This Week in the ECAC: November 13, 1998

Well, it’s finally here — the "real" start of the ECAC league season. Yes, we know Harvard and Brown played last weekend, but this is where the race for the good loot begins.

Speaking of the first ECAC game of the season, it was Brown getting a quick jump on the entire league with a victory. It was also good news for Rensselaer, Cornell and Dartmouth, with Rensselaer over Union and both the Big Red and Green over Niagara. Yale also posted an exhibition win over McGill to open up its season on ice.

Less pleased this week are Clarkson, Vermont, Dartmouth and Union. Clarkson dropped a pair to the number-one team in the country, North Dakota, while Vermont and Dartmouth both lost to Acadia. And as mentioned before, Union lost to Rensselaer in a non-conference battle.

This weekend, every team is involved in the league schedule. There is no need to refer to the other USCHO previews for games this week, because it’s all in the family.

ECAC Player of the Week — Curtis Wilgosh, Dartmouth ECAC Rookie of the Week — David Francis, Cornell ECAC Goaltender of the Week — Scott Stirling, Brown

Folks, tighten your seat belts, ’cause you are about to get the 1998-99 edition of the ECAC. Get ready for the thrills, the excitement, the tradition and the grandeur of the best college hockey has to offer.

Last week: 6-2 Season to date: 15-10, .600

We’re catching up on the deadwood that’s ahead of us…

Yale (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) and Princeton (0-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Clarkson (0-4-0, 0- 0-0 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY Princeton (0-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) and Yale (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at St. Lawrence (4-1-0, 0- 0-0 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Appleton Arena, Canton, NY

The Yale Bulldogs enter this weekend as the only untested team in the ECAC. A 7-2 exhibition drubbing of McGill is the only result opponents can use to measure the strength of Tim Taylor’s squad.

To make matters worse, Yale is one of the toughest teams in the league to figure out. Offensively, the Bulldogs return a healthy first-team All-ECAC selection in Jeff Hamilton, who appears almost 100 percent after suffering a shoulder injury last season in the ECAC quarterfinals. Hamilton led the conference in goals and game-winners, and he’ll be backed by captain Keith McCullough and junior Jeff Brow.

"I think we might be able to score a few more goals this year than last year team-wise because we didn’t lose a lot of the parts of our offensive machinery," said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. "[Hamilton] is a little restricted in terms of his full range of motion, but he is basically recovered and it is stronger than it was before."

In between the pipes they are even more solid with one of the best goaltenders in the league, Alex Westlund.

"With Hamilton up front and Alex Westlund in goal, we have two kids–both second team All-Americans–who are very good players," Taylor said. "It’s nice to have those type of kids around whom to build different aspects of your team. Alex is a terrific kid who trains very hard. He’s had a great summer and he looks terrific. He fully expects to have a real good senior year. It’s not very often coaches have those luxuries."

Defense remains the real question with the graduation of last year’s ECAC Player of the Year, Ray Giroux, although it didn’t appear too much after holding McGill to a mere two goals.

"We lost a lot of the parts of our defensive machinery, so I think our real challenge will be to rebuild a team defense which is what got us where we did last year," Taylor said. "I got some good players to replace them with, but they’re not going to be as experienced or as old or mature. So that is the challenge we face."

No one will know for sure, however, until the Bulldogs take the ice this weekend. Only then will the enigma that is Yale become clearer.

They sure haven’t made Hobey proud just yet. As the former Tiger slowly rolls around in his grave, Don "Toot" Cahoon’s team is struggling to find something positive in the young season. After a disastrous exhibition blowout loss to New Brunswick two weeks ago, Princeton was welcomed into the regular season by a 9-1 shellacking at the hands of Boston University on Friday night

Syl Apps scored Princeton’s lone goal, and that was the only good thing to come out of Walter Brown Arena for the visiting team that night.

"We’re a long ways from being the type of team that competes at a level that BU plays at, regardless of where everyone thinks BU is at now," said Cahoon. "The first thing we have to do is get our team to play with a passion. We haven’t done that yet."

