This Week in the ECAC: January 15, 1999

With only eight ECAC games on the schedule this past weekend, one didn’t expect much action in the league, but several stories unfolded.

The ECAC kicked off its Destination: Lake Placid television package on NESN and Empire last Friday evening with a 3-2 victory by Yale over Vermont.

Syl Apps and the Tigers of Princeton found themselves tied for first with Rensselaer after a weekend in which they picked up two points with a victory over Vermont. Meanwhile, the Engineers swept Harvard and Brown to move into the top spot, with Joel Laing pitching shutouts in both games.

The Engineers remain hot, picking up eight ECAC points over the last two weekends. They were the only team to pick up four points on the weekend.

Yale earned three points with a win and a tie, as did Dartmouth. The Big Green knocked off Princeton on Friday before tying Yale the next evening.

Harvard picked up two points with a victory over Union, and Brown and Union each had a point when the two teams tied each other.

Vermont took the collar on the weekend.

The standings sure look a lot different after this past weekend.

ECAC Standings

This weekend is another light one in ECAC league action. Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Vermont and Dartmouth begin to make up their games in hand, while Rensselaer and Union renew their crosstown rivalry.

The ECAC and Hockey East have one inter-conference clash this weekend, while the CCHA’s Ohio State comes a calling to Central New York and Brown travels to Niagara.

Apps’ Tigers and Harvard have the weekend off.

Last Week: 6-8 Season To Date: 66-49, .600

St. Lawrence (10-8-1, 5-1-1 ECAC, 4th) and Clarkson (7-9-1, 4-3-0 ECAC, T- 7th) at Dartmouth (6-8-1, 2-5-1 ECAC, 11th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:30 pm, Thompson Arena, Hanover, NH Clarkson (7-9-1, 4-3-0 ECAC, T-7th) and St. Lawrence (10-8-1, 5-1-1 ECAC, 4th) at Vermont (9-7-1, 3-4-1 ECAC, T-9th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.

Eyes were popping out of their sockets and heads were shaking in disbelief after Dartmouth posted a three-point weekend against ECAC top dog Princeton and Yale…on the road, no less.

Three straight losses followed the Big Green into Princeton this past weekend as the team’s youth appeared to be start to show. Even head coach Bob Gaudet was talking of the holes to be filled by recruiting during the off-season. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Dartmouth resurrected itself and put together 60 minutes of its best hockey to knock off a Princeton team that was in desperate need a victory at home.

After a scoreless first period in which the visitors outshot the Tigers by a 10-8 margin, Dave Risk and Scott Peach wasted no time in giving Dartmouth a quick 2-0 lead in the second stanza. A late-period tally by Frank Nardella negated a power-play goal by Jeff Halpern and preserved the two-goal advantage heading into the final period of play. Curtis Wilgosh put the final touches on the 4-2 victory — only the second ECAC win for the Big Green this year.

"We have some good older players who are doing a nice job for us," said Gaudet following the game. "And we have a real big group of players that played with a lot of poise and really played like veterans. So what we have to work on is just the consistency of doing that. I thought we got really good play on the blue line and our goaltender was outstanding."

Eric Almon was indeed impressive throughout the entire weekend. After collecting 31 saves against Princeton, the Dartmouth netminder finished with 29 in a 2-2 tie with Yale at Ingalls Rink the next night to secure a piece of the ECAC Player of the Week honor.

The Big Green must now look towards the daunting challenge of a bitter tandem of teams from the North Country. Both Clarkson and St. Lawrence are still getting votes in the USCHO Top 10 poll, but are similarly coming off defeats at the hands of New Hampshire and UMass-Lowell. Needless to say, both are desperately in need a win to right the struggling ships.

Then again, so did Princeton one week ago.

They keep coming close, but just can’t quite get over the hump in league action. For the second straight weekend, the Catamounts dropped two close contests. Two weeks ago it was Harvard and Brown and this past weekend it was Princeton and Yale who squeaked by Vermont with victories.

