This Week in the ECAC: February 20, 1998

Yale is the hottest team in the ECAC. I repeat, Yale is the hottest team in the ECAC.

Yale has clinched a playoff spot. I repeat, Yale has clinched a playoff spot.

Yale has the largest lead of any conference front-runner. I repeat, Yale has the largest lead of any conference front-runner.

Yale`s magic number to clinch an NCAA tournament bid is seven. I repeat, seven.

So, do you believe yet?

ECAC Standings

It looks like the race will be for the next two preferred spots in the ECAC standings, second and third. Things will continue to shake out quickly, as there are only three weeks left.

Last week’s predictions: 7-5 Year to date: 87-79, .530, 3rd

Yale (19-4-0, 14-2-0 ECAC, 1st) and Princeton (12-7-4, 6-7-3 ECAC, T-6th) at Clarkson (14-7-3, 10-4-2 ECAC, 2nd) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7 pm (Empire), Cheel Arena, Potsdam, N.Y. Princeton (12-7-4, 6-7-3 ECAC, T-6th) and Yale (19-4-0, 14-2-0 ECAC, 1st) at St. Lawrence (6-17-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 10th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Appleton Arena, Canton, N.Y. Previous Meetings Nov. 7: Yale 2, Clarkson 1; St. Lawrence 2, Princeton 2 Nov. 8: Princeton 3, Clarkson 2; Yale 3, St. Lawrence 0

Did I mention that Yale is the hottest team in the ECAC? The Bulldogs are also the first ECAC team to clinch a playoff spot, and while they were at it, a weekend sweep over Brown and Harvard gave the Bulldogs home ice for the playoffs.

The Bulldogs now need a combination of four points between themselves and Rensselaer to clinch one of the all-important top three spots for the playoffs. Going a little further, the Bulldogs need a combination of seven points to clinch the regular season ECAC crown and an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

"We need to get someone in the 30-40 point range this season," said head coach Tim Taylor before the season began. He now has that someone, in sophomore Jeff Hamilton, who has 36 points so far this season (21-15), and is fourth in league scoring with 25 points (15-10).

Princeton is one of those teams lurking, still in the middle of the hunt. The Tigers sit in a tie for sixth place in the ECAC, mainly because they have not won two ECAC games in a weekend since, well, last year.

In fact, the Tigers have split all of their ECAC weekends since the first weekend of this calendar year, when the Tigers defeated Union and tied Rensselaer.

Last time around, the Tigers split a pair with Harvard and Brown, defeating the Crimson and losing to the Bears. The win over the Crimson was helped by five goals in a 4:48 span of the second period, when Matt Brush, Joey Pelle, Scott Bertoli, Syl Apps and Robbie Sinclair all scored. The next night, the Tigers gave up three goals in a 5:20 span that hung a loss on them.

St. Lawrence is currently in the last playoff position in the ECAC after a split on the road: a win over Union and a loss to Rensselaer. Now, the Saints head home for only their eighth and ninth home games of the season.

"I honestly think that we probably play better on the road than at home, because we’ve certainly played a lot more on the road," joked head coach Joe Marsh. "It’s been incredible, but that’s the way it goes, and if we can get into that playoff spot we can be a dangerous team too.

"Obviously every point has magnified significance the rest of the way," he added. "We have to take care of ourselves…and if the right things happen in other places, we can move up the standings."

The Saints woke up offensively this past weekend, putting nine goals on the board. Paul DiFrancesco came alive with a power-play goal against Union and two goals and two assists against Rensselaer.

"We saw a lot of positive things, particularly offensively, at Union and RPI," Marsh said. "If we can build on that with a good week of practice, perhaps we can surprise a couple of people and gain some ground.

"We had two good games with [Yale and Princeton] on their ice earlier in the year," he added. "If we can improve on those performances on our own ice, we will be happy."

Clarkson split a pair with Rensselaer and Union on the weekend. The Golden Knights lost to Rensselaer 6-2, and then defeated the Skating Dutchmen 3-1.

"We had an outstanding first period and we made some mental blunders in the second that cost us, and then momentum took its toll," head coach Mark Morris said about Saturday’s loss. "We floundered a lot on special-teams play and things started to unravel from there.

