This Week in the ECAC: January 22, 1999

Last weekend saw the start of teams catching up with their games in hand in league play — and the beginning of travel-partner sweepstakes.

St. Lawrence and Clarkson swept their weekend series over Dartmouth and Vermont. The two teams are headed to the back end of their annual North Country rivalry game this coming Saturday, which also happens to be the Destination: Lake Placid Game of the Week on NESN and Empire.

The start of the travel partner rivalries in January began last weekend with the second half of the Capital District rivalry. Rensselaer downed Union to take over sole possession of first place in the ECAC — for now.

Last week’s award winners:

ECAC Player of the Week — Erik Cole, So., Clarkson ECAC Rookie of the Week — Brandon Dietrich, St. Lawrence ECAC Goaltender of the Week — J.R. Prestifilippo, Harvard

Rensselaer is the new leader in the ECAC, but St. Lawrence and Clarkson are making moves as the two catch up in games played.

ECAC Standings

This weekend sees a proliferation of travel partners playing each other. In addition to the North Country rivalry, there is the Central New York faceoff between Colgate and Cornell. Add in the Green and White Mountain battle between Vermont and Dartmouth and it should be an explosive weekend.

It’s all leading up to two weeks from now, when all teams will be even in games played (except for Rensselaer and Harvard), and the stretch run to Lake Placid begins.

Last Week: 7-3 Season To Date: 73-50, .593 (Watch out Pops!)

Destination: Lake Placid — ECAC Game of the Week St. Lawrence (12-8-1, 7-1-1 ECAC, T-2nd) at Clarkson (9-9-1, 6-3-0 ECAC, T-4th) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY

St. Lawrence swept its weekend series with Vermont, 6-0 and Dartmouth, 4-3, moving into second place in the ECAC with Princeton. Percentage-wise, the Saints are in first place in the conference.

"It was a great weekend for us," said Saint coach Joe Marsh. "We were able to hang in there at Dartmouth after getting the early lead and we got some big plays from different people in the lineup. The same thing happened Saturday night at Vermont.

"We’ve always had tough games in that building, and while we have had some success, I can’t remember walking out of there with a score which was that much in our favor. We’ve been on the other side of a couple of those games_we just got onto a roll in the second period and there wasn’t anything they could do to get anything going after we built the lead."

One of the keys for the Saints thus far, aside from goaltender Eric Heffler, has been the balance of scoring that they have gotten from all of their forwards this season. It was no different this past weekend.

"We had a pretty balanced offensive effort, both in terms of pressure and results, and I was very pleased with our defensive performance," said Marsh. "Kris Margherio in particular really stepped forward with some big plays and gave us some production from our fourth line."

That sets up the ECAC Game of the Week against their North Country rivals, Clarkson. St. Lawrence took the first game of this series back in November on their own ice and this battle is one that the entire community looks towards.

"Both teams are coming off a good weekend on the road, and the first meeting was a real tight game," said Marsh. "It is one of the great rivalries in the game, and I know both teams will really be up for it."

Clarkson also swept Vermont and Dartmouth, 4-2 and 6-1 respectively, coming into this North Country bragging rights affair. Erik Cole sparked the offense on Friday against the Cats, scoring the natural hat trick to end the game and seal the win for the Golden Knights.

"He turned it up a notch this past weekend, especially in the third period at Vermont when we needed it," said head coach Mark Morris. "That’s the type of play everyone had expected at the beginning of the season."

For his efforts Cole was named the ECAC Player of the Week.

The rest of the season is all ECAC for the Golden Knights and it begins with the North Country rivalry.

"It’s a four-point game," said Morris about the matchup with St. Lawrence. "We’ve tried to stress that we need to play with composure and consistency because [St. Lawrence] is always tough and [Eric] Heffler has been there for them from the beginning.

"We’re plodding along and we’re working our way back into the elite teams of the ECAC, but we had a slow start and we’re battling the tough schedule that we had at the beginning of the season.

"We haven’t left a lot of room for error. We have our work cut out for us. In past years nine losses would fill up our entire loss column for the season. We’ve expended that number and now it’s time to fill up the other column."

Pick — This is always a tough one, no matter what the records are or what the standings are. The ECAC Game of the Week is an excellent choice, and the viewers on NESN and Empire will see the home team win it. Clarkson 3, St. Lawrence 2.

Colgate (11-5-2, 6-2-0 ECAC, T-4th) at Cornell (7-6-2, 4-2-2 ECAC, 6th) Friday, 7:30 pm, Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY Cornell (7-6-2, 4-2-2 ECAC, 6th) at Colgate (11-5-2, 6-2-0 ECAC, T-4th) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY

Colgate played its first game in two weeks when the Red Raiders hosted Ohio State last Sunday afternoon. While rusty, the Red Raiders came back from a 2-0 deficit to rally and tie the Buckeyes.

