North Country, Part II
It’s rivalry week once again in the North Country. Clarkson travels to St. Lawrence on Friday for the second game of the season between the two. It also serves as the kickoff for the ECAC television package.
The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie the first weekend of December and both teams may have begun to hit their stride. Both teams swept Harvard and Brown this past weekend at home.
“We played some of our best hockey (this past weekend) and hopefully the awakening has come about,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris on the 5-2 win over Harvard and the 4-1 win over Brown. “The addition of Karl Mattson has elevated Shawn Grant’s play. He’s a bona fide threat to jump in the net and Shawn seems to have recaptured his confidence and his competitive spirit.”
In the meantime the Saints defeated Harvard, 6-4, and Brown, 6-3.
“It was a pretty satisfying weekend in a lot of ways,” said Saint head coach Joe Marsh. “We were able to continue to score goals and our power play was clicking again. We knew we weren’t going to stay in an offensive slump forever, and the guys are capable of creating the opportunities and finishing them off.”
The offense seems to have gotten a jumpstart this past weekend. The Saints scored six goals for the third consecutive game, with the total of 18 matching what the Saints were able to score in their previous nine games, and the 12 goals last weekend matching the amount of goals scored in the eight games prior to the second Wisconsin game.
“We were able to spread it around offensively and all four lines contributed both nights,” said Marsh. “We can build on these two games and hope to build on them to try and get better. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played and we know we are in for a hard battle with Clarkson on Friday.”
Over in Potsdam, the Golden Knights saw their captain Yan Turgeon score his first goal of the season.
“It was a lot of weight off of Yan Turgeon’s shoulder to score some points and make some plays,” said Morris. “When he is producing it takes the weight off of other players’ shoulders. You could see his confidence start to build and we expect that it will continue.”
The Saints will look to hold onto their lead in the ECAC, while the Golden Knights look to move up from tenth in the standings in this heated clash.
“I told our guys that our future is in our hands and we can’t worry about any one else,” said Morris. “It’s up to us to make a difference. We have to scratch and claw to get back to respectability. I don’t know whether we can redeem all of the ground that we lost early on.”
Back On The Hill
The Brown Bears followed up a weekend of zero points in ECAC competition by recapturing the Mayor’s Cup in the annual battle between the Bears and Providence with a 4-2 win on Tuesday evening.
“We’ve played decent hockey; we’ve struggled to put everything together and [Tuesday] we got good goaltending, good defensive play and we put some goals on the board,” said head coach Roger Grillo.
The Bears will continue to play outside of the ECAC for the next two weeks as they will finally get a good number of non-conference games in.
“I don’t know if that’s the case of being good (to be out of conference right now),” said Grillo about the pair of games with Niagara this weekend and a nonconference game next week with Merrimack. “It’s an opportunity for us to right the ship before we get back into the league. It’s a situation where we have to pick up some wins and get better.”
The Bears have their work cut out for them as they sit in eleventh place right now and can only sit idly by as other teams will play conference games over the next two weeks. When the Bears do get back to the ECAC schedule, they know there is a lot of work to be done, but the Bears have to look at themselves.
“I can’t worry about what other teams are doing,” said Grillo. “We have to get some wins and I have to worry about things here and the problems that I have here.”
The Bulldogs Stay Out Of League
In the team’s last chance to get all the bugs out, Yale will take on two nonconference opponents this weekend before embarking on the remainder of its league season. The Bulldogs have been quietly chugging along this season and — excluding the four exhibition games during the holiday season — have won four of their last six games, including three of four ECAC games to claim sole possession of third place.
Yale’s most recent nonconference stint against Boston College did not go exactly how head coach Tim Taylor planned as his team battled through two even periods before surrendering two goals in the final stanza for the 3-1 defeat. Once again, Dan Lombard was superb in net, making several spectacular saves, including one on Marty Hughes with less than five minutes remaining in a 1-1 contest. Hughes had broken in all alone and appeared to have beaten Lombard before the Yale goalie snagged a shot destined for the top shelf. It was one of 15 saves in the period for Lombard and one of 33 in the game.
