ECAC Playoffs: Quarterfinals by Jayson Moy
We’re down to eight teams left in the hunt for the Whitelaw Trophy, three of which have never won it — Princeton, Union and Yale. In fact, of the three, only sixth-seeded Princeton has made it as far as the championship game (a 5-1 loss in 1995 to RPI).
Tuesday’s preliminary-round games ended the seasons of two more teams, St. Lawrence and Colgate. Thus, the Bulldogs of Yale head to Clarkson, and the Crimson of Harvard to Cornell.
Here we go …
No. 5 Union (18-11-3, 11-8-3 ECAC) at No. 4 RPI (17-11-4, 12-7-3 ECAC) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, N.Y.
Regular Season Nov. 16: Union 2 RPI 0 at Knickerbocker Arena, Non-League Game Jan. 17: RPI 5 Union 2 at RPI Jan. 25: RPI 3 Union 3 OT at Union
The Capital District rivalry continues this weekend at the RPI Fieldhouse. These will be the fourth, fifth and possibly sixth meetings this year between the two rivals, which are just ten miles apart.
"It’s deja vu," said Union forward Chris Ford.
"That’s fine with me," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen when told of his team’s quarterfinal opponent after Saturday’s win over Princeton. "We’re playing at home, and that’s better than a lot of other scenarios. One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to get home ice for the ECAC playoffs. It’s great to achieve a goal that we set out to do."
The exact same scenario was in place three years ago, when RPI was the third seed. It was the Dutchmen’s very first ECAC playoffs since joining the league in 1991, and the first game of that series also marked the first Union ECAC playoff win.
"I don’t think anyone even realized the ramifications of winning that first game," said Union forward John Sicinski. "We were green, and we didn’t realize how close we were to making it to Lake Placid."
That green team is now an experienced one; the Dutchmen have 13 seniors on their squad, and are in the quarterfinals for the first time since that year.
"We’ve got 13 guys who played in that series three years ago," said Union forward Ryan Donovan. "There’s a lot of experience that could very well help this time around. We’re looking forward to the challenge."
"There’s a lot of experience and a lot of excitement," said Union captain and Co-Defensive Defenseman of the Year in the ECAC Andrew Will. "Guys aren’t going to get caught up in all the hoopla this time around. We’re going to have more level heads about it."
While it is true that Union has 13 seniors, there isn’t much playoff experience on the squad. In addition to the quarterfinal round three years ago, there has been only a prelim-round loss to Princeton two years ago. The Dutchmen did not make the playoffs last season.
RPI doesn’t have much playoff experience, either. Five players do have the benefit of winning an ECAC Championship two years ago, but the team is comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores, and last year’s team was swept in the quarterfinals by Vermont.
Defense is a high point for the Dutchmen. They finished with an ECAC goals-against of 2.45, tied with Clarkson for the league lead. Goalie Trevor Koenig is the nation’s leader with a GAA of 1.99 nationally, and 2.19 in the ECAC. He has a save percentage of .934 in ECAC games (.931 overall).
"The whole team has been playing great defense all year," said Will. "It takes a lot of help from a lot of guys."
Not to be outdone, RPI’s defense is a silent but effective group.
"I think, overall, our defensemen have played solidly, and have really done the job for us this season," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen. "As a matter of fact, we did something new this year with our defensemen, as far as strategy, and they adjusted to it very well. Each of the six guys brings something different to the table."
In goal for RPI are the freshman duo of Scott Prekaski and Joel Laing. The two have combined for a wonderful season, helping concerns over the loss of Mike Tamburro, the 1995 ECAC Tournament MVP, fall by the wayside. Expect the two to split the series’ first two games.
Offensively, the Engineers have the edge. RPI had 20 more goals during the ECAC season than Union did, anchored by its top line of Eric Healey, Alain St. Hilaire and Matt Garver — the fifth-, 13th- and 11th-leading scorers in the ECAC, respectively.
For Union, John Sicinski leads with 31 points and Brent Ozarowski has 29. Don’t forget Ryan Campbell with 10 goals, Chris Ford’s seven, and Jamie Antoine’s power-play prowess.
These two have met three times already, with a record of 1-1-1. But don’t expect them to use that as a gauge for this series.
"The past is the past," said Fridgen. "You’re only as good as your last game."
"I feel that every team is different every single game," said Union head coach Stan Moore. "The team you played before is certainly different now."
"We’re even on the season series, so its going to be a battle," said RPI defenseman Chris Aldous, whose game-winner Saturday against Princeton gave the Engineers this home-ice advantage.
PICK: Will both teams get caught up in the rivalry? It’s just another series to a lot of the guys on the ice, and what it will come down to is whether RPI can solve Koenig, and whether Union can hold RPI down in the third period.