"Ohio State is a good hockey team and they really came at us early," head coach Don Vaughan said. "Partly it might have been the layoff, but we definitely had some breakdowns."

There were definitely some kinks to be worked out for the Red Raiders and Andy McDonald started the road out of the two goal deficit with his 14th goal. Bryan Long evened up the game later in the third period on a 5×3 situation, and that’s the way it ended.

The Red Raiders have now finished their non-conference schedule and from here on out it’s a chance to continue the strong start that the Red Raiders have had in the ECAC.

"This is basically the start of the second half of our season," McDonald said. "It is really important to set the tone. We know that a couple of wins this weekend would be a huge boost of confidence."

Colgate’s travel partner will start off the stretch run of the season for the Red Raiders. Colgate defeated Cornell in the first meeting between these two teams — a non-conference affair at the Nassau Coliseum — but this weekend’s home-and-home series is where the points count.

"They are very strong defensively and tight with their checking," McDonald said of Cornell. "They have always been a big rival and any time we play them it’s going to be a war."

Cornell is coming off a loss to those same Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes took control of the game in the third period and went on to the 5-3 victory at Lynah Rink.

"It was quite the night," Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. "You outshoot a team [44-21] and you end up losing.

"It’s a good start to the second half. You don’t want to look at a loss as a being a good start, but as a coach you kind of see the things that are going to make you click for the second half, and we had them [Friday]. There’s better nights ahead of us."

The Big Red hope those better nights start with this weekend because from here on out, it’s ECAC league games for the Big Red. Schafer is hoping that the last non-conference game of the season has helped out.

"The key with this kind of game [Friday] is that we’re headed in the right direction," he said. "My major concern coming into this game was not whether we won. It was the fact that we got ourselves on track and started playing the kind of hockey that’s going to give us success.

"It’s really critical that you go into the last part of the league schedule with confidence. Even after a loss, the guys are confident in how we have to play and buying into what we have to do as a team. I thought we were starting to get there when we played Union and RPI, but the Christmas break really hurt us. Especially when [after the break] we played five games in ten days and didn’t have a chance to get back into the groove. From here on in, I think we’re going to have a pretty good record."

Picks — Each team will hold serve in its own court. Cornell 3-2, Colgate 4-2

Vermont (9-9-1, 3-6-1 ECAC, T-9th) at Dartmouth (6-10-1, 2-7-1 ECAC, 11th) Saturday, 3:00 pm, Thompson Arena, Hanover, NH

The losing streak has reached five games and its last showing, a 6-0 drubbing from St. Lawrence, did not lend much hope to a quick turnaround for the Vermont Catamounts.

Much like its travel partner, Vermont skated to a heartbreaking (4-2, empty-net) loss on Friday night against Clarkson then suffered a beating from the Saints the following evening at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Against the Golden Knights, the Catamounts jumped out to a 2-1 lead with less than nine minutes remaining before a pair of goals by Erik Cole gave Clarkson the lead and then the Clarkson sophomore had the empty-netter to seal the victory and send Vermont further into an ECAC tailspin.

"We’re in a little bit of a slump right now. A few one goal losses, a tie, and a thumping by St. Lawrence," said head coach Mike Gilligan. "We’ve had a few injuries, but we have to get back to playing the way we were playing. You point out some of the things that we were doing well at the beginning of the season. We haven’t been executing well and we haven’t been producing well. We haven’t gotten to loose pucks."

The disastrous loss to St. Lawrence on Saturday only highlighted the fact that Vermont is struggling defensively without the injured Jason Reid (6-8-14) on the blue line. From an offensive standpoint, the team is averaging only 1.5 goals per game in its last four games. Defenseman Andreas Moborg and winger Matt Sanders have combined for 30 points, while Phillippe Choiniere (8-6-14) has been a surprising contributor, especially in ECAC games, where he has a team-leading eight points.

"[Matt] Sanders has been producing for us and [Phillippe] Choiniere has gotten some points, but we need to get the second and third lines putting the puck in the net. That’s not happening right now and our defense has been putting most of the points on the board." said Gilligan. "[Jason Reid’s] a big part of our defense and it’s been hard without him. The boys are waiting for him to get back but there is just no way to replace a guy of his nature."