Offensively, there is no doubt that the goals will come — eventually. Against the Terriers, the Tigers were playing without top sniper Jeff Halpern, who was ejected from the New Brunswick contest after receiving an intent-to-injure penalty. His return will add new life to the attack, which thus far has relied on defensive forward extraordinaire Apps for most of the offensive production. Even though the team has only played one regular-season contest, Cahoon is not afraid to mix things up as a sense of immediacy is slowly creeping into the Princeton camp.

"We’re going to change things around a bit," Cahoon said. "We’re going to get some younger kids in the lineup. We’re just not going to take anything for granted. The people who have done it for us in the past aren’t necessarily going to do it for us this year or in the future. It’ll be a little bit of a boot camp down at Princeton."

A huge problem for the Tigers is in the net. The cries of "Where is Erasmo?" are ringing louder than ever at Hobey Baker as the rotating trio of freshman Dave Stathos, junior Craig Bradley, and senior Nick Rankin just aren’t getting the job done at all, allowing an outrageous 20 goals in two games.

"I really have a hard time assessing the goaltending," said Cahoon following the BU defeat. "I mean nine goals, I don’t know how many of those were real bad goals from the goalie’s perspective; I’ll have to wait and judge that on tape.

"I’m a slow starter. My teams have never played their best hockey at the beginning of the year."

After such a dismal, uninspired start to the season, Cahoon promised that it would be a boot camp at Princeton this week. It’ll be interesting to see how the troops respond against arguably the toughest road trip of the schedule, at Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

Clarkson is 0-4-0 after getting swept by Northern Michigan and North Dakota over the past three weekends. Two teams that considered the top schools in the CCHA and WCHA respectively. While the Golden Knights are winless, the four games should set them up well for the upcoming season.

"We’ve bit off a big chunk in the schedule," said head coach Mark Morris. "We realized it was going to be a struggle, but it will set us up for the rest of the season. We’ve had a lot of areas of our game exposed. There is reason to be encouraged.

"Everybody is disgruntled, but when you consider the teams and the quality of the teams, it’s good to learn and know your weaknesses and strengths from it."

One of the weaknesses being pointing out is the inexperience in goal. With three freshmen trying to fill the shoes of Chris Bernard and Dan Murphy, there is quite a battle for the starting job.

"At this moment, Shawn Grant seems to have the edge over Andrew Gibson, and Andy Kostka is the third string goalie," said Morris. "Right now Grant has worked harder, and it looks like he has the ability to learn….There was no doubt there were awkward moments over the four games. We saw good play and bad play."

This weekend it will be the ECAC titleists coming to Cheel.

"Yale is probably still riding pretty high from last year’s season title, and Princeton is probably still riding high from the championship win," said Morris. "Yale beat us by one point and Princeton by one goal in overtime. We’ve certainly got plenty of incentive to play them tough in our own building."

The Saints of St. Lawrence are one of the surprises in this young season, off to a 4-1-0 start with a lot of things clicking. One of those is goaltender Eric Heffler, who has garnered ECAC Goaltender of the Week honors three times already, the latest coming after a 3-1 victory over Colgate in a non-conference affair at the Buffalo Showcase.

"It was a great night for him," said Saint coach Joe Marsh of the Williamsville, N.Y., native. "We wanted to showcase him a little bit in his home town and he certainly didn’t show any nerves, but then he has played in some real big games the last couple of seasons. It was a pretty good night all the way around, (Heffler) got some help from his defense in terms of clearing the rebounds and he made a couple of huge saves at key points in the game to keep Colgate from getting back into it."

Another strong point has been the play of freshman Brandon Dietrich and sophomore Vic Natali, both getting their first real taste of college hockey.

"Dietrich and Natali are two creative players with the puck and they showed us a lot tonight," said Marsh. "Brandon’s goal was a pretty individual play and Vic made a great move to the slot and Dale (Clarke) put a perfect pass on his stick for the goal. It was good to see that kind of scoring balance. Colgate did a good job against our top line and against the power play, but the other guys picked things up."

