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ECAC Hockey: the final picks

Late with the picks, so you know they’re gonna be good.

Right?

No. 1 Union vs. No. 4 Colgate

Friday’s matinee – 4:30 start time – pits the Cleary Cup champs against the redemption-minded Raiders. The Dutchmen took both games from ‘Gate this year, though it is worth pointing out that those contests were within four weeks of each other, bookending the month of February. Quinnipiac took the Raiders to the rubber match last weekend before Colgate’s top line and goalie Eric Mihalik closed the deal, while Union swept cross-town rival Rensselaer to make it to Atlantic City for the first time.

Union has only lost twice in 2012 – a 3-2 stunner at Brown in mid-January, and a 3-2 loss at Cornell in the last week of the regular season. The Dutchmen are 13-2-2 this (calendar) year, and have shown no signs of slowing down. Colgate, meanwhile, has its first-half performance to thank for its first-round bye, as the Raiders dragged themselves through a 7-11-1 2012 thus far and are only 2-5-0 in their last seven.

That said, both of these teams are clearly explosive, and though it seems clear that Union has greater depth at its disposal, the sheer quality of Colgate’s top line – Joe Wilson, Chris Wagner, and Austin Smith – could be strong enough to win on any given night. Union goalie Troy Grosenick is among ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award; Colgate’s Smith is clearly a frontrunner. I don’t care if I’m right with this pick or not: It’s sure to be fascinating, watching these experts stare each other down all evening.

I’m taking consistency and depth over front-loaded power: Union, 4-2.

No. 2 Cornell vs. No. 3 Harvard

Cornell took the season series, 1-0-1, and though the teams were only separated by one seed, the Big Red edged the Crimson by a significant margin (five points) in the standings. Cornell downed Dartmouth in a deuce last weekend, while Harvard slugged it out with defending Whitelaw Cup champs Yale in a three-game thriller.

So why does Harvard have any realistic chance at all? Two words: Killorn, and Girard.

Senior center Alex Killorn planted two goals and four assists on Yale last weekend despite being held scoreless on Friday. His line (centering Marshall Everson and Alex Fallstrom) posted 14 points in the final two games of the series (both Harvard wins), including 10 – four goals, six helpers – in Sunday’s series-clinching rout. Sophomore goalie Raphael Girard stopped 42, 48 and 39 shots in the quarterfinal contests, allowing seven goals on 136 shots for a save rate of .949 against a very potent Yale attack.

Obviously, Cornell has been rock-solid all year long, backstopped by the exceptionally reliable sophomore Andy Iles (.920, 2.08 overall; his league numbers are slightly better) and bolstered by a typically stalwart defensive corps, led by aggressive junior Nick D’Agostino (8-12–20 in 30 games). The offense has been tenable if not terrifying (fourth in the league with 3.00 goals per game), but has been significantly hobbled in its efficacy with the loss of Rookie of the Year Brian Ferlin, who was shelved for the year with season-ending surgery last month. This puts the burden even more squarely on Iles and the defense, but if there’s anyone that knows how to play shut-down hockey, it’s Mike Schafer and Cornell.

I believe that this is the end of the line for this year’s Crimson, who made great improvements this season and look to be on the right page for the future… but I don’t feel they have the temerity or experience to take the best of what Cornell has to give – and they will give it, for at least part of the game – and still find a way to eke out the win.

Big Red, 2-1.

No. 1 Union vs. No. 2 Cornell

For all the beans… a rematch of another, very significant contest that took place just three weeks ago. (Geez, has it already been three weeks?) In that tilt, the then-first-place Dutchmen hit Ithaca with an opportunity to claim the Cleary Cup on enemy ice: All they needed to do was tie.

And they couldn’t. In a dramatic reversal of so much of Cornell’s 2011-12 campaign, it was the Big Red who rolled heavy in the third period with two goals to Union’s one and extending the regular-season title chase for one more night.

Of course, the Red proceeded to lay a stinker on Senior Night against RPI, while Union pasted five on Colgate in Hamilton to claim its second consecutive (and, again, second ever) Cleary Cup.

I believe that the lessons from that Friday night will resonate louder than the Big Red band on Saturday, but which team will internalize those lessons best is the team that will triumph. Cornell: Can the Big Red play 60 minutes again, a test they have repeatedly failed this year? Union: Can the U finally win one on the big stage, a postseason stage, erasing memories of last year’s home quarterfinals loss and NCAA first-round exit?

It is the last in a season of very tough, ridiculously meaningless predictions. I rarely bet against the Big Red, but this year, this game…

Union, 4-2.

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