This Week in the ECAC: December 11, 1998

With the recent weather in the Northeast, one would think that March, the playoffs and Lake Placid were just around the corner. They’re not — there are still a few months to go, and with the first part of the hectic schedule in the books, we can report on highs and lows.

The young season’s highs include the Tigers of Princeton. Led by ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year favorite Syl Apps and Hobey Baker Award candidate Jeff Halpern, the Tigers have overcome two blowouts in the first two games of the season to post a 5-0-1 start in ECAC league play, and a 7-0-1 run overall.

Let’s not forget St. Lawrence. The Saints are an impressive 8-4-0, 4-1-0 in ECAC play, whereas last year they didn’t get their first league win until Nov. 21. Kudos to head coach Joe Marsh and the young men from Canton.

Colgate was in first place in the ECAC until last weekend, and now sits in second. The Red Raiders have used a combination of all facets of the game to get where they are.

The Big Red of Cornell are also off to a hot start. A 4-1-1 record has them in third place in the standings, despite a rash of injuries that has forced them to play just three or four defensemen for the last few games.

Vermont is off to a 7-4-0 start, and Rensselaer is off to a 6-4-1 start, and both look to be in it as the league schedule heats up again in 1999.

Clarkson has begun its annual second-half run a little early, with four straight victories and its offense and defense starting to click. Don’t forget freshmen goaltender Shawn Grant, who looks like he has won the starting job.

Brown and Yale sit in eighth place in the standings. The Bears have not won in their last seven, while the Bulldogs have dropped four in a row.

Union and Dartmouth try to rebound from a disappointing start to the season, and Harvard is still searching for its first victory in the ECAC after nine league games.

Here are the ECAC Standings after the first, furious part of the ECAC Schedule. They’ll stay this way until the evening of Jan. 2, 1999, when the conference’s next league game takes place.

Last weekend the standings shifted a bit when Princeton took games from Yale, and when Colgate split a weekend pair against Rensselaer and Union, the Tigers moved into first place.

As mentioned above, Clarkson earned four points with a fantastic weekend in New England, as did St. Lawrence. Both defeated Brown and Harvard.

Cornell and Rensselaer picked up three points each on the weekend. The Big Red defeated Union, the Engineers topped Colgate, and then the two tied each other to pick up the aforementioned points. The Engineers also defeated Harvard during the week to earn two more.

Brown, Harvard and Union all dropped two games this past weekend, and the Crimson lost that third to Rensselaer, as just mentioned above.

Add in a Vermont exhibition victory over New Brunswick, and the ECAC honored several players this week.

ECAC Player of the Week – Alain St. Hilaire, F, Rensselaer ECAC Rookie of the Week – Shawn Grant, G, Clarkson ECAC Goaltender of the Week – Eric Heffler, St. Lawrence

It’s time to relax, study hard and enjoy the holidays. The number of games reflects that this week, as the two of us will relax along with the rest of you.

Last Week: 8-3 Season To Date: 44-35, .557

Colgate (7-3-0, 5-1-0 ECAC, 2nd) at Minnesota – Duluth (3-9-3, 2-8-2 WCHA, 9th) Friday – Saturday, 8:00 pm, DECC, Duluth, Minn.

The Colgate Red Raiders went into last weekend with a perfect 4-0-0 mark in the ECAC, but lost in overtime, 4-3, to Rensselaer after coming back to tie the game in the third period, and then whitewashed Union to gain two points on the weekend.

"It’s frustrating because the team worked very hard," said head coach Don Vaughan. "I thought the guys did a real good job rallying.

"I was disappointed at the way we lost it. It was an offensive-zone breakout, and we’re better than that."

But the Red Raiders came back with Shep Harder’s first career shutout in blanking Union 3-0.

"We aren’t satisfied with this weekend," Vaughan said. "We know we squandered at least a tie [Friday], but we came out ready to go and showed we can come back from difficult losses."

Even with the shutout, Vaughan is still going to go with his goaltending platoon this coming weekend. Harder will continue to rotate with Jason LeFevre.

"If one of them establishes [himself] as a number-one, then we’ll go with him," he said. "But that hasn’t happened yet."

The duo will get to split a pair of games in Duluth this weekend when they take on Minnesota-Duluth. [For more on the Bulldogs, click over to "Tinsel" Todd Milewski’s WCHA Preview.] After that, the Red Raiders play Maine at the ECAC-Hockey East Holiday Doubleheader, participate in the Syracuse Invitational, then travel to the North Country, get a weekend off, and host Ohio State.

"It’s a tough stretch coming up," Vaughan said. "We will be playing other conferences, which puts both you and your conference on the line. We will just have to take it one game at a time."

Picks: The Red Raiders bring their strong goaltending with them and hope to use their speed to go against the more physical Bulldogs. They get it done as they sweep the series. Colgate, 4-2 and 5-3

Providence (7-7-0, 4-4-0 Hockey East, T-4th) at Dartmouth (3-4-0, 1-3-0 ECAC, T-10th) Friday, 7:30 pm, Thompson Arena, Hanover, NH

Dartmouth has had a week off since it last hit the ice. The Big Green split a pair of games at the Omaha Civic Auditorium to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, winning the first game 2-1 before dropping the back end, 7-4.

The Big Green have gotten some good production out of Curtis Wilgosh and Michael Byrne. The two lead the team in goals scored with four each, and Wilgosh’s seven points lead the team overall.

The freshmen class for the Big Green have also contributed thus far. Three of the first year players are tied for fourth on the team in scoring with five points each. Jamie Herrington (3-2–5), Frank Nardella (3-2–5) and Mike Maturo (2-3–5) have shown that the class can be an impressive one.