One more factor for the Saints has been their awesome special teams, especially the penalty-kill. The Saints have killed off 28 consecutive power plays, and have just allowed one power-play goal in 35 chances this season.

"The penalty kill did a good job again (against Colgate) and when you’ve got a goalie like Heff in there, it is the best kind of kill you can have," said Marsh.

The week off between the Colgate game and this weekend is ample time for the Saints to capitalize on their quick start and get ready for the regular-season and tournament ECAC Champions.

"We’ve got some time now to refine some things and get ready for league play," said Marsh. "We had a pretty successful first five games, but it just gets tougher from here on in."

Picks: Yale at Clarkson — It’s not exactly the easiest road trip to start the regular season with, but Tim Taylor will have his Bulldogs prepared for the challenge. Unfortunately, the team will crash head-first into winless Clarkson, who has endured the brunt of one of the toughest schedules thus far. The Golden Knights will be geared up for their first win. Clarkson 5, Yale 2 Princeton at St. Lawrence — The Tigers will definitely show signs of improvement this weekend, but then again they couldn’t really get much worse. Even Hobey himself couldn’t create an upset. St. Lawrence 6, Princeton 3 Princeton at Clarkson — Revenge, baby! The Tigers don’t seem to have it together yet, and the Golden Knights will exact their price this night. Clarkson 5, Princeton 2 Yale at St. Lawrence — You know what they say practice makes perfect, and with six already under their belt, it will be the Saints’ weekend. St. Lawrence 4, Yale 2

Cornell (1-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) and Colgate (1-2-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Harvard (1-1-0, 0- 1-0 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Bright Hockey Center, Cambridge, Mass. Colgate (1-2-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) and Cornell (1-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Brown (1-0-0, 1-0-0 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Meehan Auditorium, Providence, RI

The Cornell Big Red take their 1-0-0 record into ECAC-land this weekend. After a nailbiting 3-2 win over an unpredictable Niagara team at Lynah Rink, Cornell hopes for a better league showing than last season’s eighth-place finish.

The Big Red are after big years from veterans like Kyle Knopp, Doug Stienstra and Ryan Moynihan, but thus far, the surprise offensive weapon has been newcomer David Francis. He netted his first career goal when he evened the score at two against Niagara with 6:59 remaining in that contest.

Another impressive showing came from Larry Pierce, the team’s top point-getter after scoring a goal and two assists last week. Goaltender Ian Burt also had a solid game in his debut as a starter. He pushed away 32 shots to collect his first victory of the season.

"I can’t say enough about Ian Burt. After it was 2-1 he made the big save that turned the game around," defenseman Jeff Burgoyne told the Cornell Daily Sun. "We have so much confidence in him back there, and he is just getting better every night."

Despite the unexpected offensive production from Pierce and Francis, Cornell did have trouble with Niagara’s tactical style, which had the Big Red players facing their own net more than they would have liked.

"They played a great game," said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer following the game. "They stuck to their game plan and did a good job of just constantly throwing the puck out in the neutral zone and sending it down for icings. They’re a real solid team that’s beaten Michigan and Ohio State."

There is no doubt that Don Vaughan has shifted his team’s focus from the offensive to the defensive side of the ice. Two Friday nights ago, Colgate battled with an usually tough Army squad and eked out the victory — its first of the season — thanks to a third-period tally by Daryl Campbell.

"It feels good," said Vaughan following his first victory. "Obviously, the way things ended for us last year, it’s good to get that first one. And we scored some goals too. We played well in spurts, and not well in other spurts. We’ve got to find a way to put it together."

But surging St. Lawrence quickly dropped the Red Raiders’ record under the .500 mark the next night as part of the Buffalo Showcase. Despite the fact that the defensive focus has yet to produce stellar results, allowing seven goals in the last two games, Vaughan remains optimistic about his newfound strategy.

"We’ve been focusing on our [team defense]," Vaughan said. "That has been an emphasis from day one for us, and maybe sometimes that’s at the expense of the other end of the rink. But generally that’s the way hockey has been. Everybody is focusing on defense and people are afraid to open up a little bit more. We’ve done a nice job both weekends in our own end."