"The encouraging thing is that we outplayed a team once again," Morris added. "We outshot them by more than two to one, and we came up empty-handed. Their goalie was better than ours."

The next evening, the Knights posted two power-play goals and a shorthander in the victory over the Dutchmen.

"This is a team which has struggled on special teams all year," Morris said. "It’s nice to see us finally playing well in this area."

PICKS: Yale at Clarkson: I believe, I believe! Yale 4, Clarkson 2 Princeton at St. Lawrence: The Saints have found their offense. St. Lawrence 5, Princeton 2 Princeton at Clarkson: The Knights get a home win. Clarkson 4, Princeton 2 Yale at St. Lawrence: Did I mention that Yale is the hottest team in the league? Yale 5, St. Lawrence 3

Union (4-19-3, 2-12-2 ECAC, 12th) and Rensselaer (14-9-3, 8-5-3 ECAC, 4th) at Dartmouth (10-9-4, 6-8-2 ECAC, 9th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm, Thompson Arena, Hanover, N.H. Rensselaer (14-9-3, 8-5-3 ECAC, 4th) and Union (4-19-3, 2-12-2 ECAC, 12th) at Vermont (7-17-2, 4-10-2 ECAC, 11th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt. Previous Meetings Nov. 7: Rensselaer 7, Dartmouth 1; Union 1, Vermont 0 Nov. 8: Rensselaer 7, Vermont 2; Dartmouth 4, Union 0

Union has its woes. Big woes and small woes. The big — losses after losses. The small — its number of goals scored in ECAC play.

"We had some close scoring chances [this weekend]," said head coach Stan Moore. "But not as close as they needed to be. We didn’t generate some rebound opportunities or second or third opportunities."

The Dutchmen have scored 27 ECAC goals in 16 games, or 1.69 goals per game. They have given up 58 goals in those games, or 3.62 per.

To add to the troubles, the Dutchmen lost Jeff Sproat to a separated shoulder this weekend, and played on Saturday with just 16 skaters.

Meanwhile, Rensselaer earned its first ECAC weekend sweep since the opening weekend of conference play with wins over Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

"We’ve got to do this every weekend," said ECAC Player of the Week Alain St. Hilaire. "We’ve got to come out and take it to everyone all the time. If we are peaking, then it’s the right time to do it."

St. Hilaire had nine points on the weekend with two goals and seven assists, moving into second place (behind teammate Eric Healey) in ECAC scoring despite missing four league games with an injured hand. On the weekend, the line of St. Hilaire, Healey and Matt Garver combined for 18 points — six goals (two shorthanded) and 12 assists.

"He’s just got real good vision and is very smart with the puck," said head coach Dan Fridgen of St. Hilaire. "He’s got patience and he creates things. One second he’s standing still, the next he’s anticipating a pass, he gets it and away his line goes. He’s a continuous offensive threat out there.

"I can’t ask for anything more from him. He’s doing it all right now."

Vermont is in eleventh and currently out of a playoff position after a weekend sweep at Cornell and Colgate. But the Catamounts are just one point out of that spot, and getting in would be a great thing for head coach Mike Gilligan’s team.

"If we get in the playoffs, it’s only going to help us," he said. "You have to get there for the experience if we want to be a good team in the future."

Unfortunately for Gilligan, the right now for the Cats is not very encouraging, especially in the offensive department. The Cats continue to suffer scoring woes with only two goals on the weekend, for a total of 37 in 16 league games.

Dartmouth picked up three points this past weekend and moved into ninth place in the standings, just one point behind a three-way tie for sixth place. A good weekend for the Big Green could even put them in a position to jump up into one of the home-ice quarterfinal positions.

The Big Green seem to be coming together at the right time, with a 4-1-1 record in their last six outings, the only loss coming to Clarkson two weeks ago.

David Whitworth and Curtis Wilgosh are quietly moving up the ECAC league scoring charts. Whitworth is tied for 14th with three goals and 13 assists, and Wilgosh has five goals and ten assists.