The southern trek to New Haven and Princeton no doubt represented a definite challenge for Vermont, who had to find a way to combat the speed and mobility inherent in each lineup. In general, the Catamounts did a fair job containing both teams, but couldn’t generate enough firepower on the other end of the ice to pull out the "W".

With the watchful eyes of head coach Mike Gilligan firmly concentrated on the Catamount net, the goaltending duo of Andrew Allen (22 saves vs. Yale) and Marty Phillips (25 saves vs. Princeton) were respectable, holding each opponent to three goals a game. However, despite outshooting both the Tigers and Bulldogs by a combined margin of seven, the Vermont offensive attack once again fell short of securing the team’s fourth league victory of the season.

The Catamounts will need a breath of life this weekend as it returns home this weekend to take on St. Lawrence and Clarkson. Despite its recent slide (Vermont’s last win was against Dartmouth on Dec. 27 in the championship game of the Auld Lang Syne Classic and the Cats have lost four straight ECAC contests), the Catamounts still possess three critical league wins and are currently in a position to move into fourth place in the ECAC standings with a sweep over the visitors from the North Country.

It was another disappointing weekend for Clarkson, who dropped below the .500 mark after two straight losses to New Hampshire and UMass-Lowell this past weekend.

The bus ride back to Potsdam, N.Y. must have been a reflective — if not quiet — one for head coach Mark Morris and his players who are currently on a three-game skid. Two weeks ago, the Golden Knights dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime decision to Colgate, but salvaged two points from the homestand with a convincing 6- 2 offensive explosion against Cornell.

Following identical 4-1 defeats to both the Wildcats and River Hawks, there were very few redeeming qualities to fall back upon for the Golden Knights.

"It was a disappointing weekend, obviously," said Morris. "We played exceptionally hard, especially Saturday night, but did not get a whole lot of breaks. We had sub-par goaltending this weekend and we played two very good hockey teams."

Against New Hampshire, Clarkson found itself overwhelmed with a Wildcat offense that pelted Shawn Grant with 37 shots. Compared, Morris’ squad managed only 18 shots on goal, five coming in each of the first two periods. The following night at Tsongas Arena, Clarkson presented a more sound attack, but was ultimately let down by its power-play unit, which was held scoreless in all six of its opportunities.

"We had several power play opportunities against Lowell and did everything we could, but the puck would not cross the goal line. That was really disappointing for us," said Morris, whose team outshot the River Hawks, 30-21. "I thought we saw some bright spots in the way some of our guys played who had not seen any ice time, showing what they can do when given the opportunity. I thought Gasper Sekelj played well as well as Chris Line."

Another arduous road trip looms this weekend for the Golden Knights as they travel to Vermont and Dartmouth for two critical ECAC contests. Clarkson currently sits seventh in the standings, but could free fall if the team is unable to break out of its most recent losing streak.

"Again we are back on the road and back in league play. These are two critical games for us," Morris said. "If we are going to vie for a playoff spot we really need to generate some momentum. We need to make the saves we are supposed to make and we need to bury our scoring opportunities when we get the chances. We need to play with consistency, have solid defensive play and produce some points."

Can it be that Eric Heffler is not, in fact, invincible?

The senior netminder, who had been awing college hockey fans alike with his performances game-in and game-out between the pipes while leading St. Lawrence to one its best starts in recent memory, had been dazzling. This past weekend he, and his entire Saints’ team, finally flinched — in two straight games no less.

After the Saints collected three hard-earned points the weekend prior against visiting Cornell and Colgate, the Canton crew slipped up first against UMass-Lowell and then to New Hampshire the following night in Durham. N.H.

"I was very disappointed," said head coach Joe Marsh following the 5-2 loss to UMass-Lowell on Saturday night. "They were stronger on the puck, we gave them a lot of second chances, and there was no commitment from our guys."

There was no reprieve the following night as Heffler was helpless against the Wildcats, who finished with an eye-popping 54 shots on net. St. Lawrence was held at bay offensively, managing only three shots in the second period and 16 over 60 minutes.

