ECAC Preview: Feb. 21-22, 1997 by Jayson Moy
Twelve little Indians. One by one they fall. until now two are left.
When the ECAC weekend started, four teams were tied for first place. After all was said and done, only two remained — Clarkson and Cornell. The Big Red and the Golden Knights swept their weekend series, Princeton and Yale for Clarkson, and Harvard and Brown for Cornell.
RPI looked destined to keep pace with the two teams, but a late comeback by Vermont forced a tie, and now RPI sits one point behind the leaders while Vermont is three points back. This week’s battle between the leaders is Cornell at RPI on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a fight is brewing just three points behind the lead pack, with four teams separated by just two points. Princeton and Union have 20 points, Harvard and Colgate 18. There are some key matchups within this group, highlighted by Union-Colgate on Saturday night.
And yet another battle is underway among the four teams at the bottom of the league, with five points separating St. Lawrence in ninth and Brown in last. Dartmouth and Yale are 10th and 11th, respectively.
Pivotal games in this group this weekend include St. Lawrence playing Brown, and Yale against Dartmouth.
The jockeying continues this weekend, with nothing close to being settled.
Colgate (14-12-2, 8-8-2 ECAC, T-7th) and No. 10 Cornell (15-6-4, 12-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) at RPI (16-8-4, 11-4-3 ECAC, 3rd) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, N.Y.
No. 10 Cornell (15-6-4, 12-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) and Colgate (14-12-2, 8-8-2 ECAC, T-7th) at Union (16-10-2, 9-7-2 ECAC, T-5th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Achilles Rink, Schenectady, N.Y.
Cornell remains in first place with a sweep of Harvard and Brown, 2-1 and 7-2, respectively. The Big Red have done it with both offense and defense.
They are the third-highest scoring team in the ECAC with 68 goals in 18 games, though only one member of the Big Red, Kyle Knopp (9-10–19), is among the ECAC scoring leaders. Knopp had four points (3-1) on the weekend and stretched his goal-scoring streak to six games. This means the Big Red are getting balanced scoring from all lines, and even from the defense.
In nets, the Big Red have two of the top six goaltenders in the ECAC. Jean-Marc Pelletier is third in GAA (2.36) and has a save percentage of .922. Jason Elliot, who won both games this weekend, has a GAA of 2.65 and a save percentage of .914.
Head coach Mike Schafer has mentioned that he likes one goaltender to carry the team through the stretch run and the playoffs. Perhaps Elliot’s two starts this weekend mean that Schafer has chosen him to bear the load.
Colgate’s first-period field goal was enough to keep Brown at bay, 10-7 on Friday, but the Red Raiders returned and dropped a 5-2 contest to Harvard on Saturday. Now, instead of putting points between themselves and Harvard, they are tied for seventh in the standings.
The man for the Red Raiders this weekend was Mike Harder. Harder had six points (2-4) and now stands just six behind Steve Smith in his quest for the all-time scoring mark at Colgate.
RPI came oh so close to keeping pace with the leaders in the ECAC, but a Vermont comeback to tie the game kept RPI one point behind the leaders. RPI won in overtime the night before, 5-4 against Dartmouth. The Engineers also lost a two-goal lead in the third period of that one before winning it in overtime on an Eric Healey goal.
"It goes to show that you’ve got to focus for 60 full minutes," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen. "Against a good hockey team, if you lose focus for 15-20 seconds, bad things happen.
"I told those guys that if you want to be a championship team, you have to focus for 60 minutes. Good teams keep coming, and if you give them an opportunity, they’ll get you. It’s all a learning experience for these guys."
Fridgen says the basics are important at this time of year. "We’ve got to keep the game simple. Just get the puck over the blue line."
There are two games this week, and that’s how the Engineers are looking at it.
"You have to put it in perspective," said sophomore right wing Matt Garver. "We have to come back and win two games next weekend."
"We’re not worried about what the other teams are doing at this point; we have to worry about what we do," said Fridgen. "All the other teams can win for that matter — it doesn’t really matter [since] we’re the ones that are in the race."
Union is also in the race, and in a big way. With two consecutive shutouts this weekend over Vermont and Dartmouth, Union has pulled into a tie for fifth place with Princeton. In goal for both 2-0 victories was Trevor Koenig, the ECAC Player of the Week for the second straight time. Koenig now has four shutouts, and leads the nation in save percentage and goals-against average.
Union’s two wins this weekend were a milestone in several ways. The win on Saturday clinched an ECAC playoff spot; also, they were the first consecutive shutouts for a Union squad since the 1938-39 season. It was also the 16th win for Union, their most in a season since they upgraded the program to Division I in 1991.
"I’m very pleased and happy for the players," said head coach Stan Moore after the Dartmouth game on Saturday night. "I’m very pleased that they can not only boast a playoff spot, but they can boast the career number of wins by a Union team. It’s an important milestone."
