This Week in the ECAC: January 31, 1997

ECAC Preview: Jan. 31-Feb. 3, 1997 by Jayson Moy

The number five plays a large role in this week’s ECAC Preview.

There are five weeks to go in the ECAC season, and things are still up for grabs. Teams have almost caught up in terms of games played, and it’s time to settle in for some good ECAC action for the next five weekends.

It’s a logjam on top of the standings with only a scant five points separating the top eight teams, and 12 points separating top from bottom.

Of the six teams in ECAC action last weekend, five picked up at least one point. Clarkson was the only team to earn two points, with a win over St. Lawrence, while the other teams gained one each.

ECAC Standings

We’re in a "New York State of Mind" this week, and we get "Back in the New York Groove" because all of the ECAC action this week takes place in the Empire State.

Vermont (15-6-1, 7-4-1 ECAC, 5th) and Dartmouth (9-9-1, 4-7-1 ECAC, T-9th) at Clarkson (15-7-0, 8-4-0, T-2nd) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Cheel Arena, Potsdam, N.Y.

Dartmouth (9-9-1, 4-7-1 ECAC, T-9th) and Vermont (15-6-1, 7-4-1 ECAC, 5th) at St. Lawrence (8-14-2, 3-7-2 ECAC, 11th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Appleton Arena, Canton, N.Y.

These four teams got together just two weeks ago. Clarkson was the big winner with four points, while St. Lawrence got swept.

Vermont reeled off six straight wins before running into Clarkson, then tied Dartmouth 4-4 last weekend when Pavel Navrat scored with 52 seconds remaining in regulation.

"We’ve had some defensemen jump into the offense," said Vermont coach Mike Gilligan. "It’s not something we continually want to see, but if they can…"

Something that Gilligan would like to see improved is his power play.

"We’re a little bit snakebit on the power play," he said, referring to the Catamounts’ current 12th-place standing in power-play percentage. "Last week (vs. Dartmouth) we changed the power play, and we liked what we saw. I don’t think we’ll end up 12th."

Meanwhile, Tim Thomas is back on top of the goaltending statistics in the ECAC, to no one’s surprise. "He (Thomas) is great," Gilligan said. "The team is playing better team defense, and it’s helped us overall."

The rematch with Clarkson takes place Friday, and Gilligan is respectful of both Clarkson and its talented forward Todd White.

"Clarkson is the team that’s made the big move," he said. "The last time, we played pretty close attention to him … we’re one of the teams that’s capable of beating them in this league."

Two weeks ago, Vermont escaped in overtime against St. Lawrence.

"It gives them confidence," said Gilligan. "They (SLU) must have had a tough game against Clarkson (last weekend), and they’re tough. They can be one of the spoilers in the league."

Two weeks ago, Dartmouth lost to Clarkson 6-3, and then defeated the Saints 6-4.

"We got off to a great start," said Dartmouth head coach Roger Demment on the St. Lawrence game. The Big Green scored four unanswered goals in the first period. "Those are the things you love to do," added Demment.

Against Clarkson the night before, the Big Green were blitzed in the second period, when Clarkson scored five goals.

"It was a good first period," said Demment. "Then we got into penalty trouble, and we fell asleep a little bit. We didn’t play 60 minutes of solid hockey."

Dartmouth lost a point on Saturday when Vermont scored with 52 seconds remaining to tie the game at four.

"If you look at the one point on paper, it’s great," Demment said. "But we felt like we lost that game. We came back to take the lead in the third period, and when they scored the goal with 52 seconds left, we felt we lost the game."

Freshman Jason Wong earned his second ECAC Rookie of the Week honor with the tie.

"That’s his first game since Yale," said Demment. "He made some crucial saves down the stretch."

With three goaltenders (Wong, fellow freshman Eric Almon, and senior Scott Baker) playing well, Demment has a quandary on his hands.

"It’s tough having a three-goalie rotation," he said. "Jason will be in the nets for one of the games, and I’m not sure about the other game."

Dartmouth has also gotten good play lately out of forward Jon Sturgis, who has nine goals this year, two more than all of last season.

