After weeks of exhibition and non-conference games, we’ve finally reached the first full slate of ECAC contests. It felt like this weekend would never arrive. For Brown (1-0-0) and Harvard (0-1-0), though, last Saturday marked their ECAC start.
Behind tight defense and a couple of timely stops by Yann Danis, the Bears knocked off the Crimson for their third consecutive opening win against Harvard, but their first victory at Bright Hockey Center since 2001.
“I love to play Harvard,” said Danis after the game. “They are one of the best teams in the country so I love playing them.”
Despite being named ECAC Goaltender of the Week, Danis admitted that his 20-save effort — the ninth shutout of his career — wasn’t exactly a tough night at the office and that he had a clear view of every shot he faced.
Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni wasn’t about to argue that point.
“I’m 46,” said the former Michigan State netminder, “and I could have had a shutout going into the third period. He saw all the pucks. It looked like we had new skates, new gloves and new sticks. We had no rhythm and no crispness to our game whatsoever.”
Clearly frustrated, Mazzoleni was careful not to criticize his team immediately afterward, however, a change in his coaching philosophy over the years.
“I’ll have to watch the [game] tape first,” he said minutes after the loss. “I used to be the type who would walk in after the game and make some comments [to the players] that were completely wrong once I looked at the tape. I’ve learned not to speak from emotion.”
When asked five days later what he though of the effort of his club now that he had time to view the video, his answer was simple.
But why, Mazzoleni was asked?
“I don’t know,” he admitted, “and that’s a terrible thing for a coach to say, but I don’t know. We were flat and had no energy.”
To their credit, the Bears played very well, especially in the second period, when they scored both of their goals.
“In years past,” said Brown coach Roger Grillo, “we held on at the end of games. Not [Saturday]. I was pleased with how our young guys came to play.”
Never afraid to make adjustments, Mazzoleni will be changing his lineup a bit as Harvard and Brown head further north into New England for games against Vermont and Dartmouth.
“Noah Welch will not play Friday,” he said. “That’s a coaches decision. John Daigneau will get the start [in goal] Friday and Ryan Maki will play his first game of the year up front.”
The Crimson will be looking to rebound with those new faces in an already sold-out Gutterson Fieldhouse against Vermont (0-3-2), where the Catamounts are still searching for their first victory of the season.
Harvard has a five-game winning streak going against UVM, including four wins by a combined 18-8 score in 2002-03 alone. On the flip side, however, the Cats have won two of their last three against the Crimson in Burlington.
“If we don’t play with energy and commitment against everybody,” said Mazzoleni, “we’re not going to win.”
The Cats are coming off a loss and a tie at Michigan Tech last weekend in which they gave up four power play goals. On the other side of the ice, UVM, which had been 2-for-20 on its power play, tallied three such goals against MTU.
Saturday night, Vermont hosts Brown. The Bears have won four in a row against UVM, sweeping each of the last two season series, including a pair of Danis shutouts a year ago.
Offensively, the Catamounts are receiving a balanced effort that will help against a good defensive Bears team. A pair of juniors top the scoring chart as Tim Plant (2-3-5) and Brady Leisenring (1-4-5) lead the way.
In goal, where Vermont will need an especially strong effort to match Danis and hold the Harvard offense at bay, sophomore Travis Russell is likely to get the nod again. He’s earned the decision in each game thus far and sports a .903 save percentage and 3.57 goals against average (GAA).
Across the border, Dartmouth (1-0-0) plays host to Brown on Friday and Harvard the next evening. The Big Green have won two in a row against the Bears, including the ECAC Consolation … uh … sorry … Third-Place Game in Albany last season after splitting the regular season contests.
“Brown’s an excellent team,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “They have one of the best goaltenders in the country and appeared to have beaten Harvard without needing him to have one of his best games, but by keeping them off their game.
“They are a really good defensive team and have a good offense. We have a lot of respect for them.”
The Big Green, coming off a season-opening 2-1 win over Holy Cross, still has much to improve on so early into the campaign.