Cornell at Union: These teams battled to a tough 3-3 tie in Ithaca back in December. Expect no less when they get together this weekend. Neither team really opens it up, so it will be low-scoring and tight-checking. Playing at home gives Union an advantage. Union 2 Cornell 2
Colgate at RPI: These two teams also played a 3-3 tie back in December. Which Colgate team will show — the one that put up 10 goals against Brown, or the one that lost to Harvard? The Jekyll-and-Hyde persona of the Red Raiders has to be figured out. For its part, can RPI bounce back from a disappointing tie to Vermont? It has the offense. RPI 5 Colgate 2
Colgate at Union: Stan Moore sees his old team for the second time this season, with a quarterfinal-round bye possibly on the line. Both teams are certainly different now, and Union has it.Union 3 Colgate 1
Cornell at RPI: RPI played the perfect game the last time these two teams met, winning 4-2. Cornell is looking to exact revenge some on the Engineers. It will be a matter of stopping RPI’s offense. RPI 4 Cornell 2
Harvard (9-13-2, 8-8-2 ECAC, T-7th) and Brown (6-17-2, 3-14-1 ECAC, 12th) at No. 5 Clarkson (20-8-0, 13-5-0 ECAC, T-1st) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Cheel Arena, Potsdam, N.Y.
Brown (6-17-2, 3-14-1 ECAC, 12th) and Harvard (9-13-2, 8-8-2 ECAC, T-7th) at St. Lawrence (9-17-4, 4-10-4 ECAC, 9th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Appleton Arena, Canton, N.Y.
Harvard had a good weekend despite losing one game. That loss, to Cornell, 2-1 on Friday night was a hard-fought battle defensively, right up the alley of Harvard. J.R. Prestifilippo was impressive again in goal, but did not get the offense he needed for the win.
The next night Harvard came back and Prestifilippo did get some scoring in a 5-2 win over Colgate. The Crimson need to keep the offense going in order to win games, though Prestifilippo is certainly keeping pucks out of the net.
Brown is fighting for its playoff life. After a shocker over Princeton, Brown lost to Colgate 10-7, and then 7-2 to Cornell. Brown’s big game this weekend will be against St. Lawrence. The Saints are in the same grouping with the Bears at the end of the ECAC standings, and Brown cannot afford to lose any more points.
The Bears are a combination of four points away from being eliminated from the playoffs, the combination occurring with Dartmouth.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence earned two ties this weekend, and the points pushed the Saints past Dartmouth into ninth place in the standings. Two ties would often leave a coach unhappy, but not Joe Marsh.
"I’m not frustrated," said Marsh. "It would’ve been nice to hang on, but the way we’ve been going in the struggle for points, we have to take that one point and go with it. We took two points on the road the hard way, I guess, but I don’t care."
"[Ninth place is] where we’re at right now," said Marsh. "And I think in some cases we made our own bed. We’ve had a season that’s been rocky in a lot of areas.
"I was really pleased with the effort in both games [this weekend]…. That’s indicative of our season; we’re not quite finishing. We sustain some pressure for a while, then we’re prone to unforced turnovers. Nothing’s going real easy for us. But we’ll just keep working and plugging, and get into the playoffs, and hopefully we can get a second lease on life."
Clarkson remains in first place with a 2-1 overtime win over Princeton Friday, and a 2-0 shutout of Yale the next night.
"To come out with a win is a bonus, because we didn’t play our best hockey tonight," said head coach Mark Morris after the overtime thriller.
It was Hobey Baker candidate and ECAC Player of the Year favorite Todd White that came through for the Golden Knights.
"He’s the best all-around, two-way player in the country," said Morris on White. "He is. There’s no question in my mind. I’ve seen all the best players. And he’s a plus-25 right now.
"I compare him with a Brendan Morrison, a (Martin) St. Louis and (Eric) Perrin. He’s a better player at all facets of the game. He can play defense, he can play offense. He’s strong, he’s quick, and he does a lot of things well. And on top of that, he’s a 3.6 (GPA) academically. He does it all and it’s pretty impressive."
With just two losses in 1997, the Golden Knights are brimming with confidence as they head into the last two weekends.
"Confidence can do unbelievable things for individuals and teams, and it’s nice to know we’re headed in the right direction," said Morris.
Harvard at Clarkson: Harvard defeated Clarkson the last time out in December, 5-4. That was last time, though. Clarkson is red-hot, and full of confidence. Clarkson 6 Harvard 2
Brown at St. Lawrence: Brown is trying to avoid elimination from the playoffs, but it looks like it’s just a matter of time. The Saints — at home — make that time now. St. Lawrence 5 Brown 3
Brown at Clarkson: This game won’t mean a whole lot to the Bears, except in the pride category. They will put up a fight, but against a team going for first place, it’s not enough. Clarkson 7 Brown 3
Harvard at St. Lawrence: These two tied in December, 3-3. Can the Saints earn their first sweep of the year? Probably not. Harvard 4 St. Lawrence 3
Princeton (14-8-3, 9-7-2 ECAC, T-5th) and Yale (7-15-3, 4-12-2 ECAC, 11th) at Dartmouth (10-14-1, 5-12-1 ECAC, 10th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-5 p.m., Thompson Arena, Hanover, N.H.