After dropping five straight, this weekend’s game against Dartmouth marks a do-or-die situation for Vermont. Another league loss would drop the Catamounts further into the ECAC depths while a win would give the team new hope heading into the final stretch of the season. In addition, a much-needed victory could buy the team some time until Reid gets healthy and is able to return to his post on the Vermont blueline.

"It marks the midway point of our season and a win here would be a good way to end the first half of the league for us. We played Dartmouth before and in the second and third periods they outplayed us in that game," Gilligan said. "We had a few games in hand over the last few weeks and we didn’t take advantage of them. We had the opportunity and we didn’t capitalize and now it’s just time to get some wins on the board."

It was a quick step forward, followed by yet another one back for the Dartmouth players. Two weeks earlier, the team posted its best weekend in recent memory by stealing three points from a Princeton/Yale weekend, including a huge victory over the Tigers at Baker Rink.

Those two days of bliss were quickly replaced by frustration as Dartmouth allowed 10 goals last weekend and dropped both games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson. After falling behind by two goals in the first period against the Skating Saints, the Big Green almost mounted a comeback in the final 40 minutes of play, but it was too little, too late as St. Lawrence escaped Hanover with the 4-3 victory.

"It was a bit disappointing, but it’s not from a lack of effort. It’s just a matter of young guys in the lineup and getting the consistency from them." said head coach Bob Gaudet. "The effort was there and we played a great game against SLU, and even [SLU head coach] Joe [Marsh] would say so, but we just didn’t outscore them. They scored at the opportune times."

Dartmouth continued to play well the next night and jumped out to a one-goal lead after one period, but it all fell apart after that. The Big Green machine crumbled royally, falling 6-1 to the visiting Golden Knights, who tallied three goals in each of the final two stanzas.

"We played a great first period against Clarkson and then we gave up a couple of goals that we would like to have back. It wasn’t like they were pouring it on, it was just some unfortunate circumstances. We just have to do better than that." Gaudet said. "We just have to find consistency. When we played Princeton and Yale as a team, we played well and especially against Clarkson we didn’t have that type of consistency. I was hoping that the games against Princeton and Yale would be the norm for our club."

It’s back to the drawing board once again for Dartmouth as it takes on its traveling partner, Vermont, on Saturday night in Hanover. In the two team’s only other meeting, Vermont pulled out a 4-1 win in the final game of the Auld Lang Syne Championship.

"In the big scheme of things [Vermont] is two points ahead of us in the standings and we’ve got to play solid hockey and play a solid game as a team," said Gaudet. "The first time we met in the tourney we played a great game and we just didn’t get enough to beat them."

Pick — This is a matchup of two teams who haven’t quite figured out how to win yet. The Clarkson debacle was a huge disappointment for Dartmouth and Vermont has enough talent that it is due for a win. This is destined to be an almost repeat of the Auld Land Syne championship game. Vermont 3, Dartmouth 1.

Western Michigan (3-12-6, 2-11-6 CCHA, T-9th) at Rensselaer (13-5-1, 8-2-1 ECAC, 1st) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

Talk about a hot streak. Both Rensselaer and its goaltender Joel Laing are riding incredible highs right now. The Engineers extended their winning streak to seven games, and their overall record in the last 11 games to 9-1-1, including a record of 7-0-1 in their last 8 ECAC games, taking over first place in the ECAC.

Laing came within 1:14 of breaking Trevor Koenig’s record for consecutive shutout minutes in ECAC league play, but only allowed the one goal that broke his string at 197:31 in a 4-1 win over Union.

"We’re playing well and we’re coming into a game against a team that will up their intensity more so than against any other team, but that’s okay," said Fridgen. "We handled it, Joel had another excellent night between the pipes, our penalty killers did a fine job, again we were undisciplined, but we did just a fine enough job to win and that was it.

"Joel has been there for us and we’ve been getting timely goal scoring when we need it. That’s been well enough to win. We played smart defensively, but we could have played smarter as a team."

You would think that a team on a roll has everything going in the right direction. Fridgen begs to differ, especially with the penalty situation of his team.

"You have to be able to play both sides of the puck," he said. "We’re giving up too many odd-man advantages on the penalty kill. We’re taking to many penalties that aren’t preventing goals or making a statement. They are lazy penalties."

The Engineers continue to get scoring from their top two lines. Mark Murphy had a goal and two assists and Danny Riva added two goals against Union. The Engineers have five players in the top ten in scoring in ECAC play and also have five of the top ten in the overall scoring, including Riva and Matt Murley leading the league with 26 points.

For information on the Western Michigan Broncos, please refer to Paula C. Weston’s CCHA Preview.