“We need to work had as a team,” said Gaudet. “Offensively, we’ll come around, but we need to protect our end of the ice a lot more. That wasn’t a problem for us last year, but we do not have a lot of experience on defense. It was kind of the opposite last year when we had young forwards.”
Dartmouth, looking to replace three workhorse defensemen who graduated in the spring, will certainly hope the offense can carry them until the new bodies become fully comfortable in their roles.
The envy of many a team, Dartmouth’s forwards are second only to Harvard’s in the league in terms of overall talent and depth. Lee Stempniak and sophomores Hugh Jessiman and Eric Przepiorka are a dangerous trio that could all be in the top ten in ECAC scoring this season.
Speaking of the Crimson, Dartmouth will be looking to avenge its three losses to Harvard last season, the final one coming in the ECAC semifinals in Albany.
“They are the kind of team that a loss isn’t going to set them back,” said Gaudet in reference to Harvard’s resilience. “They can handle it.”
And while he had not yet made his decision, Gaudet is leaning toward starting Dan Yacey, named to this week’s ECAC Honor Roll, to help combat the offense he expects from both opponents.
“We have a little bit of a dilemma in goal,” he said, “but that’s a good problem to have. Darren Gastrock is a veteran and Sean Samuel is good too. I think I’ll likely go with Dan. He’s played well from the get-go and in practice.”
The Bears meanwhile will look to build on their momentum.
“I think we’re going to match up well against most teams,” said Grillo. “In this league, every point is so important so it was huge for us to get the win [at Harvard]. The hard part is that we only had two weeks of practice going in. It’s like going from the preseason to the playoffs.
“These points and the first 10 games are critical.”
Junior Chris Swon, who scored the winner against Harvard, took it one step further.
“We’re a gritty team,” said the member of this week’s ECAC Honor Roll. “We made a great dedication to offseason conditioning. We work our asses off and we’ll do it all season long. We’re going to go out and get some more wins.”
A New York Affair
Shifting from northern New England to the northern reaches of the Empire State, we find Clarkson (3-1-2) and St. Lawrence (1-5-3) hosting the Capital District’s finest, Union (5- 1-1) and Rensselaer (2-2-1).
The Golden Knights are the only team of the four to have won both of its games last weekend, 4-1 wins over Findlay and Sacred Heart, for its best start to a season since a 5- 1-0 beginning to the 1991-92 campaign.
“Even when I was here as an assistant,” said Knights coach George Roll, “we used to get off to slow starts. This is important for us. It’s not a great start, but we’re happy with it. We’re once again trying to make Cheel [Arena] a tough place to play.”
Rensselaer, the Knights’ opponent on Friday, knows a great deal about running into bad luck in Potsdam. The Engineers are 2-9-1 against Clarkson in Cheel, outscored 58-23 over the 12 seasons of the building including 45-12 over the last eight.
“We’ve been playing under some tough luck,” said Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen, whose team will be gunning for its first win in Cheel since 1999. “We haven’t been good recently up there. It means we’ll have to play hard and smart.”
Both clubs enter the game on 2-0-1 streaks, with the Engineers having mounted a three- goal comeback to defeat Merrimack last Saturday.
“We showed a lot of character in that game, down 3-0 in the second period,” said Fridgen. “They scored a shorthanded goal early in the third and that can sometimes be deflating, but we were able to rally.
“The road is a hostile environment, but the guys worked real hard.”
Rensselaer has received balanced scoring, with 14 different goal scorers and 20 of 24 players with at least one point. Defensemen Scott Basiuk and Brad Farynuk (named to this week’s ECAC Honor Roll) are two of the Engineers’ top scorers with two goals and four points each. Top scorer sophomore Kevin Croxton leads the league and team with six assists, but has yet to register a goal.
Meanwhile, Clarkson’s top line of rookie Mike Sullivan and juniors Mac Faulkner (ECAC Player of the Week) and Chris Blight have accounted for 11 of the Knights’ 19 goals and 21 of 49 points.
