In a situation no different from any other year, ties for position in the ECAC standings abound.
There’s a tie at the top, between Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The Knights swept a pair last weekend from Dartmouth and Vermont while the Saints picked up three points against the same two teams.
There’s a tie for third place, between Princeton and Rensselaer. The Tigers were swept last weekend by Colgate and Cornell and the Engineers won their lone game over Brown.
There’s a tie for fifth place, between Yale and Colgate. Yale picked up three points with a win over Cornell and a tie against the Red Raiders. Colgate also got two more with a victory over Princeton.
Hey, there isn’t a tie for seventh place! Cornell sits there all alone after picking up two points with a win over Princeton after a loss to Yale.
Now back to your regularly scheduled program.
There’s a tie for eighth place between Brown and Vermont. Brown earned two points with a win over Union after a loss to Rensselaer the night before, and Vermont nailed one point with a tie against St. Lawrence before falling to Clarkson.
Ah, another team alone in the standings. Harvard currently holds the last playoff spot after tying Union on Friday evening.
There is essentially a tie between Dartmouth and Union because neither wants to be where they are right now — out of the playoffs. Dartmouth is one point out after dropping a pair in the North Country, and Union picked up one point on the weekend.
Have a look yourself.
That’s what it’s come down to. Four weeks left — eight games — home ice or just a trip to Placid. Everything is on the line in the next four weeks.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the wildest ride in college hockey — the stretch run in the ECAC.
Last Week: 6-6 Season To Date: 92-67, .579
Rensselaer (16-7-1, 9-4-1 ECAC, T-3rd) and Union (3-18-3, 1- 11-2 ECAC, 12th) at Clarkson (14-9-1, 11-3-0 ECAC, T-1st) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Potsdam, NY Union (3-18-3, 1-11-2 ECAC, 12th) and Rensselaer (16-7-1, 9-4-1 ECAC, T-3rd) at St. Lawrence (15-9-2, 10-2-2 ECAC, T-1st) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Canton, NY
The Engineers of Rensselaer came off of a sweep at the hands of Clarkson and St. Lawrence going into last weekend’s lone game with Brown. After ending two periods of play tied at two, the Engineers scored five times in the third period to record a 7-3 victory over the Bears.
"We picked it up a couple of notches in the third period," said Engineer head coach Dan Fridgen. "We got back to basics in the third period in doing what we do best — scoring goals and playing well defensively in our own end."
Having a single game last weekend at a time when all the other ECAC teams were playing a pair didn’t seem to faze Fridgen.
"It gives us some time to prepare and enjoy the win," he said of the rare day off. "This will give us some time to pick up some confidence that we might have lost last weekend."
The Engineers will get to face the North Country rivals once again this weekend, except it will be in the lovely confines of Northern New York.
"We’ve got a huge weekend coming up in the North Country," said Fridgen. "They don’t take kindly to visitors, but hopefully we’ll be ready for that trip. We’re not out for revenge, redemption is really what we are looking for."
Not only is the North Country a place many teams leave shaking their heads — which the Engineers did last year with a 1-0 loss to St. Lawrence and a 11-0 loss to Clarkson — but this is also a set against the co-leaders of the ECAC.
"All the better," said Fridgen. "It’s real tight up there. We got the ship back on course, and we just have to keep on plowing through the waters."
Union picked up one point last weekend in a tie against Harvard, but couldn’t gather any others in dropping a 5-2 game to Brown on Saturday. Despite picking up one point, the Dutchmen are no closer to making the last playoff position than they were a week ago, remaining four points behind the Crimson for the last spot.
"We certainly have a tough road trip ahead going against the teams that are at the top," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "That’s always a tough trip and now you throw in that they are both playing as well as they are. We have to step up to the challenge. If these guys want to play in the postseason then they have to show up on Friday night.
"These are our playoffs now. We have to win some of these games if we want to be in the playoffs."