RPI in three, 2-3, 3-1, 5-2
No. 6 Princeton (16-9-4, 11-8-3 ECAC) at No. 3 Vermont (21-8-3, 13-6-3 ECAC) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.
Regular Season Jan. 10: Vermont 3 Princeton 2 at Princeton Feb. 22: Princeton 2 Vermont 0 at Vermont
Princeton head coach Don Cahoon pretty much summed up the playoffs. "You play well, you go on. You don’t play well, and you’re all done."
Princeton had home-ice advantage within its reach Saturday, after storming back to tie RPI, 2-2, in its own building. It would have been a first for the up-and-coming program. But after five-plus strong games, the Tigers let down in the third, thanks mostly to an RPI goal with one second left in the second period, giving the Engineers the 3-2 win.
Cahoon was frustrated, but remained philosophical about having to go up to Vermont, the nation’s eighth-ranked team in the latest Around the Rinks/USCHO poll.
"If we’re going to go to the next round, we’re going to have to beat a good team, regardless of where we played them or who we played," he said. "Vermont is a good team. If we’re a good enough team to be in Lake Placid, we’ll find a way to get there. We just wanted to make it a little more difficult for ourselves."
Many observers handed Vermont the ECAC regular-season title before the season started, coming off last year’s Final Four appearance. But it didn’t quite work out that way.
"The most important part was getting home ice," said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan. "We had a chance for second, but things didn’t work out, so we got third, which is pretty pleasing."
The series will take place in the noisy Gutterson Fieldhouse, which gives the Catamounts an advantage. But the last time the two teams met, on Vermont’s Senior Day, Princeton shut out the Cats 2-0.
"It has to give the guys confidence," said Cahoon about the win. "In the back of your mind, you hope it stays there, but essentially you have to start all over again."
"You definitely want to remember that," said Gilligan about his team’s loss. "We can use that to our advantage. That’s still fresh in our memories."
Experience can also play a factor in the playoffs. The Cats return 20 players from last year’s Final Four squad. The Tigers return 10 players from the team that made the ECAC Championship game two years ago.
"Our experience has helped in that regard," said Gilligan of playoff hockey. "These guys are more emotionally prepared this time of the year than all season."
But how will this weekend’s game’s shape up between the two?
"We’re going to have to play solid hockey all around the rink," said Cahoon. "We’ll hope to check [Martin St. Louis (right) and Eric Perrin (left)] down as much as we can.
"[Vermont] has balanced their lines a little more. And in turn, they’ve balanced their offense a little more."
"We had a couple of kids knocked out physically against Harvard (last Saturday)," said Gilligan. "The third and fourth lines got a lot of time. (Stephane) Piche and (J.C.) Ruid had real strong weekends as well. There are some kids who have not helped St. Louis and Perrin in the offensive department this year, and now they are starting to help them.
"[Princeton] comes right after you. They’ve got good speed at the forward position, and we’ve got to knock them off the puck as soon as we can."
Cahoon should have forward Scott Bertoli, the ECAC’s 12th-leading scorer, back in action after sitting most of Saturday’s game versus RPI with a groin injury.
"We decided to rest him on Saturday," said Cahoon on Bertoli. "He dressed on Saturday, but didn’t really see the ice. Maybe I shouldn’t have dressed him, but I sat him because I chose to look at it on a long-term basis."
The goaltending matchup should also be a good one. Expect to see Tim Thomas and Erasmo Saltarelli, two of the top five ECAC goaltenders, in net. After alternating most of the year, Saltarelli has started four straight games for the Tigers.
If there is a second goalie for Princeton, it’s likely to be freshman Craig Bradley, who is 4-0-1 this season, including big wins over Dartmouth and Colgate.
"I don’t know if he’ll have to carry the whole weight," said Cahoon of Saltarelli. "He’s played very well, and he’ll be the main contributor in net.
"It will go as the series goes. If it goes to three games, I won’t be playing one goalie."
Saltarelli has played the lion’s share of the games down the stretch, six of the last seven, and seven of the last nine. He finished the ECAC season with a 2.59 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
Thomas, of course, has played almost every minute since coming to Vermont in 1993-94.
"I don’t think there’s a better goalie than ours," said Gilligan of Thomas.
Thomas admitted that he was thinking about his future early in the season, but during the stretch run, he has done a great job. He finished the season with a 2.57 GAA and .922 save percentage.
PICK: This is a tough series. The ferocious forecheck and speed of Princeton will attempt to keep the Cats at bay. Expect a lot of hitting, and when the offense shakes loose, there will be some beautiful plays. Also expect a low-scoring series, thanks to two outstanding goaltenders. Experience will be a key factor.
Vermont in three games, 3-2, 1-3, 4-2
No. 8 Harvard (11-17-2, 9-10-2 ECAC) at No. 2 Cornell (17-8-4, 14-6-2 ECAC) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., Lynah Rink, Ithaca, N.Y.