Picks — With the Engineers on a hot streak, a letdown against the Broncos might happen. Still, Scott Prekaski should see one game in the nets this weekend and with both goaltenders going, the Engineers should sweep. Rensselaer 5-1, 6-2

Northeastern (8-12-1, 4-9-1 Hockey East, 7th) at Brown (3-8-4, 2-6-4 ECAC, 8th) Sunday, 3:00 pm, Meehan Auditorium, Providence, RI

Niagara has been a thorn in many a hockey team’s side this season, and the Blaise MacDonald magic struck Brown on the first night of a two-game series. That loss, however, served as an awakening for the Bears, who responded the next night with their most inspired offensive performance of the season.

Led by a two-goal outing by Adrian Smith (6-9-15), a rare start for freshman goaltender Brian Eklund, Brown upended the Purple Eagles, 6-2, to earn the weekend split. Eklund knocked away three saves in 17 scoreless minutes the first night, then earned his first career start and victory the following evening after making 29 saves.

The victory, which was the only the third non-league contest of the season for the Bears, was a blessing for the team who has had a rocky 1999 thus far. Four days earlier, the Bears, despite outshooting Providence, was edged, 3-2, by their cross-town rival at Meehan Auditorium.

For information on the Northeastern Huskies, please refer to Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East Preview.

Pick — Northeastern has been knocked for its youth, while Brown has been hampered by an emotionally-draining holiday season. Stylistically speaking, many similarities can be drawn between these two teams, but the Huskies have had the number of the ECAC teams this season as they earlier defeated Princeton on the road. Northeastern 3, Brown 1.

Army (10-10-1, 5-9-0 vs. Division I) at Union (2-15-2, 1-8-1 ECAC, 12th) Friday, 7:30 pm, Achilles Rink, Schenectady, NY Yale (5-10-1, 4-5-1 ECAC, 7th) at Army (10-10-1, 5-9-0 vs. Division I) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Tate Rink, West Point, NY Princeton (11-4-1, 7-2-1 ECAC, T-2nd) at Army (10-10-1, 5-9-0 vs. Division I) Tuesday, 7:00 pm, Tate Rink, West Point, NY

Union remained winless since November after dropping a 4-1 decision to Rensselaer this past Saturday at Achilles Rink. Though it may seem like there is no end in sight to this streak, head coach Kevin Sneddon was encouraged after the game.

"We did a great job of holding them down and we outshot a team for the first time this season," he said. "Our guys played hard tonight and it was a great effort. If we keep playing that way, we’ll be okay.

"I don’t think there were too many times in the game when we were flat. I thought we played pretty hard even when the game was out of reach."

The Dutchmen have to continue to remain undaunted at the task of breaking their drought and with Army coming into their rink, the Dutchmen could start the road out of the basement of the ECAC.

Even with the loss, the Dutchmen will take the good out of what came out of the game against the Engineers. One of the biggest things is taking the feeling that the Dutchmen were in the game.

"We had the momentum for awhile and then they had it," said Sneddon. "It was one of the few games we played in all year where we had out chances. There were certainly swings in the game in terms of momentum, but we had a chance all game long."

Last weekend, Yale dropped two straight games and neither was very pretty.

Following a three-point ECAC weekend in which the Bulldogs knocked off Vermont, 3-2, and then held off a Dartmouth team that was in the midst of its best weekend of the season, Yale found itself only three points out of a tie for fourth in the league standings.

With a lifeline still intact, Yale looked at its two non-league contests against Maine and UMass-Lowell this past week as critical momentum builders for a team still grasping for offensive consistency. Although Alex Westlund and the Bulldog defense has been holding opponents to 3.31 goals per game, the team has had its share of problems on the other end of the ice, averaging a dismal 2.57 goals per game.

Unfortunately for head coach Tim Taylor and his Yale team, a 6-1 whipping by the Black Bears followed by a 2-1 loss to the River Hawks in front of a home crowd of 3,486 fans did nothing for the team’s confidence.

"We played a great first period, on the road, against a very good team," said Jeff Hamilton to the Yale Herald of the Maine loss. "But we let it get away from us in the second. We played two good periods and one bad period. You can’t do that and expect to win."

Hamilton (10-13-23) continues to lead the league in points with 17 and Jeff Brow (7-8-15) and Jay Quenville (4-7-11) have produced decent numbers as well, but that is about it for the Yale offense. The point totals drop off considerably after those three players and that is the main reason why the defending regular-season league champions find themselves with a very sub-.500 record.

"I don’t have the answer as to why we have these lapses," said head coach Tim Taylor. "It’s very frustrating. We don’t play a solid game for 60 minutes like we did last year."