"We’re happy with the play," said Demment. "One of the things he was asked for at the beginning of the season was to put the puck in the net more often."

The pucks are going in pretty often for Clarkson, though White, the leading scorer, had none of the team’s eight goals against St. Lawrence. But the Knights are a hot team and bring a six-game winning streak into the weekend.

"Todd White has led the way," said Clarkson coach Mark Morris. "Chris Clark has come of age, Dan Murphy has been solid in net."

The Golden Knights have moved into a tie for second place with their four-game ECAC winning streak. During the stretch, White has had 14 points, while Clark has had eight.

"Things are just falling into place," Morris said. "Some of the younger guys have learned the way we play defense, and our execution on the penalty kill and power play has been strong."

One of the marquee matchups this weekend is Clarkson hosting Vermont. The first time around, it was Clarkson winning 2-1. Todd White had the two Clarkson goals, Eric Perrin the Vermont tally.

"It was the first time around," said Morris when asked about the "Showcase of Stars" two weeks ago. "We had the upper hand. They’ll be sky-high trying to right (the loss) when they come in here."

Once again, the task at hand is to stop the French Connection.

"If you check one of them tight, it takes away the other guy," said Morris.

While the Golden Knights have been flying in January, the Saints of St. Lawrence are the complete opposite. The Saints are 0-6 in their last six games after an initial bounce from th return of goalie Clint Owen.

"We’ve got to take a good hard look at our club," said head coach Joe Marsh. "When it goes bad, it really goes bad."

St. Lawrence was not good in the second period on Saturday against Clarkson, allowing six goals.

"Saturday was disappointing," said Marsh. "We had a good first period. The second period, we fell apart defensively. We didn’t do what we had to do. We have to get back to square one."

Against Vermont two weeks ago, the Saints lost a heartbreaker to the Cats 3-2 in overtime.

"It should give us some confidence to play them again," said Marsh.

"We can’t have a period where we came out flat like we did at Dartmouth again. We’ll try to wipe the slate clean. We’ll try to learn from it; we may have to shorten our bench. We’ll try to find three solid lines, and spot a fourth one.

"We’ve got some inconsistencies in goal (but) I don’t blame the goalies. It’s the team defense that has not been good. Especially when we get scored upon. We can’t give up a bunch of goals after getting scored on. We have to be more relaxed."

PICKS: Vermont at Clarkson: The "Showcase of Stars" is what it was called, and it should be. Which team can stop the top lines of the opposition? Clarkson will be without Scott Ricci on defense, but Phillipe Roy has filled in nicely. It’s hard to go against Clarkson on a roll, and especially at home. Clarkson 4 Vermont 3 in OT

Dartmouth at St. Lawrence: The rubber match between the two clubs: each has taken one game. Both teams are fighting for playoff position, and this game is important for both because both are close in the standings. Dartmouth is more consistent, and St. Lawrence goes without a win in January. Dartmouth 3 St. Lawrence 2

Dartmouth at Clarkson: Dartmouth will make this closer than people expect, partly because of the letdown that Clarkson will have from defeating Vermont. One might say that shouldn’t make a difference, but let’s face it: when you win a big game, the next one isn’t usually as good. Clarkson 3 Dartmouth 2

Vermont at St. Lawrence: The Saints have shown that they can play Vermont tough. And the Saints are at home. That leads to a close game, but the Saints are not sure of themselves right now. Vermont 4 St. Lawrence 2

Princeton (13-5-2, 8-4-1 ECAC, 1st) and Yale (7-11-2, 4-8-1 ECAC, T-9th) at Cornell (10-5-4, 7-3-2 ECAC, T-2nd) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Lynah Rink, Ithaca, N.Y.

Yale (7-11-2, 4-8-1 ECAC, T-9th) and Princeton (13-5-2, 8-4-1 ECAC, 1st) at Colgate (12-9-1, 6-5-1 ECAC, 7th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, N.Y.

It’s time to get back to work for the Princeton Tigers. They’ve watched over the last two weekend as teams caught up in games played, yet have managed to maintain a precarious one-point edge over three teams for first place.

"There’s not much preparation we can do," said head coach Don Cahoon about the layoff. "We have no formal practices, and the kids can come down for an optional skate."