Regular Season Nov. 9: Cornell 3 Harvard 2 at Harvard Feb. 14: Cornell 2 Harvard 1 at Cornell
The Crimson of Harvard have a one-game winning streak in the ECAC playoffs after a 4-2 victory over St. Lawrence on Tuesday night.
"We regrouped, and it’s a solid win — after the first period anyways," said head coach Ronn Tomassoni, whose teams are not used to playing a prelim game. "We have to play 60 minutes, absolutely. We can’t go up to Clarkson or Cornell and expect to win a series. I’ll tell you, the fact of the matter is, we can beat either team, but we have to play 60 minutes each time we play.
"At this time of the year, the competition is now going to get tougher. You have to play 60 minutes [of hockey] if you want to win a championship. We kind of dodged a bullet (Tuesday), no question about it."
Now the Crimson face Cornell, the team that beat them for the ECAC Championship last year in Lake Placid.
"We wanted to play Cornell, definitely, over Clarkson," said Harvard forward Rob Millar. "We owe them a lot. Last year they knocked us out 2-1. They’ve beaten us by one goal in the last four games we’ve played them."
The Crimson are the hated rivals at Lynah Rink, for fans, players and the Pep Band. It’s a huge rivalry, and it looms large on the Crimson.
"Now that we’re playing Cornell, we’ll probably have enough crowd for the whole playoffs," said freshman goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo.
"Cornell, it’s a great place to play," said Harvard captain Ashlin Halfnight. "I love going up there. It’s the type of thing where we have some payback to do up there."
Cornell’s recent dominance over Harvard is a far cry from the way it was in the decade before (other than a quarterfinal win in 1990). And Cornell’s crowd is legendary, but it sees Harvard as THE rival. It has gotten nasty recently at Harvard games, but Cornell coach Mike Schafer has helped tone things down slightly this year.
"It’s a great place to play and it’s a great atmosphere," said Tomassoni. "Last year, when we went up there, I thought it went a little above and beyond, they were actually throwing at us. I don’t think anyone should be abused where they got blood and fish guts on their jersey, and a jersey that’s going to stay in their hotel room for another night. I don’t think anyone has to be subjected to that kind of treatment.
"I’m not trying to discourage enthusiasm by any means. Like I said, it’s always been a great place to play, it’s an exciting place to play, and there’s nothing better when you hear nothing up in Ithaca, New York.
"It’s pretty difficult not to get pumped up there. In my opinion, Gutterson rivals it, but I don’t think there’s any better place to play than Lynah."
But let’s not forget about the opposition, the Big Red themselves.
Jason Elliot has a GAA of 2.70 and a save percentage of .912 in league play. Expect to see him in net for the series; after all he was the ECAC Tournament MVP last year in the Big Red’s run.
For the Crimson, Prestifilippo has been the go-to guy in the nets.
"J.R. has been the rock," said Tomassoni. "He has been simply outstanding. He’s only a freshman, but he has not played like a freshman. He’s been consistent — he’s given us the opportunity to win every game, regardless of how we’ve played. He’s also a tremendous competitor, mature beyond his years, and as tough a kid mentally as I’ve coached."
Harvard has picked up the offense lately, scoring 14 goals in three games. This is almost one goal more per game than the Crimson scored in the first 20 ECAC games.
Cornell on offense has such balanced scoring that only one member of the Big Red makes the list of ECAC leading scorers — Kyle Knopp. Knopp has 23 points, 12 of them goals, on a team that has 80 ECAC goals.
"From now on here, you don’t win, you go home," said Tomassoni. "This team, if they get it in their mind, in my opinion they can win a championship, and that’s just not saying it to motivate them, I believe it in my heart."
Besides the fans at Lynah, the rink itself might make a difference according to Millar.
"The ice is hard. That’s good for our speed," he said. "We match up really well against them. We think that we’re due and we’re looking for two wins there this weekend. We expect that. Right now we’re only one of two teams that are 1-0, we have the momentum."
PICK: There have been four straight one-goal games in this series. The two teams have a great rivalry, and it’s further intensified by the crowd at Lynah. Probably low-scoring here, but to whose advantage does that work? The team that has the lead will be tough to beat.
Cornell in three, 2-4, 4-2, 4-1
No. 10 Yale (10-17-3, 6-13-2 ECAC) at No. 1 Clarkson (24-8-0, 17-5-0 ECAC) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., Cheel Arena, Potsdam, N.Y.
Regular Season Nov. 9: Yale 5 Clarkson 2 at Clarkson Feb. 15: Clarkson 2 Yale 0 at Yale
Let’s start off with one ominous fact that bodes in Clarkson’s favor and not in Yale’s: Clarkson has not lost at Cheel Arena in the playoffs — ever.