"All three of their first period goals came right on Heff’s doorstep and there was absolutely nothing he could do about them," Marsh said. " You couldn’t ask for a better performance from a goaltender, but we needed to give him a little more support in close."

Non-league debacles aside, St. Lawrence is still in great shape heading into this weekend as it holds a 5-1-1 record in ECAC play.

"This is obviously a big weekend for us, but they’re all big the rest of the way," Marsh said. "We had a disappointing night at Lowell on Friday, but I thought we came back and played better in some areas at New Hampshire on Sunday afternoon. We will have to be on top of our game and do all the little things right to be successful. We can’t afford to take any shifts off the rest of the way."

Picks: St. Lawrence at Dartmouth — Dartmouth has been on a roll, but we just don’t see it continuing through Joe Marsh and the St. Lawrence Saints. Princeton’s Dave Stathos just isn’t the same caliber as Eric Heffler and that will prove to be the difference. St. Lawrence 3, Dartmouth 0. Clarkson at Vermont — With both teams in the midst of losing streaks, something has to break here. Mark Morris has been down, very down, on his goaltenders as of late and Vermont has been coming dangerously close to finding a winning formula. Put those two factors together and you get — Vermont 5, Clarkson 2. Clarkson at Dartmouth — The Golden Knights are struggling, but they should be able to rely on their experience and swat away the youthful Big Green. Plus, Clarkson has to prove at some point why they keep getting votes in the Top 10 poll. Clarkson 4, Dartmouth 1. St. Lawrence at Vermont — St. Lawrence will have to work hard for this one, but look for good things to happen for the Saints who will most likely be gearing for a weekend sweep. St. Lawrence 5, Vermont 3.

Rensselaer (12-5-1, 7-2-1 ECAC, T-1st) at Union (2-14-2, 1-7-1 ECAC, 12th) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Achilles Rink, Schenectady, NY

This Saturday’s matchup of crosstown rivals sure has some interesting twists to it.

The two teams have met twice thus far in the season and each time the game has ended in overtime. The last time that Union and Rensselaer met, the Dutchmen won the game in overtime, 5-4. That game was an ECAC game, and it was Union’s first ever regular season league win in Troy. But since that game the two teams have taken opposite paths.

The Dutchmen are 0-9-2 since that game and the Engineers are 8-2-1 since that game. Union has not won a league game since then and have fallen to last place in the ECAC. The Engineers have not lost a league game since then and have risen to a first place tie in the ECAC.

The Engineers are coming off a weekend sweep of Harvard and Brown and the story continues to be goaltender Joel Laing. He was honored for the third straight week as the ECAC Goaltender of the Week, and was named the USCHO Defensive Player of the Week.

"It’s kind of good to get on a roll," said Laing. "It’s boils down to the team playing defense. We haven’t given up a lot of Grade ‘A’ chances, and the last couple of games have been more of a reflection of the team than myself."

He earned his third shutout in the last four game — his fifth straight win — and has allowed only two goals in those five games. The Engineers are on a six game winning streak as well.

It has been 27 years since the Engineers have pitched back-to-back shutouts. The last time it happened was in 1972 when Don Cutts shutout Colgate 1-0 on January 8 and two nights later Terry Jordan shutout Princeton, 6-0.

The last time an Engineer goaltender had two consecutive shutouts was in 1964 when Bill Sack shutout St. Lawrence, 1-0, and Princeton, 6-0.

"It’s never happened to me," said Laing about the consecutive shutouts. "That’s the first time I have had two shutouts in a row. Before college I only had three shutouts in five years, I’m just not a shutout goalie.

"Which makes me think that the goals will come sometime," he added with a laugh.

Perhaps they will come from the sticks of the Dutchmen, but the Dutchmen didn’t do much in Tuesday’s loss to Mass-Lowell 7-1. "We played 12 minutes [Tuesday]," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "We played horrible every other minute. Not just average, we played just…horrible. We came out, we let them take charge early, we woke up, we took charge, we came out for the second period, and we were nowhere to be found. That’s a disgrace to college hockey right there.

