ECAC Preview: Preliminary Round by Jayson Moy
"Let’s get ready to rummmmmmmbleeeeeeeeeeee…….." — noted ring announcer Michael Buffer
The ECAC regular season is over, and it’s time to hit the playoffs with both feet running (or if you prefer, both blades skating). It all starts on Tuesday night in Hamilton, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass.
The ECAC playoffs are little peculiar in that ten teams are in. The top six get byes to the quarterfinal round that starts Friday at the top four teams’ rinks.
The teams that finished seventh through tenth play on Tuesday in the preliminary round. This year, those four are Colgate, Harvard, St. Lawrence and Yale.
(A look at the final regular-season ECAC Standings)
The lowest seed to win Tuesday will face top-seeded Clarkson in the best-of-three quarterfinals, starting Friday. The other winner will play Cornell.
But first, there are two intriguing games to deal with (note — in the following, the numerical designator identifies a team’s ECAC playoff seed):
No. 10 Yale (9-17-3, 6-14-2 ECAC) at No. 7 Colgate (16-13-3, 10-9-3 ECAC) Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, N.Y.
Regular Season Nov. 23: Colgate 4 Yale 3 OT at Yale Jan. 31: Colgate 5 Yale 2 at Colgate
The Yale Bulldogs finished the regular season with good news and bad news. The bad news was that they lost to Union in overtime. The good news is a lot more: the Bulldogs made the playoffs for the first time since 1992-93, finishing the season with a 2-2-0 run.
"That’s great, and it feels especially great for the seniors," said freshman forward Jeff Hamilton. "They wear their hearts on their sleeves every night, and it’s great for them to make the playoffs one more time."
"The bottom line is that these kids have been playing pretty darn good hockey," said coach Tim Taylor. "Going back to the Harvard game (Feb. 7), they’ve been playing well. Even in the losses, we’ve played real well. It’s a fitting tribute to them that they made the playoffs."
Taylor left the team for the Olympics in 1994 and the program took a dive in a hurry. But Ingalls Rink is rejuvenated — even by a modest step like getting into the playoffs as the final seed — and Taylor hopes to return to the team’s success of 1992, when it finished fourth.
"There’s no reason why we can’t," Taylor said. "It’s a long, slow rebuilding process, because we really took a big dip (after 1993). This year, we’ve made some progess, (especially) in goals against.
"(Making the playoffs) was always one of our first goals. It was our top focus all year long. In getting the 10th spot, we’ve achieved that. There was a lot of emotion in our building Saturday."
Since the Harvard game (a 3-2 loss), Yale has wins over RPI and Dartmouth, a tie to St. Lawrence, and two overtime losses. That is, Taylor has a hot team. And, earlier this season, Yale beat Clarkson and tied Boston University.
Colgate seems to be a sleeping giant, but goaltending has been the problem. Last year’s second-team All-ECAC pick, Dan Brenzavich, hasn’t been getting it done, so coach Don Vaughn started turning to freshman Shep Harder, and he earned Rookie of the Week honors two weeks ago.
"We just have to go out and play," said Vaughn, in discussing his team’s seventh-place position after two years in the upper echelon.
At least the potentially-explosive offense seems to be reappearing, though Yale can frustrate similar teams. Everyone knows that the Colgate offense is there, led by Mike Harder. Joining the fray will be Dave DeBusschere, Rob Mara and Tim Loftsgard.
"They’ve got some question marks in the pipes," Taylor said. "I don’t know if it’s a confidence problem. The thing about Colgate is they are pretty explosive offensively. They’ll be jacked up to play.
"We have to stop Mike Harder. We’ve been good at neutralizing other teams’ top guns. But we’re on the road, so matchups are tougher."
Yale would have preferred a matchup with eighth-seeded Harvard. In fact, Taylor was so anxious to play the Crimson, he pulled the goalie in overtime against Union on Saturday, needing a win to move into ninth place. Union scored, and therefore beat out Princeton for the fifth seed, and Taylor is aware he probably isn’t popular in New Jersey.
"I wasn’t thinking of them (Princeton)," Taylor said. "This is a tough trip. We had a chance to finish ninth, going up in standings a bit.
"Harvard, logistically, is a much easier game for us. We have a chance of heading back up (to Clarkson) if we win. It’s gonna be tough.
"We match up better with Harvard. They’re struggling offensively, we’re not high-powered. I think all of our guys would prefer Harvard, because of the rivalry, and (the loss on) Feb. 7 is still fresh in our minds."