Colgate has gotten impressive offensive performances from veterans like Campbell and seniors Dan Wildfong (one assist vs. SLU) and Jed Whitchurch (one goal vs. Army), but the influx of youth in the Red Raiders’ roster has been undeniable. Etienne Morin, the rookie out of the Central Junior A Hockey League, deposited his first goal of the 1998-99 season last weekend against the Saints.

Netminder Jason LeFevre also saw time against St. Lawrence, notching 21 saves and continuing to challenge Shep Harder for the starting nod. Harder struggled against Army after a 32-save performance against Northeastern two weeks ago.

"He played OK," said Vaughan of his junior goaltender. "He wasn’t really tested a lot, but he played well and he got the ‘W’. He probably had it more together against Northeastern, but he did what he had to do to win."

Harvard used its first weekend of the 1998-99 season to stretch its legs a bit. Now, after a loss to Brown on Friday and a rebound victory over UMass-Amherst on Sunday, the Crimson are ready to bear down on the heart of its league schedule.

Despite being outplayed by the Bears on opening night, Harvard had its moments, the brightest being the play of senior captain Craig Adams, who appears to have fully healed from last year’s shoulder injury which forced him to miss more than half the season. Adams delivered his first goal–a short-handed tally–in almost a year against UMass and looks comfortable next to sophomore linemates Chris Bala and Steve Moore.

"In the first game against Brown, I don’t think that he had a strong game," said head coach Ronn Tomassoni. "I thought that he bounced back well on Sunday with a big shorthanded goal for us. He is the kind of kid who plays so physical and energetic, and that rubs off. I also think that he is more than just a physical presence out there. He is a grinder, but he also plays a highly skilled game and not many kids can do that."

The newcomers — who have been touted as perhaps the best freshmen class in the ECAC — have also showed promise with many of them slipping right into the heart of the Crimson lineup. Jared Cantanucci and Kyle Clark have solidified spots in the first two lines, while Derek Nowak and Peter Capouch have also seen a great deal of playing time. A fifth freshman, Jeff Stonehouse, was slated to center the team’s second line on Friday, but suffered a broken bone in his hand just days before the Brown contest.

"It’s early yet, but it appears to be a very good class; they performed very well," Tomassoni said. "We obviously miss Stonehouse, who was hurt the day before [Brown], but we are hoping to get him back soon. And that kid [Leif] Ericson hasn’t seen much action, but we think that he will be a very strong player for us."

Although the Crimson offensive attack showed some life on Sunday against the Minutemen, the power-play unit has yet to light up the lamp, going 0 for 10 in the two games, and the team managed only one goal against the Bears. Some claim it was simply a case of playing the wrong goalie at the wrong time — namely Brown’s Scott Stirling.

"That Stirling boy had a great night, one of those nights when you have to tip your hat," said Tomassoni, whose team rocketed 15 shots on Stirling in the first period alone, but failed to score. "Overall during the course of the game we played well, but the difference was their goaltender. You just hope you don’t face that type of situation much during the course of the season. Someone asked me after the game if I thought that the fact that Brown had an exhibition game and we didn’t made a difference. It certainly didn’t appear to be that way."

For a team that was supposed to be hurting offensively, Roger Grillo couldn’t have been too disappointed with his Brown team’s season opening effort against Harvard last Friday night.

Taking advantage of every Crimson letdown, the Bears waltzed to its first victory to a tune of 3-1. Junior Mike Bent, who in only 21 games last year finished with seven goals and 11 assists, was the man of the evening after a two-assist performance against Harvard, both coming on the power play. The first line of Adrian Smith, Paul Giblin, and Tyler Garrow had no trouble breaking down the Crimson defense as the trio figured into all three Bear goals.

"After we capitalized, we really started to skate," said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. "Stirling really saved us. It could have been 5-0 after the first."

Disciplined and opportunistic were the watchwords for Grillo’s squad that night as his team committed a mere five penalties and went 2 for 6 with the man advantage. That style of play, along with an outstanding regular-season debut by Stirling, who knocked away 28 saves for the shutout victory, was all the Bears needed.

