ECAC Preview: Feb. 28-Mar. 1, 1997 by Jayson Moy
It’s a two-horse race as the finish line nears for the ECAC title. Clarkson and Cornell have emerged as the only teams left that can take the regular-season title, and the resulting automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Those two teams battle this Friday for the title, the NCAA berth and the number-one seed in the ECAC playoffs, which begin Tuesday.
Just below the leaders is a tight race for the remaining two home quarterfinal spots. It involves five teams — RPI, Vermont, Union, Princeton and Colgate.
RPI was the big loser on the weekend, getting swept. Vermont picked up two points, while Union and Princeton each garnered three points.
Below this pack is Harvard, which is already in the playoffs, but cannot escape a Tuesday night play-down game.
Three teams below Harvard — St. Lawrence, Yale and Dartmouth — are fighting for two playoff positions on Tuesday night. Brown has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Take a closer look at the ECAC Standings
Let’s examine some of the races a little more closely.
If Clarkson beats Cornell on Friday at Lynah Rink, Clarkson takes the regular-season title. It’s that simple.
In order for Cornell to win the ECAC title, two scenarios are available. In both, Cornell must defeat Clarkson. The next evening, Clarkson has to lose or tie for Cornell to be the ECAC regular-season champion. Then Cornell, with a win, or with Vermont and Princeton in the top four and Harvard in the top eight, will win the ECAC regular season.
Home ice in the quarterfinals is one step for RPI and Vermont. Those two teams need a win, plus one point from Princeton; then the quarterfinals are in Troy and Burlington.
Union and Princeton battle on Friday — with the loser of the game most likely on the road for the quarterfinals.
See the ECAC Supplement for a run-through of the playoff possibilities for each team.
On to the last regular-season weekend…
Clarkson (22-8-0, 15-5-0 ECAC, 1st) and St. Lawrence (10-17-5, 5-10-5 ECAC, 9th) at Cornell (16-7-4, 13-5-2 ECAC, 2nd) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Lynah Rink, Ithaca, N.Y.
St. Lawrence (10-17-5, 5-10-5 ECAC, 9th) and Clarkson (22-8-0, 15-5-0 ECAC, 1st) at Colgate (15-12-3, 9-8-3 ECAC, 7th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-3 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, N.Y.
"You scratch and claw for every point you can get with your mitts on," said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris about league play. "You just have to concentrate on what you’re going to do out there.
"We’ve got some unfinished business."
That unfinished business is the ECAC regular-season title, and the automatic NCAA bid. The Golden Knights can take that step with a win over Cornell on Friday night, which would clinch the top position.
Morris knows that it will be tough on the road.
"It’s a hostile crowd (at Lynah Rink) and one that gives no breaks," he said. "Cornell is tough in every facet and they use some key defensemen that can handle the puck very well.
"Offensively they’ve got good depth up front, and great goaltending," he added. "It doesn’t look like they have many weaknesses. They’re a great hockey team."
St. Lawrence is within one point of clinching a playoff spot, thanks to a three point weekend and senior center Joel Prpic — the ECAC Player of the Week.
Prpic picked up five points (3-2) on Friday against Brown, including his first career hat trick. He added an assist on Saturday against Harvard.
One point is all the Saints need to make the playoffs and go the following Tuesday in a play-down game.
"It’s not a matter of adjustments," said head coach Joe Marsh. "It’s a mental thing. It’s the mental aspect of the game."
The mental aspect for the Saints is feeling a lot better now after a successful weekend. On the other hand, Colgate is perched in seventh place, definitely not a place the Red Raiders wanted to be.
"That’s the big thing now," said head coach Don Vaughn about getting out of seventh. "We didn’t get a lot of help over the weekend. Right now we have to worry about ourselves, and what happens, happens.
"If we don’t (avoid a Tuesday play-down game), we have to go out and play and do our best to advance."
The Red Raiders helped themselves out a lot this weekend taking three points from Union and RPI. Freshman goaltender and ECAC Rookie of the Week Shep Harder was a surprise starter on Friday against RPI, and went again on Saturday.
"It may have surprised those on the outside," said Vaughn about starting Harder. "If you look at what we’ve done in the last few games defensively — and this is not anything against Danny (Brenzavich, senior goaltender) — we let in a lot of goals. I thought that change might be good for us."
To call Friday’s game between Clarkson and Cornell "big" is an understatement, except to Cornell head coach Mike Schafer.
"This time of the year, all games are big," he said. "It’s just another game."