Faulkner, who has five goals and four assists on the year, has already matched his goal total of his freshman and sophomore campaigns combined. He’s also quadrupled his previous career total for power play goals with a league-leading four thus far.
“He’s been tremendous,” said Roll. “He’s playing with confidence, finishing his checks, and going to the net well. He’s been a catalyst and very determined.”
Saturday night, the Dutchmen come skating into Cheel having won two of their last three against the Knights, including a 5-3 win in Potsdam in January.
“George has done a terrific job,” said Union coach Nate Leaman about his bench counterpart on the back end of his North Country tour.
“They are a good team and they are going to come after us. Their defense will be up in the play so we’ll have to limit their chances and play well on the special teams.”
That’s an area Union suffered a lapse in during their 9-2 loss at New Hampshire. The Dutchmen allowed a pair of power play goals to, admittedly, one of the best units in the country. But, as Leaman pointed out, that was just the beginning of their problems against the Wildcats.
“We came out real timid against UNH,” said the rookie bench boss with a sigh, “and didn’t play the type of hockey that has made us a successful team. We let them dictate the play and were not aggressive. The big sheet [of ice] affected us, but we didn’t come with an edge and it hurt us.”
The Dutchmen, powered by ECAC points and goals leader Scott Seney (7-4-11), rebounded with a 5-1 win over Bentley on Sunday in a contest in which Union held the Falcons shot-less through the first period.
Don’t expect a repeat performance of that this weekend, however, even against a struggling St. Lawrence offense on Friday.
“We expect them to be extremely hungry to get the win,” said Leaman. “They are even better at home in front of their fans. We’ll need to be good defensively.”
St. Lawrence knows that they’ll be facing a tough challenge in its own right. In fact, the Saints have lost three straight to the Dutchmen and have not beaten them at home since the 2000-01 season.
“They are a well-coached team off to a great start,” said Saints assistant coach Chris Wells about the Dutchmen. “They’ve picked up where they left off at the end of last season when they learned how to win.
“They even said that when they were here last year. When they beat us in overtime and won at Clarkson, their players said ‘we’re finding ways to win and learning how to do it.’”
The Saints are looking for some of that magic as well. St. Lawrence is coming off a loss and tie at Lake Superior last weekend, but despite the outcome, Wells believes the club played better than the numbers suggest.
“We played a pretty solid six periods,” he said. “The biggest trouble we’re having is finding the back of the net. We had 83 attempted shots over the weekend and we’re getting chances from in tight. As soon as some of them start finding the net it will lead to increased confidence.”
Thus far, offense has been the Saints’ albatross. They’ve scored more than two goals in a game only twice and are averaging just 1.84 goals per game. It’s been the major ingredient in their current eight-game winless streak.
Another factor has been a rash of injuries, but the Saints are getting healthier by the day and the return of junior captain Josh Anderson is a huge addition to the lineup. He’ll help take some of the pressure off the trio of Rich Peverley (3-6-9), John Zeiler (2-6-8) and T.J. Trevelyan (6-2-8), who was named to this week’s ECAC Honor Roll. The play of rookie blueliner Drew Bagnall has also been a major plus for the Saints as he leads the ECAC in scoring among defenseman and freshmen with six points.
Finishing up the action in the North Country is the Saints’ matchup against Rensselaer on Saturday. Riding a 10-2-0 home mark against the Engineers since the 1991-92 season, St. Lawrence will look to continue the trend of success.
“It’s always up for grabs,” said Wells. “They are always skilled and with the way we’re playing offensively and with [Nathan] Marsters in net, it will be a battle.”
C is for …
Princeton (0-2-0) and Yale (0-2-0), each coming off a pair of road losses against more battle-tested opponents will look to rebound when they host Cornell (0-1-1) and Colgate (2-1-1) this weekend.
