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This Week in the ECAC

College Hockey:
This Week in ECAC Hockey: Feb. 28, 2008

What We Know, Vol. III

Two games left, four points up for grabs. What does it mean to your team? Let’s find out.

Clarkson and Princeton are assured of finishing in the top two, but the order is yet to be determined, with the Knights only a solitary point ahead of the Tigers. Can’t wait Friday night’s showdown, I can say that much!

Harvard is in third, but only a point ahead of Union and Cornell. To control their own destiny, the least the Crimson have to do to win a first-round bye is beat the Big Red at Lynah on Saturday. Piece of cake, right? Should Harvard defeat Colgate on Friday, a tie on Saturday will also earn the Cantabs a week off.

If Union sweeps, it’ll have a bye week. If the Dutch end up tied for fourth with Cornell, they’re in as well, as they swept the Red in the regular season — their first series win against CU since 1997-98. Cornell can sweep to assure itself of a top-four finish. Anything less, however, and the Red will need some help.

Quinnipiac needs at least two points to have a shot at the bye week, but the Bobcats need help to get there, no matter how well they may fare this weekend.

Colgate, three points out of fourth, needs to sweep the weekend to have a prayer. Obviously, the Raiders would need the Dutch and Red to go pointless and QU to earn one, max. It’s a bit of a longshot, as they say. Ditto for Yale.

Fortunately for the aforementioned teams, home ice in the first round is the worst they can do. Brown, Dartmouth, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence are all hitting the road next weekend; that much has been assured. Where they’re headed, however, is still up in the air. (What are the odds that SLU might actually prefer the short drive to Cheel in the second round? Ok, ok, I’m getting ahead of myself.)

And now more of what we know.

Relevant head-to-head tiebreakers:
HH = Head-to-Head; W = Wins

Clarkson has no relevant tiebreakers
Princeton beats Harvard (W)
Harvard beats Union (HH), Quinnipiac (HH) and Yale (HH)
Union beats Cornell (HH) and Quinnipiac (HH)
Cornell beats Quinnipiac (HH), Colgate (HH) and Yale (HH)
Quinnipiac beats Yale (HH)
Yale beats Colgate (HH)
Colgate beats Quinnipiac (HH)
Brown beats St. Lawrence (HH) and Dartmouth (HH)
Rensselaer beats Dartmouth (HH) and St. Lawrence (HH)
Dartmouth does not hold a head-to-head tiebreaker so far.
St. Lawrence does not hold a head-to-head tiebreaker so far.

Eye on the Tiger

It’s been nearly a decade since opposing coaches have had cause to circle the Princeton game on their schedules.

That’s because 1998-99 was the last time the Tigers finished with a winning record. In the eight complete seasons since, the Garden State Ivy had gone 72-138-20 under the tutelage of three different head coaches, without ever so much as attaining .500 by season’s end. It’s been the longest sub-par drought in the league.

Princeton racked up 20 losses and finished 10th in the ECAC as recently as 2004-05, in Guy Gadowsky’s first season. This came on the heels of a 24-loss ’03-04 (with a last-place finish) … and a program-high 26 losses in ’02-03 (also last).

Calling this season a “surprise” is like calling Ronaldinho “unattractive.” How’d they do it?

Since Gadowsky arrived from Alaska, the Orange and Black have been steadily climbing the standings, from the 10th-place finish in ’04-05, to ninth the following season, to a strong sixth last year — the program’s best finish since ’01-02.

“From our standpoint, maybe the most important thing that we [the coaching staff] do is stay out of the way,” said Gadowsky.

The Tigers are assured of a top-two finish — their highest ever — and a first-round bye for the first time in the program’s history. (The league didn’t have byes in ’98-99, when the Tigers finished fourth.) Not bad for a team picked eighth by the coaches and media, and seventh by yours truly, in the preseason polls.

Gadowsky honors the Tigers’ young blue line and goalie Zane Kalemba with most of the credit.

“The transition of our young defensemen [has been key]… I credit Mike Moore. He really is a leader out there; he’s such a great leader by example.”

Moore has earned heavy ice time in 26 games this season, and the senior captain has been one of Gadowsky’s most valuable players both on and off the ice. His 16 points are already a career high, with at least four more games yet to play.

Kalemba has played in 22 of the team’s 27 games, and is 15-7-0 with a goals against average right around 2.5. While his overall save percentage is an unremarkable .910, his rate in league games is a more respectable .916. His most important stat, however, is that 68 percent winning percentage.

“He wins,” the coach stated flatly. “He finds a way to win. He plays his best when it’s a tight, one-goal game; pressure just doesn’t get to him.”

The stalwart play of Kalemba & Co. in the defensive end has encouraged some snazzy play 200 feet down the ice, as well. The highest-scoring team in the league doesn’t skate at Cheel, Lynah or the TD Banknorth Sports Center; it hangs its gear within the stone confines of the Hobey Baker Rink.

“Obviously, we’re a team that takes a lot of chances. We play to score … and the guys love that,” Gadowsky said. “Sometimes offense — as well as the power play — is like putting,” he mused. “One day you can knock down everything within 20 feet, and the next day miss everything within four.”

“For us right now, the putts are dropping.”

Gadowsky has been a great asset to the struggling program thus far, and he feels nothing but reciprocal privilege in roaming the halls and courtyards of Princeton University.

“I keep waiting for the time when I take it for granted, walking around campus,” he said. “The other coaches and I, we’ll take a walk around the campus and never stop smiling. It’s just an honor to be here,” he intoned in the most genuine of manners.

There’s no doubt at all that Princeton feels honored to have Gadowsky roaming its grounds as well.

The Silver Lining

It’s no secret that the Saints have had a rough go of it this year. Following in the footsteps of a title-winning team is hard to do, but no one thought things would be this hard for snake-bit SLU.

The Saints are wrestling with Brown, Rensselaer and Dartmouth at the bottom of the standings, but longtime head coach Joe Marsh isn’t out to make excuses for his team.

“There’s no such thing as a good, s****y team,” coach Joe Marsh stated bluntly. “It’s easy to go from first to worst … we’ve had injuries, but everybody has injuries. We out-shot Union two-to-one [last Saturday] and people came up to me and said, ‘You deserved to win.’ And I said, no we didn’t. [Union] made the plays, they did what they had to do to win.”

The Saints have had numerous injuries indeed, including losing starting goaltender Justin Pesony for the middle portion of the season. That said, Marsh doesn’t believe in excuses.

“In some ways, I should’ve done some things early on that I didn’t do,” Marsh admitted. “I should’ve sat some guys” for taking ill-advised penalties, he said.

At this point, St. Lawrence knows it is going on the road in the playoffs.

“We’re gonna travel. I don’t care where we go or who we’re playing, just how we’re playing,” said the coach.

The Saints have taken lump after frustrating lump this year, but have a shimmering corona fringing their overcast season.

“I think the big thing is getting a fresh start,” said Marsh. “After this weekend, everyone’s tied.”

Also working in their favor has been the triumphant return of Pesony to the fold.

“He’s just a guy whose leadership is quiet, an example of what a student-athlete is meant to be,” said his coach. “He’s an unbelievable kid. I’ve never seen a kid who’s more positive, more resilient .

USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.


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