Clarkson’s offense worries Schafer, but he thinks his team’s offense is right up there. The Big Red have scored only 10 fewer goals in ECAC competition than the Golden Knights.
"I wouldn’t call [us] a real offensive team," he said. "We’ve put up almost the same offensive numbers. We’re also not a team that changes a lot."
Cornell will once again be without Matt Cooney, Vinnie Auger, Keith Peach and Jamie Papp this weekend. The four did not play over the weekend at Union and RPI.
"I’m not worried about fatigue," said Schafer. "We can play with three lines and one defenseman up front. We’ve been cutting back on hard practices.
"(Fatigue) only becomes a factor if you get down by a couple of goals," he added. "If you’re ahead, it’s less of a factor. If you have to force yourselves, the fatigue factor will set in."
Clarkson at Cornell: Can the Big Red play with just three lines against a team as deep as the Golden Knights? The crowd will pump them up, but the depth of four lines against three is too much, especially with the talent on Clarkson’s top two lines. Clarkson wins the ECAC regular season. Clarkson 4 Cornell 2
St. Lawrence at Colgate: A huge boost for Colgate this weekend with three points. The Red Raiders want to do all they can to get out of seventh place, while the Saints just want to make the playoffs. SLU will have to look towards New Haven and Hanover for help. Colgate 5 St. Lawrence 2
St. Lawrence at Cornell: The Big Red will sting from the previous night’s loss, but clinch second place tonight. Cornell 6 St. Lawrence 4
Clarkson at Colgate: Clarkson has wrapped it up, the Red Raiders want to get out of seventh place. On Silver Puck Weekend, Colgate makes its move. Colgate 5 Clarkson 3
RPI (16-10-4, 11-6-3 ECAC, T-3rd) and Union (17-10-3, 10-7-3 ECAC, T-5th) at Yale (8-16-3, 5-13-2 ECAC, T-10th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Ingalls Rink, New Haven, Conn.
Union (17-10-3, 10-7-3 ECAC, T-5th) and RPI (16-10-4, 11-6-3 ECAC, T-3rd) at Princeton (15-8-4, 10-7-3 ECAC, T-5th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Baker Rink, Princeton, N.J.
The youngest team in the league showed its inexperience in stretch drives this past weekend, getting swept by Colgate and Cornell at home.
Despite the two losses, RPI is still in the driver’s seat for home ice in the quarterfinal playoff round.
"It’s a time when you’ve got to really focus, more so than at the beginning of the season," said head coach Dan Fridgen. "Everybody is in game shape, everyone is improved. They’re all on an upward climb.
"You have different situations in different games that you may not have seen before," added Fridgen. "I think what we’re learning is there’s very little room for error as you progress toward the playoffs."
RPI controls its own destiny for playoff positioning, and it’s the Engineers that Fridgen says his club should be concerned with.
"The standings take care of the standings on how we do on a game-to-game basis," said Fridgen. "We haven’t helped our cause this weekend. Now it’s what happens around the league to help our cause. I don’t like doing that. We like to be in control of our own destiny.
"We’ve got to regroup. There’s two games left. We can regroup, or we can roll over and play dead."
The Dutchmen of Union have shot up the standings and into the thick of the race for a home quarterfinal spot. The Dutchmen are 5-1-2 in their last eight ECAC contests, the lone loss coming to league-leading Clarkson.
Union took three points from Colgate and Cornell this past weekend, using the Dutchman formula — a tough forecheck and taking opportunities when it can.
"We played the same dull, boring pattern, which we’re thankful for," Union coach Stan Moore said. "We were focused and stayed consistent in our own end.
"I think they were opportunistic goals," said Moore of his team’s seven goal outburst against Cornell Friday night. "We had some bounces here and there. We had the hustle and effort behind it. We may have had a few breaks earlier, but at least we were consistent in our own end and managed to stay on top."
All of a sudden Yale is a hot team. The Bulldogs took two points on the road this weekend. They almost had three, but an overtime goal by Vermont prevented that.
Yale is fighting for the playoffs and faces two tough teams in RPI and Union this weekend. The last time the teams met, Yale was swept by both.
Look for the Bulldogs to continue their goaltending rotation of Dan Choquette and Alex Westlund this weekend. Choquette kept Vermont at bay for over two periods before he was beaten in overtime, and Westlund made 36 saves in the 4-1 win over Dartmouth.
Princeton finally got the frustrations out with three points over the weekend. Two of those points were a 2-0 shutout of Vermont at the Gutterson Fieldhouse. Evan more amazing, the Tigers limited the vaunted Catamount offense to just 15 shots on goal.
