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College Hockey:
Union, Harvard, and the audacity of hope

Well now, Friday wasn’t quite as competitive as we were expecting, was it? Union and Harvard each put a woodshed whuppin’ to Colgate and Cornell, respectively, and the result is the first Dutchmen-Crimson finale in league history.

No. 1 Union vs. No. 3 Harvard

The offenses were prolific, the goaltending solid and timely, and we are left with a very intriguing championship bout in which season-long favorite Union barely edged Harvard, 1-0-1 in the season series, with the only decisive result being a 2-0 Dutch victory at Frozen Fenway in January.

The Daniel Carr-Jeremy Welsh-Josh Jooris line has been outstanding for Union of late, but Harvard can counter with an equally lethal combo of Marshall Everson, Alex Killorn and Alex Fallstrom. The Crimson have found their goalie in sophomore Raphael Girard, who has a .948 save rate this postseason, while UC’s Troy Grosenick continues to be Troy Grosenick – and Ken Dryden (since he won the league’s Dryden Award as goaltender of the year).

Special teams will, of course, be pivotal in this one. Each side scored on the power play yesterday and held its opponent punchless on the kill. The Crimson power play is still the best in the country (27.9 percent effective, 3.5 percentage points – and three spots – ahead of Union). The Crimson PK, however, ranks a distasteful 47th (79 percent) to Union’s 13th (84.4).

Harvard has started slow most of the year, allowing 26 first-period goals in league play – the most of any team in the league in the opening period. Meanwhile, Union scored 35 first-period goals against conference opponents, far and away the highest total in the ECAC. Might this, too, be a tipping point?

When this one’s all said and done, the focus probably won’t fall on the goaltending battle, or even necessarily the special teams. This is likely to be a very tight, cautious, perimeter battle between two teams who would much rather rush up the gut every time. This game may well turn on a shot blocked, or not blocked… a puck cleared, or failed to clear. The players and coaches all know this, and it will be fascinating to watch the drama unfold in each and every player’s decision-making processes at every moment he is on the ice.

I like Union, and the Dutchmen seem like the good bet. I like Harvard, for how the Crimson have been able to overcome obstacles that recent Crimson teams simply couldn’t. And I really like how these two teams could make a complete fool of me, and are capable of playing extremely up-tempo and frenetically paced hockey any time at all.

My pick? Union, 3-2… but I wouldn’t put money on it if you held a gun to my head.

Big Red on the bubble

As noted in yesterday’s Game 2 feature and notebook, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer is experiencing a full-blown case of what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance”: He hates the consolation game for its all-too-frequent pointlessness, but here he is, needing a consolation victory to boost his team into the NCAA’s thanks to the vagaries of the PairWise Rankings.

It appears that with a win or tie, the Big Red can spare their goodbyes and postseason exit interviews for at least another week. A loss, however, likely boots Cornell from contention.

As many fans have noted since last night’s 6-1 train wreck against Harvard began to look inevitable, does this Cornell team really have the stones to refocus and get the job done? The Big Red beat Union on the final Friday of the regular season, giving the Ithacans a shot at the Cleary Cup and even, perhaps, the No. 1 seed entering the league playoffs. Instead, the Red sleep-walked through their Senior Night finale against Rensselaer while Union blasted Colgate to claim the regular-season title outright.

It’s a fair question, and one that must certainly be asked. Colgate may not be playing for much this afternoon – any boost they can get senior superstar Austin Smith in his Hobey Baker candidacy, and a final 60 minutes on the ice together – but to knock travel partner and rival (at least in the Raiders’ eyes) Cornell straight into golf season would be a special kind of schadenfreude.

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