ECAC Preview: Feb. 14-15, 1997 by Jayson Moy
"Every win this time of year is critical." — Cornell head coach Mike Schafer.
"It’s been a crazy year." — Clarkson head coach Mark Morris.
"It just gets a lot tighter in league play." — Colgate head coach Don Vaughn.
"The team you played the first time is certainly different now." — Union head coach Stan Moore.
"With the situation like this (only ECAC games left), there will be a lot of anticipation."– Yale head coach Tim Taylor.
"It will be the typical ECAC season in that nothing will be decided until the last weekend." — Dartmouth head coach Roger Demment.
"It’s crunch time, there’s just six games left." — St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh.
"They just get bigger and bigger from here on in." — RPI head coach Dan Fridgen.
They all sound like clicheés, but they all are true. Each win is important, it’s crazy, it’s tight, teams are different, the anticipation is high and the games are big.
What makes it so big is that there are four teams tied for first place in the league, something that has never happened this late in the ECAC season.
It all came about because Clarkson swept, Vermont took three points, and Cornell and RPI each won one game and lost one. All four teams are now in the lead.
That’s not the only battle going on. Princeton leads a four-team pack in places five through eight, three points ahead of Colgate, Harvard and Union, all with 16 points.
Following not far behind are Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, Yale and Brown. Dartmouth picked up a win, St. Lawrence was swept, Yale lost its only game, and Brown got back in the thick of things with an upset of Princeton.
Take a closer look at the ECAC as it stands: ECAC Standings
Each team now has six games to go over the final three weekends.
There is only one game pitting top-four teams against each other this weekend — Vermont travels to Troy to take on RPI. Another battle to watch is Clarkson at Princeton on Friday, and don’t forget the annual grudge match between Harvard and Cornell at Lynah Rink.
No. 6 Vermont (18-6-2, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) and Dartmouth (10-12-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 9th) at Union (14-10-2, 7-7-2 ECAC, T-6th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Achilles Rink, Schenectady, N.Y.
Dartmouth (10-12-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 9th) and No. 6 Vermont (18-6-2, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) at RPI (15-8-3, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, N.Y.
Vermont tied Colgate, 5-5, and defeated Cornell, 7-5, for its claim to first place after the weekend. Head coach Mike Gilligan was in the middle, because he saw good things and bad things.
"I thought it was a decent weekend," he said. "[But] I wasn’t happy with the amount of goals that were scored on us."
Last week, goalie Tim Thomas was player of the week for his pair of 40-plus save performances in a sweep at St. Lawrence and Clarkson. This week, he looked human.
"Last week we worked on goals for, and this week we have to work on goals against," Gilligan said. "We kind of slipped a little bit in that department.
"We’re also going to the box at the wrong time. We’re not going in there to save goals, and that’s not what we want to do."
Gilligan shuffled his lines a couple of weeks ago, and it has shown some dividends. The reformed second line for the Catamounts has Stephane Piche, Matt Stelljes and J.C. Ruid. Piche made the ECAC Honor Roll this week for his three-goal and two-assist performance last weekend.
"That second line is going well," he said. "The first line will get their share of goals, but if we can get some from the second and third lines, it only helps."
The first time Vermont met RPI and Union, it was number one in the country, and RPI unceremoniously dropped the Cats from the top spot, 4-2. Union played tough, but Tim Thomas shutout the Dutchmen, 1-0.
"Revenge is not a word I use in the locker room," said Gilligan about this week’s RPI game. "They deserved to beat us up here…. [Union] plays good defense, and they have good goaltending."
Dartmouth head coach Roger Demment also notes the defense of the Dutchmen. "Against Union, it will be more of a dig down deep and work-real-hard game," he said. "They just have a great defense and a great goaltender."
But before the Big Green face Union on Saturday, they square off against RPI.
"We have to play great defense against their big offense," said Demment about RPI. "That will be the focus on Friday." Dartmouth lost both games against Union and RPI at home in November, 7-3 and 5-4 respectively.
"That we lost to them is an incentive to get some wins on the road," Demment said. "But you look at those games, and it was a long, long time ago."
David Whitworth broke into the top ten in scoring in the ECAC over the weekend, with two goals and two assists.
"He’s playing well with Ryan Chaytors and Jon Sturgis," said Demment. "We’ve had a number of guys step it up for us this year offensively, him included."
A split in the North Country for the Union Dutchmen lifted them into a sixth place tie with Harvard and Colgate.