While there are no practices, there are some pluses to the layoff.

"What a great thing it is for us, though," said Cahoon. "It allows us to rest and to heal bumps and bruises."

Princeton takes on Cornell on Friday night at Lynah Rink, and it should be interesting, according to Cahoon.

"There’s a little difference in the way our teams play," he said. "They’re willing to grind it out, they play disciplined, things we do. We’re willing to open it up a little more than they do."

Scott Bertoli has led the way offensively with 22 points this season (11 goals and 11 assists).

The Tigers follow up with Colgate on Saturday. The Tigers won the previous meeting this season, 4-3. Cahoon says the Red Raiders dominated the game, but the Tigers just scored more goals.

"We ended up getting points out of that game that we didn’t deserve," said Cahoon.

Yale also comes back to league play after non-league action.

"It’s been a while," said head coach Tim Taylor. "Hopefully we’re better for it from the non-league games."

Taylor’s Bulldogs have been working on consistency.

"We’ve been inconsistent all year long," he said. "We’re a team that can’t afford a few mistakes if we’re to be successful."

The Bulldogs are happy to see Jeff Hamilton break out of a seven-game streak without a goal.

"He went into a scoring slump," said Taylor. "But he got himself a goal on Saturday (vs. Army). It’s understandable he would cool off. It was asking a little too much of him to keep up the pace."

The last time Yale played Cornell and Colgate, it upset Cornell 4-3, and lost to Colgate by the same score.

"We felt very good about ourselves after that weekend," said Taylor. "They were the best games back-to-back of the year."

Taylor plans to utilize his goaltending rotation of Alex Westlund and Dan Choquette once again this weekend, but wouldn’t tip off who would start which game.

"We’re excited about this weekend," Taylor said. "With the situation like this (only ECAC games left), there will be a lot of anticipation."

"It’s starting to get down to the nitty-gritty," said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. "Teams are trying to get as many wins as they can."

The "nitty-gritty" starts with a key matchup against Princeton on Friday.

"They’re one of the best skating teams in the country," Schafer said. "They’re very similar to ourselves except they have a top line that can score, and we don’t have a go-to guy. It should be quite a battle."

Cornell downed Princeton the first time the two met, 3-1. The Yale Bulldogs upset the Big Red, 4-3, and Schafer remembers it well.

"That game has weighed heavily in our minds," he said. "It’s a pride factor. That type of game is not represented by our program. They outhit us, they outhustled us, things that we pride ourselves on doing. It’s a matter of pride and not revenge."

Schafer also believes that even though he does not have a go-to guy, his two goaltenders, Jason Elliot and Jean-Marc Pelletier, play a large role in his program.

"They’re both playing very well," he said of his goalies. "The team has been playing solid defense.

"I’d rather have a good goalie than a superstar forward."

Colgate is not looking ahead. Instead, said head coach Don Vaughn, the Red Raiders are concerned with their own play.

"We’re more concerned with taking care of our own business. We’ve got to find a way to generate some offense, and get some rebounds."

Princeton has gone 9-4 against Colgate in the Don Cahoon era. This is a fact that does not escape Vaughn.

"[Princeton’s] a team that’s had our number lately," he said. "Their goaltending has been strong, and they’re a great defensive team."

Colgate will rely heavily on All-America candidate Mike Harder to help for the last third of the season.

"Mike Harder is a great player; he’s zeroing in on a (career points) record here at Colgate," said Vaughn. "He won’t talk about it, and its a commentary for what he’s like."

Harder currently has 192 career points, and is tied with RPI head coach Dan Fridgen for third on the all-time list at Colgate. The all-time record is 212 points, held by Steve Smith (1980-84).

"If we’re going to do something down the stretch, he’s got to be there," said Vaughn.