"Harvard came out strong and got a lot of shots early," said Stirling, who faced 15 Crimson shots in the first period alone. "It’s good for me to see a lot of shots, it gets me into the game right away."

For the record, Brown is 10-2-2 in its last 14 league games dating back to last season when it closed out the regular season with a 9-2-2 mark to earn home ice for the playoffs. So, needless to say, if Stirling, who earned ECAC goaltender of the week honors, can continue to "stand on his head," as Tomassoni described following Friday night’s contest, then the Bears will be a true force to contend with this weekend.

Picks: Cornell at Harvard — Home ice advantage has been somewhat of an elusive concept for Harvard the past few years, especially against the Big Red, who bring busloads of rowdy fans to Bright Hockey Center each year. The Crimson will be temporarilly blinded by the "Where’s Waldo?" contigent sitting across from its bench, but will rally in the third to break even in the league race. Harvard 5, Cornell 4 Colgate at Brown — A week ago, Stirling was in a zone, and there is no reason why the netminder won’t continue to help bolster his team’s winning percentage. In a tight, defensive contest, Meehan Auditorium will be a happy place following the Bears’ close win over the visiting Red Raiders. Brown 3, Colgate 1 Colgate at Harvard — Unlike Cornell, Colgate has the weapons to punish Harvard’s loss of Storey at the blue line. Morin should find space to weave around the offensive zone at will and create havoc for the Crimson defense. Four of five pundits say Colgate is the best that night. Colgate 5, Harvard 3 Cornell at Brown — Schafer and Co. will try and bring a little bit of the ‘ole style bruising that Brown was so famous for before Grillo made his way to Providence, but to no avail. Brown 4, Cornell 2

Union (1-3-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) and Rensselaer (3-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Dartmouth (1- 0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Thompson Arena, Hanover, NH Rensselaer (3-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) and Union (1-3-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Vermont (2-2-0, 0- 0-0 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Ver.

The Dartmouth Big Green got onto the ice this past weekend with a loss in an exhibition to Acadia, and a highly offensive explosive win over Niagara on Sunday.

"It was interesting," said head coach Bob Gaudet about his weekend. "I was impressed with Acadia; they were big and strong and a real good team. And Niagara has just done an outstanding job with their program.

"We got down 3-1 against Niagara, but we still played pretty solid. I was happy with the effort of the team and we definitely have a mix of young and old. The young guys got their first taste and our potential is out there."

Gaudet split his two goaltenders this past weekend. Against Acadia Eric Almon started and then freshman Robert Delwo took over halfway through. The same thing happened against Niagara.

"It was definitely by design against Acadia," said Gaudet. "But I wish I could say the same for Niagara. It was a momentum changer. We were tied at four and we needed a change. Nothing against Eric but we were tired and the puck just had eyes on Sunday.

"Now I have two goaltenders that are solid and capable — one a veteran and one a rookie."

The tough part for the Big Green this weekend is that they will face two opponents that already have four games under their belts in Rensselaer and Union.

"I don’t think there’s a question about that," Gaudet said when asked if it was a disadvantage. "But you have to play the deck that’s been dealt to us. The tough part is that we don’t know what we have out there with just two games under our belt. We don’t know with a young team who is going to step up in the critical situations. We just don’t have that luxury."

Vermont has started the season in an up-and-down fashion. A tough loss to UNH was followed by a shootout against BU, and then a split with St. Cloud before a loss to Acadia last weekend brought the Catamounts into the ECAC season.

"Who knows?" said head coach Mike Gilligan when asked if his team was ready for the start of league play. "That’s the angle as a coach that I have. We’ve played some good games, we’ve played some bad games.

"We’re getting points out of our defensemen but not enough out of our forwards. Too many of our forwards are silent. They are playing well, but they are not putting the puck into the net. Plus we’ve given up too many shots."

Giving up too many shots is a concern with the goaltending situation at Vermont. So far all three Catamount goaltenders have started games. Sophomore Andrew Allen, senior Marty Philips and this past weekend freshman Tim Peters.