"I think we were outplayed most of the game," Union head coach Stan Moore said about the Clarkson game. "In terms of the last few minutes, I’m pleased that we didn’t give up."
Trevor Koenig was spectacular in the nets, making 40 saves on Friday, and 34 saves against St. Lawrence on Saturday. His efforts were rewarded with the ECAC Player of the Week Award.
Union continues to play solid defense, leading the ECAC in goals allowed — a mere 2.42 goals per game.
RPI also split a pair in the North Country this weekend, defeating St. Lawrence 7-2, and falling to Clarkson 5-1. Despite only getting two points, the Engineers have a share of first place.
Head coach Don Fridgen thinks there’s a reason for that. "These guys are really focusing and they’re really preparing themselves mentally well," said Fridgen. "From the drop of the puck to the execution of the game plan."
One area where the Engineers need work on is the penalty-kill, and the taking of penalties. RPI has rocketed to second in the league in taking penalties, averaging 21.9 minutes per game. RPI has also dropped to 9th in the penalty kill statistics, dropping to a 79.5 percent kill ratio. It’s a deadly combination.
"In a situation when you’re trailing by a goal, you want to be expending your energy and your efforts trying to come back 5-on-5, instead of trying to score down 5-on-4," said Fridgen. "You wear down your penalty-killers, and it takes away a little bit of momentum."
Big games are on the agenda for RPI, and Fridgen hopes his team capitalizes on playing in them.
"We have played big games, but they just get bigger and bigger from here on in," he said. "Hopefully we’ll learn something from [the Clarkson] game. At least I hope we’ll learn something from it."
Dartmouth at RPI: RPI’s offense is a major concern for Dartmouth. But it seems that Dartmouth has been able to keep up with the offense in recent games with RPI. It’s not enough though. RPI 7 Dartmouth 4
Vermont at Union: Union will try to stop the French Connection and bottle up the passing lanes. It’s a lot easier at Achilles, and Union only lost 1-0 the last time at the wide-open Cathouse. At home, it will be more of a defensive game. Vermont 1 Union 1
Vermont at RPI: The Cats want some payback — it has to be in their minds. Can RPI keep up with the offense, or will it be a defensive game? It should be Danny Riva’s line against the French Connection, and the offense must come from elsewhere for both teams. Matt Stelljes will probably be out there whenever Eric Healey is. RPI has to stay out of the penalty box. RPI 4 Vermont 3
Dartmouth at Union: Union had a high goal total against Dartmouth the last time out. It won’t be like that again. Union 4 Dartmouth 2
Brown (6-15-2, 3-12-1 ECAC, 12th) and Harvard (8-12-1, 7-7-2 ECAC, T-6th) at Colgate (13-11-2, 7-7-2 ECAC, T-6th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, N.Y.
Harvard (8-12-1, 7-7-2 ECAC, T-6th) and Brown (6-15-2, 3-12-1 ECAC, 12th) at Cornell (13-6-4, 10-4-2 ECAC, T-1st) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Lynah Rink, Ithaca, N.Y.
"I feel real good about our guys," said Brown head coach Bob Gaudet a few weeks ago. "Our record doesn’t show it — we just have to keep plugging away."
The plugging was evident as Brown pulled a bit of a shocker over Princeton on Saturday with a 3-2 win. Senior Marty Clapton, who always saves his best for games against Princeton, scored the game-winning goal with 44 seconds remaining in the second period, just moments after Princeton had cut the Brown lead to 2-1.
Last year, Clapton scored the game-winner late in regulation in the ECAC preliminary round playoff game between the two teams in Providence.
The inspiration to play Princeton derives from a playoff series two years ago, when No. 7 Princeton defeated No. 2 Brown in three games that often got rough and chippy. One can debate who the instigator was, though Princeton is regarded as one of the league’s best skating teams, and the Bears are a perennial penalty-minute leader. But those facts don’t sway Clapton’s opinion of the Tigers.
"They’re a cheap team, no skill," said Clapton. "They’re more of a football team. They do (have some fast guys), but we do too. We got the best of them. Hopefully we’ll get another chance at them in the playoffs."
The goal by Clapton capped a three-goal period for the Bears. Bill McKay and Mike Flynn also added goals.
Despite the record of the Bears, people fear them. Most ECAC coaches have mentioned that Brown’s record is not indicative of its strength. Gaudet would agree, and sees the Princeton win as a big boost.