Erasmo Saltarelli did the job in net, and head coach Don Cahoon likes what he sees.
"Coming off what was maybe a sub-par performance (Friday), he really responded and just put a terrific effort together," Cahoon said of his goalie after Saturday’s shutout. "That’s what the junior and experienced player will do for you."
RPI at Yale: Two of the youngest teams in the ECAC on the final weekend. You better believe that Eric Healey, Matt Garver and Alain St. Hilaire won’t be shut out of a weekend again, as the Engineers clinch home ice for the quarterfinals. RPI 7 Yale 2
Union at Princeton: You would think that two defensive-minded teams like these would play a low-scoring game, but the last time out it was 3-3 after one period, and ended up in a 6-4 Union victory. These two are essentially playing for home ice in the quarterfinals, and the loser is, in all likelihood, on the road. Princeton 3 Union 2
Union at Yale: Can Yale get the push it needs for the playoffs? Unfortunately for them, the Bulldogs will have to look elsewhere for help. Union 3 Yale 1
RPI at Princeton: Princeton has only lost once to RPI on home ice since 1991. In fact the Tigers have only lost three times to RPI since 1991, one being the ECAC championship game in 1995. The Tigers seem to own RPI in recent years. It will happen again. Princeton 4 RPI 2
Vermont (19-8-3, 11-6-3 ECAC, T-3rd) and Dartmouth (10-15-2, 5-13-2 ECAC, T-10th) at Brown (6-18-3, 3-15-2 ECAC, 12th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-5 p.m., Meehan Auditorium, Providence, R.I.
Dartmouth (10-15-2, 5-13-2 ECAC, T-10th) and Vermont (19-8-3, 11-6-3 ECAC, T-3rd) at Harvard (9-16-2, 8-10-2 ECAC, 8th) Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-7 p.m., Bright Hockey Center, Cambridge, Mass.
Dartmouth finds itself tied for tenth place in the ECAC all of sudden. After getting one point from two games this weekend, the Big Green are fighting for their playoff lives.
This weekend, they will be looking towards New Haven to see what the team tied with them is doing. But the Big Green must look at their games first. They are 2-7-1 in their last 10 ECAC games, and the slump has not helped them in the standings.
"I was concerned about goals for — now I’m concerned about goals against," said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan after the ECAC weekend which saw the Cats host Colgate and Cornell.
Gilligan should be concerned with goals for once again. If not for the last four minutes of the game two weeks ago versus RPI, the Cats would have one goal to show for the weekend.
This past weekend, they only scored three goals, all against Yale on Friday. That’s just six goals in four games for the Catamounts, and only 40 shots on goal in two games last weekend.
Brown must look forward to next season. After Saturday’s home game against Dartmouth, the Bears are finished for the season. Pride is the word in Providence this weekend, because that’s all the Bears are playing for.
Harvard, of course, is fighting for one thing — a home game on Tuesday in the play-down round. The Crimson cannot finish higher than seventh in the conference.
J.R. Prestifilippo continued his bid for the ECAC Rookie of the Year award with 80 saves in two games versus Clarkson and St. Lawrence — personal highs for the year.
"J.R. has been the rock," said head coach Ronn Tomassoni. "He has been simply outstanding. He’s only a freshman, but he has not played like a freshman. He’s been consistent — he’s given us the opportunity to win every game, regardless of how we’ve played. He’s also a tremendous competitor, mature beyond his years, and as tough a kid mentally as I’ve coached."
Vermont at Brown: Vermont has had trouble scoring lately, but against Brown, the offense should improve. The Bears have allowed the most goals in the ECAC, but again, pride has a lot to do with keeping the score down. Vermont 4 Brown 2
Dartmouth at Harvard: Dartmouth needs a win to get in the playoffs, can the Big Green do it? Prestifilippo makes his bid for the Rookie of the Year, and Harvard wants a home playoff game. Dartmouth 4 Harvard 3
Dartmouth at Brown: Dartmouth will be thankful that it got the win the night before. Brown 4 Dartmouth 2
Vermont at Harvard: Vermont clinches the number-three seed. Vermont 6 Harvard 3
The regular season is over, so it’s time to fight for the Whitelaw Trophy. On Monday, look for a special ECAC preview on the two play-down games. On Thursday, the ECAC quarterfinal previews arrive.
Jayson Moy is the ECAC Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1997 Jayson Moy . All Rights Reserved.
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