“Lombard was outstanding, but he’s a little disappointed that he doesn’t get the wins,” Taylor said. “I was disappointed in a couple of details in the game that sunk us. There was a minimum of three penalties that we could have avoided, and that took away some of our timing and rhythm. And our inability to get the puck in deep on the power play hurt us. But I thought this was, in many ways, a game we had a chance to win.”
That is the story of Yale this season in that they have put themselves in a position to win each and every game and for the most part they have been successful. The largest margin of defeat this season has been two goals and that happened only three times overall and once in league play (a 2-0 loss to St. Lawrence back in November).
Yale will be handed a challenge this weekend against two very different hockey teams. Army has the ability to put points on the board and is coming off a 4-4 tie to Providence and a 5-2 defeat to Colgate last weekend, but Boston University is the marquee game for the Eli. Aside from the team’s latest defeat to Boston College, Yale has stood its ground and has actually played its best hockey against nationally-ranked teams this season. The Eli forced Michigan into overtime to start the season and then pounced upon New Hampshire, 5-1, in New Haven a week later.
Defense will be a key for the Yale. Throughout most of the season, defense has been Yale’s strength — until lately. First, the team engaged in a 6-5 shootout against Brown, and then the Eli allowed the Eagles to score just three last weekend. Heading into this weekend, Boston University is averaging nearly four goals a game.
Wake Up, It’s Time To Play
Colgate has played a grand total of three games in 41 days. The Red Raiders have only played two ECAC games in 62 days. The Red Raiders were supposed to play two ECAC games this weekend, but only will play one because one of their opponents was supposed to be Vermont.
It’s like starting the season all over again.
“This has been a challenging month for us mentally,” said head coach Don Vaughan. “We’ve played three games since December 11, our guys have been back here since December 27 and every athlete at this level wants the competition, but the schedule didn’t allow it. We only have so many days in the schedule to work with and that’s the way it fell.
“We were expecting this weekend as the start of our season. It’s something we had talked about all season long and our season starts here. It’s not unlike any other year. Our season can’t come into focus until February. In terms of mindset it’s the beginning of the end.”
And it really is, as the Red Raiders will take on Dartmouth on Saturday and then play the last 11 games of the season — all ECAC contests.
The Travel Partner
With all the talk centered around Vermont, its travel partner, Dartmouth is charging hard.
The Big Green were the only team to sweep a weekend ECAC set two weeks ago and wound up not playing last weekend when Vermont canceled the rest of its season.
With a week off, will regaining the momentum for the Big Green be a problem?
“That remains to be seen,” said head coach Bob Gaudet. “I would have loved to have played last weekend, but we have two games this weekend and maybe we won’t be hitting on all cylinders, but I like the way we played two weeks ago, and it’s the same guys, so there’s no reason to think they won’t. We’ve had breaks before, this one is unforeseen, but we’ll have to react in a positive way.”
Of course it is an odd weekend as the Big Green will play Colgate on Saturday in an ECAC television game and then travel to Cornell on Monday evening to take on the Big Red.
The Rensselaer Engineers travel to East Lansing this weekend to take on the Michigan State Spartans in a big nonconference battle.
“I wouldn’t say big, I would say huge,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “Other than the fact that we are sitting in the middle of the league and they are sitting at the top of their league, regardless, these are the kinds of teams that you are going to be playing if you want to move on outside of your league.
“It’s to give us a good measuring stick for the rest of our season.”
The second half of the season has started in a rocky fashion for the Engineers. Since the Christmas break the Engineers are 2-3-1, falling from a peak position of sixth in the USCHO poll to their present tenth.
For more on this game check out the USCHO Game of the Week with Juan Martinez.
Many thanks for the contributions of Paula C. Weston and Juan Martinez this week.
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.