"Peters had a good game against Acadia on Saturday," said Gilligan. "But we’ll split time with two of our goaltenders this weekend. Right now, I’m not sure which one in which game."

The Cats face two different teams in Union and Rensselaer this weekend.

"From what I hear, Union is a young and intense club," said Gilligan. "Rensselaer can really move around the ice — but we can skate with anybody."

Union lost to Rensselaer in overtime at the third annual Capital Skate Classic last weekend, and while it was a loss, it was a showing that boosted the confidence of head coach Kevin Sneddon.

"They’re very down about this," he said about his team. "This is the first game that we actually played 63 minutes of hockey. We’ve got to look for the positives out of this game. We’re 1-3 and we jump into league play next week and I was very pleased with what I saw out there. The effort was there and what we worked on all week was there. I just feel bad for them because they didn’t come out with the win, but you have to hammer home the positives.

"We executed our systems for the first time for three periods and into overtime. While it’s disappointing that we lost in overtime but the guys have to feel good about themselves."

One of the positives that was there last weekend was the goaltending of Leeor Shtrom. Shtrom came back and had a strong outing in the Classic.

"He didn’t have the greatest game against Merrimack he wanted to come back strong and he kept us in there," said Sneddon. "We’ve got all the confidence in the world in him."

Another positive for the Dutchmen was a reduced number of penalties, which hurt them in their first three games, leading to numerous chances and goals for Maine and Merrimack.

"It looked like we were going to start that again," said Sneddon about the penalties. "We took a slashing penalty late again, and those are the little things you just can’t have happen. Everybody’s got to be beating on the same drum and penalties aren’t going to help you. If we continue to hammer that home we’re going to be a pretty good hockey club."

The victors of the Classic, Rensselaer, got their second overtime win of the season with a Pete Gardiner goal.

"This is the second time when we’ve pulled one out in overtime," said Engineer head coach Dan Fridgen. "You have to be happy about that because that was a character win. It was nothing fancy, we had five guys on the ice, and they executed the play very well."

With four games under their belt, one of the things that is clicking for the Engineers is offense. The Engineers have scored 18 goals in four games, topped by the ECAC’s leading scorer, freshman Matt Murley.

Murley has garnered ECAC Rookie of the Week honors once this season already, and will look to add more of those titles to his stable this season. His play thus far has earned a lot of turned heads in the direction of the Troy native.

The ECAC schedule is about to begin for the Engineers and they are not the favorites to win the league as they were last year, leading to less pressure on the squad, but the question is are they ready?

"I think so," said Fridgen. "We certainly learned something each game that we have played thus far and hopefully that will make us a better team in the long run."

Picks: Union at Vermont — The Dutchmen look like they are coming together after a strong performance against Rensselaer, while Vermont is coming off of an exhibition loss. But the speed of Vermont will be the difference. Vermont 4, Union 3 Rensselaer at Dartmouth — The firepower of the Engineers should come out against the young Dartmouth team. Eric Almon must have a solid game if the Big Green are to upset the Engineers. Almon may be strong, but the Big Green won’t get the upset. Rensselaer 6, Dartmouth 3 Rensselaer at Vermont — Two teams that like to skate, and with the home crowd advantage, it will be the Catamounts that get a sweep on the weekend. Vermont 5, Rensselaer 3 Union at Dartmouth — Two young teams in this matchup, and it will be Union with more game experience that makes the difference. Union 3, Dartmouth 2

Next week in the ECAC: (ECAC Games in bold) Friday, November 20 Vermont at Colgate Dartmouth at Cornell Harvard at Princeton Brown at Yale Union at Rensselaer

Saturday, November 21 Dartmouth at Colgate Vermont at Cornell Brown at Princeton Harvard at Yale Clarkson at St. Lawrence Union at UMass-Amherst

Tuesday, November 24 Harvard at Boston University UMass-Amherst at Vermont Cornell at Northeastern

Thanks to the USCHO game reporters for their contributions to this preview. All photographs used by permission of the appropriate Sports Information Departments. Any reproduction without authorization is prohibited.

Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy are ECAC Correspondents for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1998 Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy. All rights reserved.