But the Bulldogs play Colgate, so they’re hoping for another long trip to Clarkson — since that will mean they have won.
PICK: This has the makings of an offensive show. At one point in time, that would have been offense from one side — Colgate. But lately, Yale has gotten the scoring going, so expect to see some goals in this one. Unfortunately for Yale, the Colgate offense is a notch higher, and the experience will help the Red Raiders. Colgate heads to Ithaca for a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal matchup, when the Red Raiders were spanked in two games. Colgate 6 Yale 4
No. 9 St. Lawrence (10-19-5, 5-12-5 ECAC) at No. 8 Harvard (10-17-2, 9-11-2 ECAC) Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Bright Hockey Center, Cambridge, Mass.
Regular Season Dec. 6 : Harvard 3 St. Lawrence 3 OT at Harvard Feb. 22 : St. Lawrence 6 Harvard 3 at St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence almost wound up going to Hamilton for this game, but instead, the Saints are off to Cambridge after Yale couldn’t hold its lead over Union.
This is the second straight year the two teams will meet in the playoffs. Last year, Harvard, as the sixth seed, traveled to St. Lawrence for the quarterfinals and won the series in three games.
"We’ve played seven times in the last two years," said St. Lawrence assistant coach Paul Flanagan. "I look back at last year’s series, and Harvard was certainly the older club. Their seniors showed the leadership in that series. They had a fresh outlook on the season.
"Maybe we’re looking for the same," he added. "We’ve been telling the guys that it’s a clean slate. And this year, we’re the veteran team. Even though it’s just one game, we can get it done."
These two teams met just ten days ago in Cambridge, and St. Lawrence skated to a 6-3 win.
"It gives us some confidence," said Flanagan about the recent win. "We came off a game where we did not play well (against Brown), and we came out and played a great game.
"It’s two teams which are very similar," he added. "I don’t think any team is a favorite or an underdog, (although) maybe we’re the underdog because we’re on the road.
"And maybe it’s a plus that we’re on the road. Maybe it will take some of the pressure off of us since we’re not at home."
The Crimson knew they were going to play on Tuesday night before last weekend began. The only thing left was whether the Crimson would get to play at Bright. A strong showing against Dartmouth on Friday resulted in a 6-3 win and a home game.
The momentum carried over to Saturday, but the Crimson could not hold on to a lead and lost to Vermont 5-4.
"I thought that we played a great game [against Dartmouth]," said Harvard coach Ronn Tomassoni. "[But] I also thought that we played a heck of a lot better [versus Vermont]."
The general feeling from Tomassoni is that it’s a brand new season, and anything can happen.
"Right now we harp on the fact that it is a clean slate, a clean bill," he said. "Everyone is zero-zero and the scoring stats are zero-zero across the board. It’s a breath of fresh air, and it’s the start of a whole new season. We think that we have as good a chance of winning this thing as anyone else."
Much has been made of Harvard’s offensive troubles throughout the season, but this past weekend, the Crimson put some numbers on the board. They totaled 10 goals scored, the most in a Crimson weekend this season.
"We’re scoring some goals now, too," said Tomassoni. "That has got to give us some confidence going into the playoffs.
"We are going to be strengthened on Tuesday by the fact that we get another pretty good player back in the lineup in Trevor Allman. I think that that is going to give us a little impetus. I also look out there and see the performance of a Mark Moore: playing as well as he has played, that definitely bodes well for us."
Don’t forget about J.R. Prestifilippo in goal for the Crimson. The freshman has already set a record for most minutes played as a freshman at Harvard, and his presence makes the Crimson’s future brighter.
PICK: The two teams met just ten days ago, and St. Lawrence won that one. This time, it’s at Harvard. Does that make a difference? Harvard got the offense going on the last weekend of the season — a good sign for the Crimson.
On the other hand, St. Lawrence hung in for two periods against Cornell, and the same against Colgate. St. Lawrence will take an early lead, and it’s up to Harvard to come back. St. Lawrence plays at Cheel this weekend. St. Lawrence 5 Harvard 3
Later this week, look for the ECAC Quarterfinal Preview.
Special thanks to those who contributed to this article: Adam Wodon, host of "Around the Rinks" Rebecca A. Blaeser of the Harvard Crimson
Jayson Moy is the ECAC Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1997 Jayson Moy . All Rights Reserved.
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