Yale (7-15-3, 4-12-2 ECAC, 11th) and Princeton (14-8-3, 9-7-2 ECAC, T-5th) at No. 8 Vermont (18-7-3, 10-5-3 ECAC, 4th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.
Princeton has had a tough go at it since returning from its break. The Tigers lost senior Mike Bois, the best defensive forward on the team, to academic ineligibility. The Tigers have also last three of their last five ECAC games. In the meantime, Princeton has fallen from first place to a tie for fifth.
The latest ECAC weekend saw Princeton lose to Clarkson with 11 seconds left in overtime, and tie St. Lawrence on Saturday.
"I believe wholeheartedly that (the recent losses are) not through lack of effort," said Princeton coach Don Cahoon. "The first period was OK (against St. Lawrence), the second period was deplorable and the third period we got on them."
Through it all, Cahoon thinks that only good things lie ahead for his Tigers.
"We struggled at Cornell, last night was tough, and we struggled at Brown," Cahoon said after Saturday’s tie. "There was definitely some concern about being in the blahs, and I think we’re out of the blahs now. Now it’s a question of whether we can package a couple of good games to be able to get back in the hunt."
Yale is another team fighting for a playoff chance. The Elis are currently in 11th place, but are only one point behind Dartmouth and two behind St. Lawrence. That, of course, makes the Bulldogs’ game with Dartmouth an important one.
In order for the Bulldogs to get into the playoffs, they must score. Yale is now the lowest-scoring team in the ECAC after getting just four goals on the weekend. Yale’s top three scorers, Keith McCullough, John Chyz and Jeff Hamilton, have only scored nine, nine and two points respectively since the start of 1997. Not one single Bulldog is averaging over a point a game.
Dartmouth lost a place in the standings when the Big Green were swept by RPI and Union. Friday’s loss to RPI was extremely disappointing, as it came in overtime after the Big Green overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period.
"I thought the guys did a great job battling back to get it tied at 4-4," said head coach Roger Demment. "It’s a shame it had to end like that.
"It’s extremely frustrating, and we’re fighting for points for a playoff spot. I thought we matched up well against them. We battled back, and to give up a goal (in overtime) is pretty tough."
The last time Dartmouth faced Yale and Princeton, it was swept, 5-4 and 4-2, respectively. The game against Yale is one that looms large.
Vermont suffered the biggest fall of the four teams tied for first this weekend — shut out by Union and forced to battle back to tie RPI.
"I think we had a few things bouncing for us at the end of the game," said Vermont coach Mike Gilligan after the RPI game. "The puck hasn’t bounced for us the last couple of nights, but it started to in the last four minutes. We were very fortunate to come out of here (RPI) with a point.
"It was a real important point. It’s something I give the kids a lot of credit for hanging in there and getting it."
Gilligan hopes that things can carry over to this coming weekend, especially in the scoring department. "We were shooting at legs, sticks, and bodies," he said. "We have to convert, and we started to convert."
Princeton at Dartmouth: Princeton won the first matchup, 4-2. It looks like Princeton has gotten things together. Dartmouth also had things together, but could not get a point this past weekend. Princeton 4 Dartmouth 3
Yale at Vermont: Vermont will enjoy the game at home. Yale is young and fighting for a playoff spot, while Vermont will get scoring from the French Connection this weekend. Vermont 6 Yale 2
Yale at Dartmouth: The winner of this game has the upper edge on the last playoff position. At home, Dartmouth will hold a slight edge, and its offense increases that margin. Dartmouth 5 Yale 4
Princeton at Vermont: Vermont won a close one back at the beginning of January, 3-2. This is the last regular-season home game for the French Connection and Tim Thomas; for Princeton, that means tough luck. Vermont 3 Princeton 2
It’s here, ladies and gentlemen. The final weekend of the regular season is coming up, and it’s highlighted by a matchup between two potential first-place teams, Clarkson and Cornell.
The last weekend of the regular season:
Friday, February 28: Clarkson at Cornell St. Lawrence at Colgate RPI at Yale Union at Princeton Vermont at Brown Dartmouth at Harvard
Saturday, March 1: Clarkson at Colgate St. Lawrence at Cornell RPI at Princeton Union at Yale Vermont at Harvard Dartmouth at Brown
Thanks to Adam Wodon for help on this article.
Jayson Moy is the ECAC Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1997 Jayson Moy . All Rights Reserved.
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