"They’re a good team, they’re well-coached and they have good players," Gaudet said of the Tigers. "So it was a good effort. It’s a confidence-builder because we have played hard, and we just haven’t had the results."
Sophomore Adrian Smith, one of the team’s leaders in both scoring and penalty minutes, resumed skating this week and might play. He stretched ligaments in his knee two Friday’s ago against Union.
"We’ve got a tough stretch," said Gaudet. "We have two road weekends, but if we can play with that grit and that determination, then we’ll be all right, because we’re there in the game, and hopefully we’ll just get a bounce here or there to put us over the top.
"But it makes it interesting, because now we have something to shoot for."
The question once again for Harvard is offense. The Crimson scored three in a win over Yale, but were shutout by Northeastern in the Beanpot consolation game.
"It’s tough to win a hockey game if you don’t score," said head coach Ronn Tomassoni after the loss. "It’s no secret we’ve struggled to score goals all season long."
It’s no secret, either, that you don’t win many games if the team’s goals allowed is more than the team’s goals scored. This is exactly the case for Harvard — 3.36 goals allowed per game, 2.59 scored.
Colgate sits in a three-way tie for sixth place. The Red Raiders gained one point over the weekend in a wild 5-5 tie with Vermont.
"It was disappointing, but we played a good game against Vermont," said head coach Don Vaughn. "It was more disappointing that we lost on Saturday (to Dartmouth) because we played well Friday. We just weren’t able to carry anything over to Saturday night from Friday."
Dartmouth raced out to the lead and never looked back to win 5-3.
"Our focus has to be on us," said Vaughn. "We have to find a way to get our play to the way it was on Saturday.
"We have to get the puck down low. We are also not throwing the puck at the net enough. We’re trying to be a little to cute with the puck instead of just throwing at the net and hope for something to happen. We’ re trying to make too much happen with the puck."
Colgate returns home to face Harvard and Brown, teams that it has defeated once already this season.
"It might be in the back of some of our guys’ minds," said Vaughn of the earlier victories. "But both of those teams have come a long way. We’re expecting two totally different teams."
Cornell gained two points with its win over Dartmouth Friday, but lost to Vermont 7-5 after edging to within 6-5 late in the game.
Head coach Mike Schafer believes that his team is prepared for the stretch run, and just needs a few adjustments week-to-week in order to prepare for the upcoming weekend’s games.
"This is that time of year," he said. "You try to utilize as many players as possible, but the best people play in all of those times. At this point in the season, you’re done experimenting."
Cornell swept Harvard and Brown the last time the teams got together in November, 3-2 and 5-4, respectively.
Brown at Colgate: Can Brown claw its way back to the playoffs after it seemed that all was lost? A two-game winning streak would be great for its playoff hopes, but it won’t happen. Colgate 5 Brown 3
Harvard at Cornell: The annual rivalry continues at Lynah. The Lynah Faithful look forward to this game all year long, and will be ready as the seventh man. Harvard doesn’t stand a chance. Cornell 5 Harvard 1
Harvard at Colgate: Colgate has returned to the high offensive line of Mike Harder, Andy McDonald and Dave DeBusschere. It paid off last weekend, and will again. Colgate 5 Harvard 2
Brown at Cornell: Two defensive teams, but Cornell can play the defense better at home. Cornell 4 Brown 2
No. 7 Clarkson (18-8-0, 11-5-0 ECAC, T-1st) and St. Lawrence (9-17-2, 4-10-2 ECAC, 10th) at Princeton (14-7-2, 9-6-1 ECAC, 5th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Baker Rink, Princeton, N.J.
St. Lawrence (9-17-2, 4-10-2 ECAC, 10th) and No. 7 Clarkson (18-8-0, 11-5-0 ECAC, T-1st) at Yale (7-14-2, 4-11-1 ECAC, 11th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Ingalls Rink, New Haven, Conn.
"We made some strides this week," said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris.
The strides the Golden Knights made were two wins over Union and RPI, and a share of first place. The two wins gives Clarkson nine wins in its last ten games, with the only loss being to Vermont.
Todd White continues his Player of the Year campaign, getting support for his bid with three more goals this weekend, bringing his league leading total to 28, 19 of them in league play.
The story of the weekend for Morris was his freshmen, most notably Phillippe Roy, the ECAC Rookie of the Week.
"He’s playing center for the first time in his life," said Morris about the converted defenseman. "We’ve done a good job with our younger guys, and they seem to be forming solid third and fourth lines. It gives us some real depth."