Before diving into its final 12 ECAC contests, Yale will head to Army and attempt to rebound from its most recent 0-2-1 slide.

"This year we haven’t been as fortunate. We’ve had a lot of injuries. We’ve had to face a lot of adversity." said Hamilton, who has been hampered all season long with a nagging high ankle injury. "We’re not where we’d like to be. But we’re going to draw as many positives as we can from the adversity we’ve been faced with and try to make a good, late-season run."

Can you really call Princeton’s recent string of play a slump or does it just pale in comparison to the lofty expectations it had created for itself the last two months?

A 2-4 loss to 2-7-1 Dartmouth? A 3-2 squeaker over 3-6-1 Vermont? Hardly the performance one would expect from the No. 9 team in the country. Despite that early January hiccup, the Tigers held a share of the best record in the league with a 7-2-1 mark going into last weekend and watched Rensselaer’s game in hand take over the top spot and had St. Lawrence tie them in the standings. But the Tigers maintained their Top 10 ranking as the players headed into exam break.

Now, 17 days later, Princeton will try and pick up where it left off at the end of December when the Tigers stormed to the championship of the Mariucci Classic in Minnesota.

Princeton began to show signs of a slump in the early days of 1999 when it struggled and muddled through a 1-1 weekend at Union and RPI. Up to that point, the offensive attack had flourished behind the steady point production of its two captains, Jeff Halpern and Syl Apps, who have combined for 39 points this season. Halpern’s linemate Scott Bertoli (6-10-16) and blueliner Steve Shirreffs (0-10-10) are the only other Tigers who have hit double digits in scoring.

"I don’t know," said head coach Don "Toot" Cahoon about the offensive slump. "I clearly believe that like a lot of other teams we haven’t brought our same game to the rink night after night and until we get to that point of consistent play we will have nights like that. Getting mentally geared to play at this level is important because there is a big difference between being physically in shape and combining that with the mental part of the game."

The first line combination of Halpern, Bertoli, and Kirk Lamb has seen improvement since Lamb joined the line late last month and Lamb got his first collegiate points two weeks ago. The trio will no doubt be one of the premier lines in the league come playoff time. Yet, while that line is still trying to feel its way through the infant stage, Princeton has turned to the likes of J.P. Acosta (5-4-9), Benoit Morin (5-4-9), and even Chris Corrinet (4-3-7) to pick up the offensive slack.

"I think that people come to expect that your better players who are more experienced and who you have learned to depend on will step up," said Cahoon. "It’s a good thing for them to sustain that level of play, but we are looking for other guys to step into the upper echelon of scoring and we are looking for more scoring across the roster. We have some kids that will emerge and and be more productive. But every player has their role and some guys go a great job on the ice without scoring."

Instead of launching right into the heart of the ECAC schedule following the lengthy break, Princeton will try its hand at former ECAC-foe Army in a road contest on Tuesday night. This game will be plenty physical and should quickly snap the Tigers back into form.

"I just go away. I get out of site and out of mind," said Cahoon on the break that the Tigers have had. "The truth is the kids are still in exams and basically have been in exam mode since the Sunday following the Vermont game. We won’t be coming together as a team until this weekend so we will use the game against Army as part of a process of getting back into league play and hopefully get ourselves back into the physical and mental shape we need to be in."

Picks: Army at Union — The Dutchmen could really use a win right about now and this might be the best opportunity for them to get one and get the monkey off of their back. The Dutchmen get a ray of sunshine before continuing on the ECAC trek. Union 3, Army 1 Yale at Army — Yale just doesn’t seem to be playing with much confidence as of late, and although Hamilton will no doubt find a way around the Cadets on Saturday night, it won’t be enough. Army 4, Yale 2 Princeton at Army — For anyone who remembers the infamous Princeton/Army game in the 1980s when an on-ice brawl carried over into the penalty box, expectations run high for this matchup. Although fireworks of that magnitude are unlikely, a gritty Cadet team and a lethargic Tigers team should make things interesting, but Princeton’s still better. Princeton 5, Army 1.

Next Week in the ECAC: Thursday, January 28 Merrimack at Brown

Friday, January 29 St. Lawrence at Rensselaer Clarkson at Union Cornell at Princeton Colgate at Yale

Saturday, January 30 St. Lawrence at Union Clarkson at Rensselaer Colgate at Princeton Cornell at Yale Dartmouth at Vermont Brown at Minnesota State – Mankato

Sunday, January 31 Brown at Minnesota State – Mankato

Thanks to Steve Marsi and Jay Wang 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.

Monday, February 1 The Beanpot Harvard vs. Northeastern