With all due respect for Danis, the best goaltender in the ECAC, the Tigers’ sophomore netminder Eric Leroux, even in defeat, should have been given major consideration for ECAC Goaltender of the Week. Perhaps he was, but being named to the ECAC Honor Roll somehow doesn’t seem enough for the performance he put on at St. Cloud.
“He was one of our high points this weekend,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle about his netminder. “He gave us the chance to win both games.”
Facing a ranked team that had many more games under its collective belt than Princeton, which was coming off an exhibition contest as its lone game action, Leroux made 43 saves in losing 2-1 in overtime on Friday. Along the way, he stopped 19 shots in the second period, 14 in the third and three in 1:58 of overtime before the Huskies scored on the power play.
“Our play was ok against that kind of team in that environment,” said Quesnelle. “But then we had to kill a penalty in overtime and it was not a very good call.
“At times we handled the play well in all zones and sometimes it looked like we were playing our first game.”
The next night, Leroux made 49 saves, including 17 in first period of a 3-1 loss.
Not surprisingly, he’ll return between the pipes when the Tigers host Colgate on Friday.
The Raiders come in off a 6-0 win over Findlay last Saturday in which they got better as the game went along and held the Oilers to only 15 shots.
“Princeton is a disciplined team,” said Colgate interim head coach Stan Moore. “They play sound defensively and their goaltender played really well last weekend.
“In the past, they’ve always given us a tough time, being very opportunistic against us. They’ve taken advantage of our turnovers, so we will need to be better about that.”
The Raiders are 1-0-2 in their last three against the Tigers, skating to a 2-2 tie in New Jersey on the final game of the 2002-03 season.
Colgate moves onto Yale on Saturday were they will face a Tim Taylor-coach squad that lost twice in North Dakota by a combined 18-4 score.
“We were beaten in every aspect of ice hockey,” said Taylor. “It is tough to have that experience and say that it will make us stronger, but we’re not discouraged. We need to form a new team psyche and new chemistry.
“We also realized that we have to do a lot more on the defensive side to be the team we want to be. They schooled us pretty well.”
As for the Raiders, Taylor is aware that his Bulldogs will face another challenge.
“Colgate is a team that was a lot better than their record last year,” he said. “They are one of the teams in our league that knows they are a good team and wants to go out and prove it. They walk quietly, but carry a big stick … a very dangerous team.”
Led by ECAC Honor Roll member Kyle Doyle’s three goals and seven points in four games, the Raiders are a team that could easily emerge with home ice in a few months. Sophomore Kyle Wilson has three goals of his own to go along with six points and junior Steve Silverthorn has started to take control of the top job in net. He’s 2-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .912 save percentage.
“Yale had an eye-opening experience last weekend,” said Moore, “and Tim [Taylor] will take it and put it to good use. They’ll be a much better team when we face them.”
First things first for Yale, though, as they battle the new-look Big Red a week after Cornell’s home loss and tie against Western Michigan.
“They have a little different team this year,” said Taylor, “but they have the same aspects of the Frozen Four team. They have not changed things, but have changed the parts. They run the same forecheck and power plays.
“As they break in their new defenseman and new goaltender, they’ll be better.”
Cornell coach Mike Schafer agrees and sees some similarities between the two clubs.
“This is a tough time of year because you don’t know what type of team you’re facing,” he said, “but they will be well-coached. They have young personnel and are feeling around for things. They are probably similar to us, with everyone trying to catch up with their new roles.”
Falling into their roles last weekend were ECAC Honor Roll member sophomore Matt Moulson and Rookie of the Week Byron Bitz. Moulson has two goals and five points on the young season, while Bitz notched a pair of tallies and an assist against WMU.
The Big Red sport a 6-1-1 mark against the Elis over the last three years, including a 3-0 victory in New Haven last season that marked Cornell’s first win at Yale since the 1995- 96 campaign.
Against their oldest opponents, who they play Saturday, the Big Red swept a pair from the Tigers last season and hold a 69-40-7 all-time advantage.
“Both of our games against them,” said Schafer, “were two of the tightest games last year. They played very well defensively. It will be a very different game on the road.”
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.