The Golden Knights are 9-0 since Cheel opened in the 1991 season in the ECAC playoffs. In fact, their first wins were a two-game quarterfinal sweep of Yale.
Meanwhile, after Tuesday’s win, Yale still hasn’t lost in the ECAC playoffs since 1993. Of course, the Bulldogs haven’t participated in the playoffs since then, so the postseason is new to this entire group. Tuesday’s win was the Bulldogs’ first in the postseason since 1991 at Brown.
The last win in the quarterfinal round was back in 1987 against … you guessed it: Clarkson.
"You have to give the kids an awful lot of credit," said head coach Tim Taylor. "We’ve been playing great defense and Alex Westlund was excellent against Colgate."
Freshman Cory Shea’s first-period goal and 46 saves by Westlund propelled the Bulldogs to Potsdam. Yale has now won three of its last five, and lost the other two by just one goal apiece. The Bulldogs are getting on track at the right time of the year.
"We know they’re hot," said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. "There is no doubt that they’re the underdog. We know to respect them enough that right now, they can knock anyone off. A lot of their success has come from their defense and Alex Westlund.
"He’s been hot, and when we last played them he kept us off the boards until there were five minutes to go in the game. Timmy’s [Taylor] got them playing some solid defense."
"We’ve learned how to do the little things," said Taylor. "We’re getting pretty good at protecting our goaltender. If we can keep the games close, we’ll have a chance.
"We have to play a defensive position," he added. "The stats don’t lie. We’re last in goals scored in our league. This year we have young forwards, and their offense will improve with age."
Clarkson’s defense is not too shabby either. The Golden Knights tied Union for the fewest goals allowed in ECAC competition, and goaltender Dan Murphy is a rock in net. He finished the season with a 2.28 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
The Golden Knights are an experienced playoff team as well, making the NCAA tournament the last two years, and the ECAC Final Four seven straight seasons.
"I like to think that experience makes a difference," said Morris. "But every year is a new experience for everyone. And every time you assume, you fall short, so we have to stay focused."
"I’ve always been skeptical about experience," said Taylor, offering a different perspective. "Our team is young and has not been in the playoffs, but five weeks ago we were well out of the playoffs fighting for our lives. In those five weeks we’ve gotten into the playoff picture, and we got a playoff spot. We’ve been in the playoffs for the last five weeks."
Offense is the story for the Golden Knights. They led the ECAC in goals scored in league play, and have the ECAC’s scoring champ in senior Todd White.
"It will be one key," said Taylor of stopping White. "We have to stay on top of him and try to shut him out. He’s effective at all aspects of the game. Offense, defense, power play or penalty kill, there isn’t one facet of the game that he does not excel at."
"He (White), along with two of the other seniors in J.F. Houle and Matt Pagnutti, have been extremely steady," said Morris. "They have consistently put up the numbers, and night in and night out they’ve made a difference. Our record shows that they have shown up week in and week out. And as our newcomers got into our system, it has helped."
One other factor that might play a part in this series is fatigue. Yale will play its fourth and fifth games in eight days this weekend.
"The travel is a concern," said Taylor. "The kids are just not used to the travel. It’s my job as the coach to make sure that the kids do not get fatigued. We got off the bus on (Wednesday) morning at 4 a.m., and now we’re getting ready to leave for a seven-hour bus ride to Upstate New York (Thursday).
"In the meantime, Clarkson’s been sitting at home for a week, and are just waiting for us."
"I would like to think that it’s our advantage," said Morris. "They had to play Tuesday night, and it has to bear on their energy level."
PICK: Yale is playing with confidence and young legs. Clarkson has the experience, and is playing at home. Clarkson didn’t finish in first place to get knocked out in the quarterfinals.
Clarkson in two, 5-2 and 6-3
It’s off to the Adirondacks and the cozy confines of the 1980 Olympic Ice Arena next weekend, when the ECAC Final Four battle for the right for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and the Scotty Whitelaw Trophy.
All games from Lake Placid can be heard on AudioNet, so if you can’t get to the arena, or to an area that’s carrying the TV feed, tune in via the Internet. Around the Rinks host, and four-year Princeton play-by-play announcer Adam Wodon is on the call, while Harvard color announcer Geoff Howell provides the commentary.
These are original broadcasts, not re-feeds from local radio. This is true, national, Inter-Network coverage.
Contributors to this article: Rebecca A. Blaeser of the Harvard Crimson Eric A. Wong, game reporter for USCHO Ken Schott of The Daily Gazette Bob Weiner of The Daily Gazette
Some pictures provided by: Kyle Rose of Cornell Yale University Athletics
Jayson Moy is the ECAC Correspondent for U.S. College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1997 Jayson Moy . All Rights Reserved.
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