PICKS: Princeton at Cornell: This is the other marquee matchup in the ECAC this weekend. This one will be a tight defensive battle. Who starts in goal is the question for both sides. Expect a lot of forecheck, and a lot of neutral-zone play. Cornell 2 Princeton 1

Yale at Colgate: Yale’s inconsistency has to be a concern. Dan Brenzavich has picked it up for Colgate, and should provide the spark. Colgate 6 Yale 4

Yale at Cornell: Yale will not upset Cornell again. Cornell 4 Yale 2

Princeton at Colgate: Princeton has had Colgate’s number, and the forecheck is swarming. Can Mike Harder escape it, or will he go down? If he goes, the other forwards must pick it up. I smell a tie. Princeton 3 Colgate 3

Harvard (7-10-2, 6-6-2 ECAC, 6th) and Brown (5-13-2, 2-10-1 ECAC, 12th) at RPI (12-7-3, 7-3-2 ECAC, T-2nd) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, N.Y.

Harvard’s last ECAC outing was against the same RPI team that it faces on Friday night. The Crimson won that one, 6-1, with an explosive second period, scoring five goals.

"We’ve been a team that had been playing some good hockey over the last month, except for (Friday) night (a 4-2 loss to Union)," said head coach Ronn Tomassoni after the win. "We’ve been a team that’s been playing pretty well, but not scoring." In its previous three games, Harvard scored a total of six goals.

The power play also awakened against RPI. The Crimson tallied three power play goals on eight attempts that evening, and now get back to action after a three-week layoff because of exams.

Meanwhile, Brown starts the stretch run in last place, looking to make a late move into a playoff spot.

"I feel real good about our guys," said Brown head coach Bob Gaudet. "Our record doesn’t show it, we just have to keep plugging away."

Brown comes off of a victory over Providence in the Mayor’s Cup game, and won it 3-2. Brian Audette won his third straight in goal. With Scott Stirling coming back after an injury, Gaudet has the tough task of a three-man rotation in goal.

"I’ll play it by ear," said Gaudet. "Some of the things go by practice, and who looks like they have the hot hand."

Brown plays RPI for the third time this season, dropping the previous meetings, 6-3 and 5-3.

"We know pretty much what to expect, especially from RPI," said Gaudet. "We know that they’re an outstanding team.

"We played a strong game in the second period (of the first meeting), and just didn’t get the lead, and they came on very well I the third period. There was a similar situation here — we did not play as well, though."

Brown is the opponent for the Big Red Freakout for RPI, an annual event of deafeningly loud RPI fans. Brown is the Freakout opponent for the fourth time since Gaudet has been the coach, but it doesn’t bother him.

"Every night at Vermont, you have Catamount Fever," said Gaudet. "At Cornell the place is overflowing. At Ann Arbor (Michigan) it was the same. It’s the team that’s on the ice; the crowd doesn’t suit up.

"It doesn’t matter that the crowd is not with you. I’d rather do that than play in front of no one."

"It’s definitely a motivating factor," said RPI head coach Dan Fridgen on the Big Red Freakout. "Just the fact that everyone is wearing red, painting their faces red. It certainly is a motivating factor. It’s exciting to play in an exhilarating environment."

The crowd is the thing which has lifted RPI, and Fridgen has an explanation.

"It’s like when we go to Vermont or Cornell," he said. "You take the noise and create it into a positive reinforcement. They’re not cheering against you, they’re cheering for you. It’s a mental thing."

Fridgen has beaten Brown twice this season, and has high praise for the Bears.

"I still believe that they’re overall record is not indicative of the way they’ve played," he said.

PICKS: Harvard at RPI: RPI wants revenge for the shellacking it took at Bright three weeks ago. Harvard wants to use that game to start capitalizing on the rest of the season. RPI is home, and played its game for the third period against Union. A total effort seems to be on its way. RPI 6 Harvard 3

Brown at RPI: RPI has beaten Brown twice this season, and in a variety of ways. With the Big Red Freakout crowd behind RPI, the Engineers win. RPI 5 Brown 2

Brown (5-13-2, 2-10-1 ECAC, 12th) at Union (11-9-2, 5-6-2 ECAC, 8th) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Achilles Rink, Schenectady, N.Y.

"[Union] played very well," said head coach Bob Gaudet on the previous meeting between the two clubs. "They outplayed us, to be honest, and we had to hang on to a 3-0 lead."

Brown won that game, 4-3, behind stellar goaltending from Brian Audette. It will be a little different this time because it will be at Union’s rink.