The package seems to be all there for Morris, from the defense to the offense, as the team rounds into shape for its usual January-February run.
"Dan Murphy has been solid," he said. "We’re also happy with our defensive pairs. They seem to be playing in sync. I’m happy with the offense, because outside of Todd White, we don’t have a superstar."
Earlier in the year, the Golden Knights defeated Princeton, but were upset by Yale.
"Don Cahoon has gotten his guys to play hard and he’s maximized their talent," said Morris. "Tim Taylor has surprised a lot of people with his youngsters. They believe in his system."
Clarkson has roared back to top the ECAC standings, and Morris believes being down early has helped his team.
"It may be a blessing in disguise," he said. "That we lost a lot of those games early and we’ve had to fight to get back to where we are at."
St. Lawrence remains in the bottom third of the ECAC after getting swept at home by RPI and Union.
"We didn’t play very well against RPI," said head coach Joe Marsh. "We broke down defensively and all over the place. We weren’t ready to play.
"Against Union, it was an up-and-down kind of game. It was a good one. They got a power-play goal, and we didn’t. That was the difference."
With six games to go, Marsh is trying to evoke other things from his club as the season winds down.
"We’re concentrating on quality," he said. "It’s not a matter of a lot of adjustments, it’s a mental thing. We don’t want practice to be drudgery, practice will be more of the mental aspect of the game."
Marsh points to Friday’s game against Yale as a large one.
"It’s the biggest game of the weekend," he said. "We’re fighting for a playoff position with them, and we just have to take it one shift at a time."
Yale is fighting for playoff position with St. Lawrence, as mentioned above, and it got tougher after a 3-2 loss to Harvard.
The bright spot for the Bulldogs was freshman Jeff Brow, who tallied the two goals in the loss, but head coach Tim Taylor is still concerned with his team and its 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. If any side of our game, offense or defense, suffers."
After a 2-2-1 start in the ECAC, and an upset of Cornell, the Elis have gone 2-9-0 since in the league.
Princeton’s two losses in three ECAC games over two weekends dropped the Tigers from first to fifth in the standings — that’s how quickly things can change this year.
A 3-2 loss to Brown was perhaps the Tigers’ worst performance of the year, though the 4-2 loss to Cornell the week before, just off the 20-day break, was probably worse.
Early in the season, Princeton got standout performances from its young defense, and the top line of Jeff Halpern-Scott Bertoli-Casson Masters led the way on offense. The offense seems to be more spread out now, but the top line is slumping, and the defense is starting to make those rookie kind of mistakes it wasn’t making earlier.
Goalie Erasmo Saltarelli, after a 5-1 start, has lost four straight decisions, and Princeton is 3-4 in the last seven games.
Still, at the start of the season, if you told Don Cahoon he’d be fifth, three points out of first, going into the last six games, he’d probably have taken it.
This week will be the real test for Princeton, with home games against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Three points would prove to everyone else, and especially itself, that the Tigers are indeed a force to be reckoned with, and aren’t just going to go away quietly.
Clarkson at Princeton: Clarkson is the team on the roll, and Princeton has cooled off following its 20-day break. This does not bode well for the Tigers. But Princeton is home for the first time in a month, and Baker Rink should help, but Clarkson is on fire. Clarkson 3 Princeton 2
St. Lawrence at Yale: A battle for 10th place here. These games are overlooked because they’re at the bottom of the league, but they nonetheless are important for both teams. The Saints have a little more experience, and it helps. St. Lawrence 5 Yale 2
St. Lawrence at Princeton: Princeton will get back on its feet after this game, but the Saints will make it close. Princeton 4 St. Lawrence 3
Clarkson at Yale: This is a revenge game for Clarkson. No matter what anyone says, when you lose the first game of the series, you want to destroy the team the next time around. Clarkson 8 Yale 2
It just gets tighter and tighter next week. The matchups to watch are Cornell-RPI and Princeton-Vermont.
Friday, February 21: Colgate at RPI Cornell at Union Princeton at Dartmouth Yale at Vermont Harvard at Clarkson Brown at St. Lawrence
Saturday, February 22: Colgate at Union Cornell at RPI Princeton at Vermont Yale at Dartmouth Harvard at St. Lawrence Brown at Clarkson
Jayson Moy is the ECAC Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1996 Jayson Moy . All Rights Reserved.
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