"Our guys never gave up, but they gave up as a team. Some guys in that locker room, sure they did. It’s sad because other guys went hard right to the final minute.

"We made some dumb plays out there again. I wanted to decline the power play — we were giving up more shorthanded opportunities than we were getting. That just can’t happen, those are veteran players out there."

Things looked on the upswing for the Dutchmen after a tie against Brown last Friday evening. The next night the Dutchmen held a one-goal lead going into the third period against Harvard, but couldn’t hold it and lost 4-3.

To rub salt in the wound of the Dutchmen is the news that they have lost starting goaltender Leeor Shtrom with a broken left clavicle for the next 6-8 weeks. That means that freshman Brandon Snee will continue to get initiated into college hockey.

Pick — The easy pick here is Rensselaer, but the Dutchmen always get up for this game. The other interesting twist to this game is that Joel Laing has not allowed a goal in his last 175:24 and the holder of the current ECAC Record is Union’s Trevor Koenig. Koenig set the record in 1997 with a string of 198:44. Laing may or may not break that record, but the pick here is still, Rensselaer 3, Union 1.

Ohio State (11-10-2, 10-6-2 CCHA, 3rd) at Cornell (7-5-2, 4-2-2 ECAC, 5th) Friday, 7:30 pm, Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY Ohio State (11-10-2, 10-6-2 CCHA, 3rd) at Colgate (11-5-1, 6-2-0 ECAC, 3rd) Sunday, 1:00 pm, Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY

The Big Red of Cornell had last weekend off after a New Year’s weekend that saw them pick up one point in the ECAC after a 6-2 loss at Clarkson and a 3-3 tie against St. Lawrence. The Big Red followed that up with a Tuesday night loss to Providence at home.

The Big Red were never in the game against Clarkson, falling behind 4-0 after two periods of play before putting two on the boards in the third period. The next night the Big Red fell behind the Saints 3-1 before a last minute goal in the second period sparked the Big Red to come from behind in the third period to tie the game.

The following Tuesday the Big Red led 2-0 and then 3-1, but the Friars scored six unanswered goals — four in the third period — and defeated the Big Red 7-3.

"This is the most embarrassing game I’ve had as a coach, and as an alum, and as a Cornellian," said head coach Mike Schafer after the game. "They gave up a couple of goals and mentally checked out of the game, and didn’t play as a team. We deserved the loss. It was a terrible effort from our standpoint."

There have been no games for the Big Red since that loss — it will be a 10 day layoff — and it may have hurt and it may have helped. With the time off, the Big Red have to wait to shake off those effects and to practice with that game still in their minds. But it might help in the fact that the Big Red have some more time to heal all of their injuries.

Colgate came out of the same North Country trip with two points. After a 3-2 loss to St. Lawrence, the Red Raiders defeated Clarkson in overtime, 4-3.

The story for the Red Raiders in their win was a pair of goals from Andy McDonald and Tim Brokaw. McDonald continues to put up the numbers that make him a team leader (11-11–22) in goals and assists.

McDonald and the Red Raiders will be put to the test against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday afternoon. After the week off, the Red Raiders will be ready for a big game against a team that has flirted with the USCHO Top 10 week after week.

Perhaps most importantly for Colgate, this game is the one before the big travel partner series between the Red Raiders and the Big Red of Cornell the next weekend.

For more on Ohio State, please refer to Paula C. Weston’s CCHA Preview

Picks: Ohio State at Cornell — With the week off, the Big Red are trying to erase the memory of the breakdown against Providence. Unfortunately the Buckeyes will not help matters. Ohio State 4, Cornell 2. Ohio State at Colgate — Can the Buckeyes sweep in New York? On the road, the Buckeyes will drop one at Starr Rink. Colgate 5, Ohio State 3.

