is certainly different now." — Union head coach Stan Moore.
"With the situation like this (only ECAC games left), there will be a lot of anticipation."– Yale head coach Tim Taylor.
"It will be the typical ECAC season in that nothing will be decided until the last weekend." — Dartmouth head coach Roger Demment.
"It’s crunch time, there’s just six games left." — St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh.
"They just get bigger and bigger from here on in." — RPI head coach Dan Fridgen.
They all sound like cliches, but they all are true. Each win is important, it’s crazy, it’s tight, teams are different, the anticipation is high and the games are big.
What makes it so big is that there are four teams tied for first place in the league, something that has never happened this late in the ECAC season.
It all came about because Clarkson swept, Vermont took three points, and Cornell and RPI each won one game and lost one. All four teams are now in the lead.
That’s not the only battle going on. Princeton leads a four-team pack in places five through eight, three points ahead of Colgate, Harvard and Union, all with 16 points.
Following not far behind are Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, Yale and Brown. Dartmouth picked up a win, St. Lawrence was swept, Yale lost its only game, and Brown got back in the thick of things with an upset of Princeton.
Take a closer look at the ECAC as it stands: ECAC Standings
Each team now has six games to go over the final three weekends.
There is only one game pitting top-four teams against each other this weekend — Vermont travels to Troy to take on RPI. Another battle to watch is Clarkson at Princeton on Friday, and don’t forget the annual grudge match between Harvard and Cornell at Lynah Rink.
No. 6 Vermont (18-6-2, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) and Dartmouth (10-12-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 9th) at Union (14-10-2, 7-7-2 ECAC, T-6th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Achilles Rink, Schenectady, N.Y.
Dartmouth (10-12-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 9th) and No. 6 Vermont (18-6-2, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) at RPI (15-8-3, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, N.Y.
Vermont tied Colgate, 5-5, and defeated Cornell, 7-5, for its claim to first place after the weekend. Head coach Mike Gilligan was in the middle, because he saw good things and bad things.
"I thought it was a decent weekend," he said. "[But] I wasn’t happy with the amount of goals that were scored on us."
Last week, goalie Tim Thomas was player of the week for his pair of 40-plus save performances in a sweep at St. Lawrence and Clarkson. This week, he looked human.
"Last week we worked on goals for, and this week we have to work on goals against," Gilligan said. "We kind of slipped a little bit in that department.
"We’re also going to the box at the wrong time. We’re not going in there to save goals, and that’s not what we want to do."
Gilligan shuffled his lines a couple of weeks ago, and it has shown some dividends. The reformed second line for the Catamounts has Stephane Piche, Matt Stelljes and J.C. Ruid. Piche made the ECAC Honor Roll this week for his three-goal and two-assist performance last weekend.
"That second line is going well," he said. "The first line will get their share of goals, but if we can get some from the second and third lines, it only helps."
The first time Vermont met RPI and Union, it was number one in the country, and RPI unceremoniously dropped the Cats from the top spot, 4-2. Union played tough, but Tim Thomas shutout the Dutchmen, 1-0.
"Revenge is not a word I use in the locker room," said Gilligan about this week’s RPI game. "They deserved to beat us up here…. [Union] plays good defense, and they have good goaltending."
Dartmouth head coach Roger Demment also notes the defense of the Dutchmen. "Against Union, it will be more of a dig down deep and work-real-hard game," he said. "They just have a great defense and a great goaltender."
But before the Big Green face Union on Saturday, they square off against RPI.
"We have to play great defense against their big offense," said Demment about RPI. "That will be the focus on Friday." Dartmouth lost both games against Union and RPI at home in November, 7-3 and 5-4 respectively.
"That we lost to them is an incentive to get some wins on the road," Demment said. "But you look at those games, and it was a long, long time ago."
David Whitworth broke into the top ten in scoring in the ECAC over the weekend, with two goals and two assists.
"He’s playing well with Ryan Chaytors and Jon Sturgis," said Demment. "We’ve had a number of guys step it up for us this year offensively, him included."
A split in the North Country for the Union Dutchmen lifted them into a sixth place tie with Harvard and Colgate.
"I think we were outplayed most of the game," Union head coach Stan Moore said about the Clarkson game. "In terms of the last few minutes, I’m pleased that we didn’t give up."
Trevor Koenig was spectacular in the nets, making 40 saves on Friday, and 34 saves against St. Lawrence on Saturday. His efforts were rewarded with the ECAC Player of the Week Award.
Union continues to play solid defense, leading the ECAC in goals allowed — a mere 2.42 goals per game.
RPI also split a pair in the North Country this weekend, defeating St. Lawrence 7-2, and falling to Clarkson 5-1. Despite only getting two points, the Engineers have a share of first place.
Head coach Don Fridgen thinks there’s a reason for that. "These guys are really focusing and they’re really preparing themselves mentally well," said Fridgen. "From the drop of the puck to the execution of the game plan."
One area where the Engineers need work on is the penalty-kill, and the taking of penalties. RPI has rocketed to second in the league in taking penalties, averaging 21.9 minutes per game. RPI has also dropped to 9th in the penalty kill statistics, dropping to a 79.5 percent kill ratio. It’s a deadly combination.
"In a situation when you’re trailing by a goal, you want to be expending your energy and your efforts trying to come back 5-on-5, instead of trying to score down 5-on-4," said Fridgen. "You wear down your penalty-killers, and it takes away a little bit of momentum."
Big games are on the agenda for RPI, and Fridgen hopes his team capitalizes on playing in them.
"We have played big games, but they just get bigger and bigger from here on in," he said. "Hopefully we’ll learn something from [the Clarkson] game. At least I hope we’ll learn something from it."
Dartmouth at RPI: RPI’s offense is a major concern for Dartmouth. But it seems that Dartmouth has been able to keep up with the offense in recent games with RPI. It’s not enough though. RPI 7 Dartmouth 4
Vermont at Union: Union will try to stop the French Connection and bottle up the passing lanes. It’s a lot easier at Achilles, and Union only lost 1-0 the last time at the wide-open Cathouse. At home, it will be more of a defensive game. Vermont 1 Union 1
Vermont at RPI: The Cats want some payback — it has to be in their minds. Can RPI keep up with the offense, or will it be a defensive game? It should be Danny Riva’s line against the French Connection, and the offense must come from elsewhere for both teams. Matt Stelljes will probably be out there whenever Eric Healey is. RPI has to stay out of the penalty box. RPI 4 Vermont 3
Dartmouth at Union: Union had a high goal total against Dartmouth the last time out. It won’t be like that again. Union 4 Dartmouth 2
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.