PICKS: Union at Dartmouth: The Dutchmen’s woes continue. Dartmouth 4, Union 1 Rensselaer at Vermont: The bigger ice only benefits the quicker Engineers. Rensselaer 7, Vermont 2 Rensselaer at Dartmouth: A tight grind-it-out game. Rensselaer 4, Dartmouth 3 Union at Vermont: Don’t make me pick here. Vermont 0, Union 0

Colgate (15-8-3, 9-5-2 ECAC, 3rd) and Cornell (12-9-2, 8-7-1 ECAC, 5th) at Harvard (8-13-2, 7-8-1 ECAC, T-6th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Bright Hockey Center, Cambridge, Mass. Cornell (12-9-2, 8-7-1 ECAC, 5th) and Colgate (15-8-3, 9-5-2 ECAC, 3rd) at Brown (8-13-1, 7-8-1 ECAC, T-6th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Meehan Auditorium, Providence, R.I. Previous Meetings Nov. 7: Colgate 5, Brown 4; Cornell 5, Harvard 2 Nov. 8: Harvard 6, Colgate 5; Cornell 4, Brown 3

Cornell split a weekend series again — the fourth week in a row that the Big Red has done that. Through injuries and lack of depth, the Big Red have still managed to wind up in the fifth position in the ECAC with three weeks to go. But according to head coach Mike Schafer, injuries shouldn’t be a factor.

"I told them after the game, regardless of what the injury situation is, it’s inexcusable," he said after Saturday’s loss to Dartmouth. "You know, we dressed 17 guys — they’ve got to be ready to play. We’re fully responsible for the loss."

Or should it be a factor?

"People have to understand, there’s absolutely no excuse for our performance tonight," Schafer said. "But when you go through the lineup and you look at the guys who played tonight — it’s just amazing to me.

"We have a lot of tough kids on our hockey team, and I just have a world of respect for those five or six kids who played, who under normal circumstances probably wouldn’t be in the lineup," he added.

Colgate remains in third place with a tie against Dartmouth and a win over Vermont, but is hanging on to that. It is still a surprise to some that the Red Raiders are that high in the standings.

"We’ve had a pretty good year to this point," said head coach Don Vaughan. "No one had any expectations that we would be here, and the challenge now is to peak at the right time."

Peaking is certainly a theme, but concentrating on the ice and not the numbers is a concern.

"This time of year, it’s difficult not to take a look at the standings," Vaughan said. "Beyond that, I think we’ve shifted the focus to defense and it’s been working."

Harvard has dropped three consecutive ECAC contests, bringing the Crimson from third place in the league down into a tie for sixth.

Goals in bunches have hurt the Crimson in those games. This past weekend, five goals by Princeton in the span of 4:48 of the second period, and then three first-period goals by Yale were too much to overcome. The weekend before, four second-period goals by Rensselaer sealed Harvard’s fate.

Over the span of those three games, the Crimson have been outscored 15-5, and it’s the lapses that have hurt them.

The Crimson have been bolstered by the fact that J.R. Prestifilippo has been back in the nets for the last two weeks after sitting out with mononucleosis, but J.R. did not have a win last weekend, and only played against Union the previous week.

Brown is in a tie for sixth place after a win over Princeton after losing to Yale. If not for Yale running away with the ECAC, the Bears could be the top turnaround story in the ECAC.

"We’ve been playing decent hockey all year, but not at this level," said head coach Roger Grillo. "The hard work and the dedication that the kids have had in practice all year long is starting to pay off. I feel real good about them right now."

Grillo has instituted a system where speed and skating are integral to the scheme that the Bears are playing.

"I’ve always felt that college hockey is so exciting because of speed, and that’s the kind of team that I want to coach," he said. "Our guys are responding and they’re having a good time with it."

PICKS: Colgate at Harvard: The Crimson continue to drop Colgate 5, Harvard 3 Cornell at Brown: The Bears continue to climb the standings. Brown 4, Cornell 2 Cornell at Harvard: Those split weekends continue for the Big Red. Cornell 4, Harvard 2 Colgate at Brown: I believe in the Bears too. Brown 4, Colgate 3

Two weeks to go, and there are still some great battles to be fought.

Next Week in the ECAC: Friday, February 27: Clarkson at Brown St. Lawrence at Harvard Dartmouth at Yale Vermont at Princeton Union at Colgate Rensselaer at Cornell

Saturday, February 28: Clarkson at Harvard St. Lawrence at Brown Dartmouth at Princeton Vermont at Yale Union at Cornell Rensselaer at Colgate

Thanks to the ECAC game reporters who contributed to this preview.