"Things happen quickly at Union," said Gaudet. "It’s a little different game. The rink seems smaller than here (Meehan Auditorium). We have to be very sharp to be in it. They’re tough physically. It’s a really tough place to play."

"Brown was not fearful of Union," said head coach Stan Moore on the previous meeting.

Union let Brown get off to a large advantage, and it did not please Moore. He hopes that his team changes it this time around.

"Just have a better start," he said. "We had a great start against Harvard (the previous night), and there was a lot of excitement over beating Harvard, and it carried through.

"We have to be more mindful of how we play. It’s another game, another day."

Moore expects to see Trevor Koenig get a start this weekend. Koenig was out with influenza/bronchitis last week. Leeor Shtrom filled in admirably for Koenig, so don’t be surprised to see him in net, either.

"We’re very pleased for him," said Moore of Shtrom. "I think you’ve seen two games now, where all speculation aside, and all wonderment aside, it’s time to give Leeor some credit."

PICK: Whomever is in goal for Union, the defensive game is stifling. The forecheck will corral Brown, and it is also the first game of the weekend — Union will be prepared. Union 3 Brown 2

The Beanpot Harvard (7-9-2, 6-6-2 ECAC, 6th) versus Boston University (13-6-5, 11-2-3 Hockey East, 2nd) Monday, 9 p.m., Fleet Center, Boston, Mass.

Harvard has not won a Beanpot since 1993, when it defeated Boston University 4-2. The next year Harvard made it to the final, but was upset in overtime when Tom Ashe won it for Boston College.

In the last two years, Harvard has gone 0-4 in its four games. The Crimson look to reverse that trend this year.

In the meantime, Boston University has done the opposite of Harvard. The Terriers have won five straight games since losing to Harvard twice in a row, and have captured two Beanpots in a row.

BU has won five of the seven Beanpots in the 90’s. During that stretch, BU has gone 12-2, the only two losses to Harvard, and outscored the opponent 84-35. The Terriers won last year’s Beanpot with victories over Boston College and Northeastern, 4-1 and 11-4.

PICK: Even though Boston University is 5-5-2 in its last 12 games, it still is a major force to be reckoned with. Harvard is 6-5-1 in its last 12, and is playing much better hockey than the beginning of the season. Is there something wrong with BU? Is Harvard going to get consistency? The two teams met once before this season, with BU winning 5-1. BU wins again, but by a smaller margin. Boston University 5 Harvard 3

Army(13-10-2, 2-10-2 Maj. Div. I) at Union (11-9-2, 5-6-2 ECAC, 8th) Saturday, 7 p.m., Achilles Rink, Schenectady, N.Y.

"They’re so physical and so diligent," said Stan Moore of Army. "Imagine being in a cadet uniform all day long and then getting to do what you want to do for two hours. I think the term `Yahoo!’ comes to mind, and they do it with good intelligence and good discipline."

The reputation of a physical and disciplined team continues to follow this Army team. While the Cadets have not had a victory over the ECAC this season, they are a respectable 0-4-2 against the league. Ties against Cornell and Princeton, the ECAC leaders, and one-goal losses to Colgate (in overtime) and Yale, have shown that Army can play with its Division I brethren.

PICK: Against the defensive teams, Army seems to do very well, e.g., Princeton and Cornell. The rink is small at Union, and it should help Army, but Union is stronger. Union 4 Army 2

The intensity continues next week in the ECAC. After that, all ECAC teams will have played the same number of league games, and it’s time to start using magic numbers. Get your seat belts on; it’s going to be one wild ride through February.

Next Week in the ECAC (league games in bold):

Friday, February 7: Union at Clarkson RPI at St. Lawrence Cornell at Dartmouth Colgate at Vermont Yale at Harvard

Saturday, February 8: Union at St. Lawrence RPI at Clarkson Cornell at Vermont Colgate at Dartmouth Princeton at Brown

Monday, February 10: Harvard vs. Northeastern/Boston College (Beanpot Consolation/Championship)

Jayson Moy is the ECAC Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1996 Jayson Moy . All Rights Reserved.

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