The hourglass is running out on the 2005-06 ECACHL regular season, but as time flies by the playoff picture in the league does not appear to be growing any clearer. If anything, the number of teams in contention for coveted spots (the bye teams and teams that will host a first round ECACHL playoff series) only increased with the weekend’s results.
Cornell and Colgate, who had only recently dispatched Clarkson and St. Lawrence during encounters in Hamilton and Ithaca, stumbled when they were forced to go on the road. Their struggles, along with Dartmouth’s sweep of Quinnipiac and Princeton, helped propel the Big Green into a tie for second place in the league standings. Both Dartmouth and Colgate sit one point behind league-leading Cornell.
After a slow start, Dartmouth is in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak. Rensselaer and Union started winning streaks of their own by sweeping Brown and Yale, which helped enhance the playoff status of the teams from the Capital Region.
With two weekends left on the regular season schedule, seven teams are currently still eligible for the top spot in the league according to some helpful calculations from ECACHL Assistant Commissioner Laura Stange. Currently Cornell, Colgate, Dartmouth, Harvard, St. Lawrence, Union and Rensselaer could all finish in first, provided the right series of wins and losses occurs. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, is the fact that every team in the league could still conceivably finish with home ice in the first round of the league playoffs. Here is a quick list of each team, in their current standings, and the extent of their possible final positions:
Cornell: Currently in 1st place, the Big Red can finish anywhere between 1st and 7th. If Cornell collects three points this weekend, the team will have assured itself of a first round bye.
Colgate: Currently tied for 2nd place with Dartmouth, the Raiders can finish anywhere between 1st and 8th. If Colgate sweeps this weekend, it will have guaranteed a first round bye.
Dartmouth: Currently tied for 2nd place with Colgate, the Big Green can finish anywhere between 1st and 8th. Just like Colgate, if Dartmouth sweeps this weekend, it will have clinched a first round bye.
Harvard: Currently tied for 4th place with St. Lawrence, the Crimson can finish anywhere between 1st and 9th.
St. Lawrence: Currently tied for 4th place with Harvard, the Saints can finish anywhere between 1st and 9th.
Union: Currently in sole possession of 6th place in the ECACHL, the Dutchmen can finish anywhere between 1st and 10th.
Rensselaer: Alone in 7th place in the league, the Engineers could finish as high as 1st or as low as 11th.
Clarkson: Currently in 8th place, the Golden Knights can finish anywhere between 3rd and 12th.
Yale: Two points behind Clarkson in 9th place, the Bulldogs might finish as high a 5th or as low as 12th.
Princeton: A point behind rival Yale, the Tigers are in 10th place in the league. Princeton might finish with the 5th seed in the ECACHL playoffs, or it might be the 12th seed.
Quinnipiac: In 11th place, the Bobcats can finish anywhere between 6th and 12th.
Brown: Although it is bringing up the rear, Brown could still qualify for home ice in the first round of the playoffs with the 8th seed or the team could finish in 12th place.
It has not been the best two weeks for Colgate; first the Raiders lose a tough home-and-home series to rival Cornell and then they have to skate into the North Country to play Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
“The North Country trip is always tough for anyone in our league,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughan. “It certainly proved to be that way for us as well. We came home with only one point after a tough road trip.”
The trip did not go so well; Colgate collected a single point on the trip, as it lost a 3-2 decision to St. Lawrence that was not as close as the score indicated and then played to a 1-1 tie with Clarkson the next night. Vaughan felt that the Raiders were, in part, lucky to come out with that one point and he gave much of the credit for the close games to his netminder, sophomore Mark Dekanich.
“Mark gave us a chance to be in the games and to win them,” Vaughan said.
He is relying on Dekanich to do the same this weekend against Dartmouth and Harvard when they skate into Starr Rink. Colgate split its road trip against the teams earlier this season, and Vaughan attributed the 3-2 win in Hanover to Dekanich’s 42 save effort against the Big Green. When recalling the previous game against Harvard-where the Crimson scored six unanswered goals before going on to a 6-4 win-Vaughan emphasized how impressive Harvard was in transition. Though his team will have home ice on its side this time around, the tight games against Dartmouth and Harvard in November underscored how important it would be for his team to clinch a first round bye and home ice in the second round of the playoffs.
“There’s a lot on the line this weekend with the top four teams playing for a bye and home ice,” he said. “We don’t expect anything but a playoff atmosphere for both games.”
Harvard coach Ted Donato, following his team’s 5-0 win over Northeastern in the Beanpot Consolation, had similar thoughts about the importance of the weekend’s games.
“This game [against Northeastern] was very important for us…a loss would have been devastating in the PairWise for us,” he said. “The top four teams in our league play against each other this weekend, so this was a very important game for us to build momentum.”
Donato’s counterpart across the ice on Friday night, Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky, echoed Vaughan’s comments during a phone call this week.
“Because of Eric Leroux, we had a chance to win both games [against Harvard and Dartmouth],” Gadowsky said. “Against Harvard, we battled back to where we could have gotten a point…but we came away with nothing.”
On Friday against Harvard, Princeton exchanged goals with the Crimson for the full sixty minutes of play. The score went back-and-forth, repeatedly. Harvard-Princeton. Harvard-Princeton. Harvard-etc. Harvard’s Jon Pelle scored the game-winning goal not quite two minutes into overtime. And a similar scene was repeated the next evening in Hanover, N.H. as Dartmouth’s Tanner Glass tallied the game-winning goal just before the four minute mark of overtime.
The games were at once hopeful and disappointing, as they showed at once all the progress that the Tigers have made this season while at the same time reinforcing the distance still to travel before they will be considered a top team in the league.
“I think we’ve responded well [to our losses] this season,” Gadowsky said. “We’re looking to get back on track this weekend.”
The Tigers will be facing a pair of teams, in Rensselaer and Union, that are both coming off a strong home ice sweep last weekend against Brown and Yale.
The Dutchmen advanced with a 2-1 win over Brown and a 5-1 victory over Union, and much of the credit for those wins goes to Union netminder Kris Mayotte, who is this week’s Goaltender of the Week. The pair of wins helped Union keep pace with Harvard, St. Lawrence, Rensselaer, and Clarkson in the battle for a playoff spot that will qualify for a first round bye (4th).
“It’s a battle in this league,” said Union coach Nate Leaman. “I feel like we have a good team and we’ve had a good season, but I feel like everyone in our league has gotten better.”
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position, and we have to concentrate on and control what we can control,” Leaman said. “The tendency is to start scoreboard
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.