Mass-Lowell (11-9-0, 4-7-0 Hockey East, T-5th) at Yale (5-9-1, 4-5-1 ECAC, 6th) Friday, 7:30 pm, Ingalls Rink, New Haven, CT

Yale had an excellent ECAC weekend, taking three points from Vermont and Dartmouth with a 3-2 win over Vermont in the ECAC Game of the Week, and a 2-2 tie against the Big Green. The Bulldogs then went up to Portland on Wednesday and lost to Maine 6-1.

The Bulldogs were on a roll, having gone undefeated in the last three ECAC games, and taking five points in the league over the last two weekends, moving them into position to take a home ice spot when league play gets back underway.

Part of the reason has been Alex Westlund. He has allowed six goals in the last three league games, seemingly returning to his Dryden Award winning form.

The Bulldogs also took those three points without a Jeff Hamilton goal — something that needed to happen in order for the Bulldogs to succeed. Goals by Mark Sproule, his first of the season, Ben Stafford and Joe Dart in Friday’s win were followed by Cory Shea and Francois Magnant goals on Saturday.

The UMass-Lowell River Hawks are undefeated against ECAC teams this season. They own wins over Rensselaer, Clarkson, St. Lawrence and a 7-1 victory over Union last Tuesday. Now the River Hawks face their last ECAC team of the season in Yale with a five game winning streak.

For more on Lowell, please refer to Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East Preview

Pick — Lowell is on a hot streak with defense, goaltending and scoring. Yale is still trying to get it together, but they seem to be on their way. Yale 4, Mass-Lowell 3.

Brown (2-7-4, 2-6-4 ECAC, T-7th) at Niagara (10-5-2) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Niagara Ice Complex, Niagara, NY

Brown picked up one point last weekend in ECAC and for the first time in five season, lost the Mayor’s Cup to Providence this past Tuesday evening.

After tying Union 3-3 on Friday evening, the Bears were the latest victim of Rensselaer’s Joel Laing, 2-0, and then dropped a 3-2 game to cross-town rival Providence College.

"If you would have told me that we would out-shoot a good team like RPI by as much as we did, I’d be happy with that. Unfortunately, we faced a hot goalie [Saturday] and we couldn’t find the back of the net,” said head coach Roger Grillo. "We had the opportunities, we just couldn’t finish.

"It was frustrating because I thought we created some chances but we missed some open nets. We’re shooting the puck high, we’re shooting it wide."

The Bears started a seven game non-conference swing before returning the ECAC play with the loss to Providence. The Bears finally will get a chance to fine-tune their game in the next six.

"We play pretty good, but then we have these lapses where we play pretty poorly and they stick one in the back of the net," said Grillo after the Mayor’s Cup game to the Providence Journal. "We are close, but yet we are so far. It is a situation we have to address quickly because the season is getting behind us."

The Niagara Purple Eagles came out of last weekend with a split in the Hockey Capital of the South — Huntsville, Alabama. After losing in overtime on Saturday, the Purple Eagles came back with a win the next afternoon.

The Purple Eagles are enjoying some great success against the ECAC, posting wins over Rensselaer, Colgate and St. Lawrence and tying Clarkson and Union. The only loss to an ECAC team so far for the Purple Eagles was against Union.

Much has been made of the Purple Eagles’ search for a conference to call home, and here is another chance for this team to make its case.

Picks — The Purple Eagles can shock you and then they can stun you with losses to teams that you may not expect them to lose to. Which Eagle team shows up here? Which Brown team shows up here? We get a split this weekend in Western New York. Brown, 3-2 and then Niagara 4-2.

Next Week In The ECAC: (ECAC Games in Bold)

Friday, January 22 Colgate at Cornell Western Michigan at Rensselaer Army at Union

Saturday, January 23 Cornell at Colgate Vermont at Dartmouth St. Lawrence at Clarkson Western Michigan at Rensselaer Yale at Army

Sunday, January 24 Northeastern at Brown

Tuesday, January 26 Princeton at Army

Thanks to Jason Frank and Jason Patton 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 1999 Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy. All rights reserved.