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College Hockey:
Surprise..? Few shocks in ECAC’s first round

Surprise, surprise? Only one Game 3, and only one upset in four first-round series. I thought this was ECAC Hockey!

Going the distance

Dartmouth was taken to the end of its rope by Harvard this weekend, as the Big Green were set on their heels by Friday’s 2-1 loss. Coach Bob Gaudet shuffled the goalies for Game 2, preferring sophomore Charles Grant over junior Cab Morris. The move was rewarded with a 23-save, one-goal performance in Dartmouth’s 4-1 victory, and Grant followed it up with 28 stops in Sunday’s 6-3 rubber match. Dartmouth wrapped up its home season with a 12-5-1 record, the program’s best mark in six years.

The other team to take the long road to the second round was Cornell, which literally necessitated a journey in order to qualify for the quarterfinals. The Big Red rolled heavy into Princeton, dispatching the Tigers in straight sets: 4-0, 4-2, erasing any meaning from Princeton’s regular-season sweep of the Red. Now 6-1-1 in its last eight games, Cornell got outstanding goaltending from Andy Iles, who stoned the Tigers on 46 of 48 shots on the weekend.

Under the radar, over the top

Bruno hasn’t made national waves this season, but don’t sleep on the Bears in the playoffs: Brown is built for March. The low-scoring, physical squad is now in its element, playing low-scoring, physical playoff games against teams that may have to take time to adapt to tighter spaces and gung-ho hitting. The Bears proved their mettle against Clarkson, eliminating the battered Knights by 3-0 and 4-3 scores. Savior-come-lately Anthony Borelli saved 65 of 68 shots, maintaining a .945 season save percentage (tied for second-best in D-I) and dropping his overall goals-against average to a stingy 1.74 (fifth-best nationally).

Up in Canton, St. Lawrence powered past gassed Colgate despite the loss of two defensemen. Senior Mac Stratford was injured early in Friday’s 4-2 win, and junior Riley Austin early on Saturday in the Saints’ 4-1 triumph. No defense? No problem, said junior netminder Matt Weninger, who denied the Raiders 56 times, and only allowed one even-strength goal.

National implications

Suffice to say, Clarkson, Colgate, Harvard, and Princeton are done for the year: Thanks for playing, see you next fall. Quinnipiac – hosting Cornell this weekend – still holds the top spot in the PairWise Rankings (PWR), followed by Yale (tied for 10th) and Rensselaer (tied for 13th).

QU is safe – the Bobcats will play beyond this weekend; the only variables are where, and as what seed. (It is very hard to imagine QU falling from a top-four seed, for that matter.) Yale and RPI, however, are very much at risk of missing the national tournament should they fail to advance this weekend: A hot underdog or two in another league could constrict the lower limit of at-large bids from 16th in the PWR to 15th, or even 14th. Gotta stay in the top 13 to feel safe.

Beyond the bubble, Union (tied for 16th) and Dartmouth (tied, 18th) are very much in the hunt for an at-large spot, but they absolutely must win. Cornell (23) and St. Lawrence (24) look close, but it’s highly unlikely that enough turnover will occur for them to move within the top 14 or 15 spots in the PWR without winning the league title (and its automatic NCAA berth) along the way.

Overtime!

Entering last weekend, the higher seeds had been undefeated against their guests. Obviously, Cornell cared not for regular-season precedent, nor did Harvard – at least, not on Friday.

This weekend’s quarterfinals are again – shockingly, almost – split-less: (1) QU swept (9) Cornell in the regular season; (2) RPI won and tied (7) Brown; (3) Yale swept (6) SLU; and – for the lone kicker – underdog (5) Dartmouth took three points from (4) Union. Can’t wait to see how things shake out this week. Stay tuned for more from Nate Owen and myself, on Twitter and, of course, on USCHO.com.

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