Add Chris Baldwin (0-4–4) and Chris Taliercio (3-1–4) to that class and the Big Green hope to develop experience along the way.

This second-year edition of head coach Bob Gaudet’s team is reminiscent of his second team at Brown, in 1989-90. A little eerie isn’t it?

[For information on Providence refer to Dave "Deck the Halls" Hendrickson’s Hockey East Preview.]

Pick: Dartmouth will be rested and have home ice. If the Big Green can use their speed, they will win. The Big Green give the advantage back to the ECAC in the ECAC-Hockey East battle. Dartmouth 5, Providence 3

Niagara (5-4-1, 5-4-1 vs. aligned Division I) at Clarkson (5-6-0, 3-2-0 ECAC, T- 6th) Friday, 7:30 pm, Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY Ferris State (9-3-3, 8-3-2 CCHA, T-2nd) at St. Lawrence (8-4-0, 4-1-0 ECAC, 4th) and Clarkson (5-6-0, 3-2-0 ECAC, T-6th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Appleton Arena, Canton, NY and Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY

It was hardly a display of overwhelming firepower, but the Clarkson Golden Knights did continue to inch their way out of the sub-.500 category with victories over Harvard and Brown.

Certainly, there aren’t many weekends when scoring three goals will get you a sweep, but thanks to stingy goaltending by Shawn Grant, Clarkson was able to escape New England with its winning streak — which started two weeks ago after back-to-back disposals of Boston University and Boston College — intact.

On Friday night against the Crimson, the freshman netminder knocked away 19 shots and saved the struggling Golden Knights’ offensive unit that managed only two goals against a Harvard team that, on average, allows five goals per game. But on that night, Grant displayed some of the best hockey of his young collegiate career and second-period tallies by Philippe Roy and Matt Saper proved enough to pull out the crucial league victory.

"I think we have continued to improve as a hockey team, and we are inching our way back towards respectability," said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. "This past weekend we were only able to muster three goals, but we had some solid performances. I am pleased with the development of Shawn Grant. His defense is starting to pick up and we have had some timely scoring." The following night against the Bears, it was an unlikely 1-0 decision in favor of Clarkson capping off the sweep. Once again, Grant was on his game, posting 20 saves to earn not only his first shutout of the year, but also his first-ever ECAC Rookie of the Week honor. Scott Stirling kept Brown close throughout, finishing with 43 saves, but Yan Turgeon lit the lamp midway through the first period and that was all Grant would need for his fifth win of the season.

Now, the Golden Knights must switch their attention away from ECAC play to concentrate on two non-league foes in youthful, yet unpredictable Niagara and surprising CCHA power Ferris State.

[For more information on Niagara, refer to their Season Preview. For more on the Bulldogs of Ferris State, check out Paula C. "Egg-Nog(gin)" Weston’s CCHA Preview.]

"We have faced some very tough teams this season and this weekend is no different," Morris said. "Niagara has steadily become a force as an up-and-coming program. They have knocked off some very respectable teams, and we are very aware of their accomplishments. Ferris State is another team that is playing very good hockey."

No question about it, this weekend it will be Eric Heffler vs. Vince Owen. Two leagues and the best goaltending each has to offer will face off at Appleton Arena as St. Lawrence hosts Ferris on Friday evening.

Owen, the CCHA’s best netminder enters this weekend with an astounding 9-3-2 record, 1.84 goals against average, and a .935 save percentage. Heffler counters with an ECAC best, 2.12 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. Shot for shot, save for save, this will be some goaltending battle — perhaps the best in college hockey thus far.

Heffler and his Saints have to be brimming with confidence after this past weekend as the team sauntered back to the North Country with two wins after scoring 10 goals in two games. Heffler had an average series by his standards, recording 62 saves and picking up yet another ECAC Goaltender of the Week award. But it was the St. Lawrence offense which really turned some heads.

After relying heavily on its defensive prowess throughout the early part of the season, the Saints exploded at the other end of the ice.The first line of John Poapst, Bob Prier, and Erik Anderson, who have combined for 41 points this year, finished the weekend with seven points, while Dale Clark (two goals, one assist), Brandon Dietrich (two goals), and Mike Gellard (three assists) were surprising contributors.

"It was an excellent road trip for us in a number of ways, with the two wins being the most obvious," said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. "We had our moments on Friday despite some complications to start off with, and I was very pleased with the effort at Harvard on Saturday. We were generating chances over the last six games prior to the weekend, but not finishing off as well as we are capable. This weekend we finished the plays and it paid off in some big goals."

Picks: Niagara at Clarkson – Clarkson didn’t dazzle this past weekend, but they played well enough to get the job done on the road. Niagara has been a spoiler this season with huge wins over Michigan and Ohio State, but don’t expect the same to occur in Cheel on Friday night. Clarkson 4, Niagara 2 Ferris State at St. Lawrence – Let the pitchers’ duel begin. With the home-ice advantage, Heffler will be tough, most likely tough enough to stymie a Ferris State team that will be recovering from a long road trip. St. Lawrence 2, Ferris State 1. Ferris State at Clarkson – Clarkson is good enough to beat up on the Purple Eagles, but not good enough to knock off a CCHA team with a 9-3 record. Ferris State 3, Clarkson 1.

Next Week in the ECAC: Friday, Dec. 18 Dartmouth at Maine Harvard at Nebraska-Omaha

Saturday, Dec. 19 Harvard at Nebraska-Omaha

Sunday, Dec. 20 Northeastern at Princeton

Monday, Dec. 21 ECAC-Hockey East Holiday Doubleheader (Hartford, CT) Colgate vs. Maine Rensselaer vs. New Hampshire

Thanks to Steve Marsi for his 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.