After a fine performance against the Crimson on Friday in a 1-1 tie, the Dutchmen had the game tied against Brown at two, but the Bears scored three times in the last 22 minutes of the game to take the win.
"We had some chances again [Saturday]," said Sneddon. "We didn’t play as well defensively as on Friday, again we had a lot of offensive opportunities, but we just didn’t bury them. It seems like that’s been the story all year long. It’s frustrating, believe me. But we have to keep going and play 120 minutes a weekend."
Clarkson came into the weekend trailing St. Lawrence and Princeton by one point for the lead in the ECAC. The Golden Knights came out of last weekend with a share of the lead in the league with St. Lawrence.
The Knights defeated Dartmouth 2-1 and then Vermont 3-2 to take four points and a share of the lead.
On Friday, the Knights scored twice in the first six minutes of the second period to gain the win over the Big Green.
"We stole one," said Clarkson coach Mark Morris. "We didn’t deserve it, but we’re happy about the two points. We were out-hustled, out-hit and out-shot.
"We know we have to play much better to go anywhere this year. I can’t think of any facet of the game we’re happy with right now…except the win."
The next night the Knights broke a 2-2 tie in the third period on an Erik Cole goal that was mildly controversial. Some say it never crossed the goal line, some say it did. Either way, the Knights got the two points and a share of the lead in the ECAC.
Now the Knights get to take on Rensselaer and Union again, twice in the span of three weeks. One of the things that the Knights did do in that previous series was score goals — 10 of them in the two games. That total went to five goals last weekend.
"Nobody on our team is running away with any tremendous scoring output," said Morris. "But it’s nice to see that we’re getting good production from a lot of different sources."
St. Lawrence went to overtime in both of its games last weekend, tying Vermont 1-1 before defeating Dartmouth 4-3 with three seconds left in the extra stanza. The overtime win kept the Saints in first place, albeit in a tie with Clarkson for the position.
"Obviously it is a big win for us," said head coach Joe Marsh. "We came out flat and it took us about a period and a half to get it going. Vic Natali made a big play to get things started and from then on it was a pretty good game. Eric Heffler had another big night and we came out of the weekend with three points. If we can do that every weekend, we’ll take it."
The overtime goal was scored by Erik Anderson, second on the team in scoring with 23 points (7g-16a).
"Erik’s usual first thought is to pass the puck," said Marsh. "He is an outstanding passer and a great playmaker, but this time he had no one to pass to and got off a great shot. Dartmouth played an outstanding game and took it to us for at least half of it, but the guys reached down in the overtime and really worked hard to come up with the winner."
The 1-1 tie on Friday was a great battle between goaltenders, and the Saints’ Eric Heffler is one of the best.
"It was a pretty good hockey game, and certainly an outstanding showing by both goalies," said Marsh about the Vermont game. "Both teams probably feel they had chances to win it. I thought we did a fairly good job defensively in addition to Heff’s play, but we over-handled the puck on offense."
Picks: Rensselaer at Clarkson — This is Clarkson’s time to shine. The Knights continue to do so, putting some distance between themselves and Rensselaer. Clarkson 4, Rensselaer 2 Union at St. Lawrence — In the land of Heffler, the lack of an offense for Union will send the Dutchmen out of Appleton shaking their heads with their second shutout of the season at the hands of the Saints. St. Lawrence 3, Union 0 Union at Clarkson — Union came back to tie Clarkson in the last minute last season at Cheel. No such luck this year. Clarkson 5, Union 2 Rensselaer at St. Lawrence — The trend has always been toward high-scoring games in Troy (5-4 this year) and low-scoring games in Canton. Once again, don’t buck the trend. St. Lawrence 3, Rensselaer 2
Princeton (14-6-1, 9-4-1 ECAC, T-3rd) and Yale (9-10-2, 7-5-2 ECAC, T-5th) at Harvard (8-11-2, 3-9-2 ECAC, 10th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Boston, MA Yale (9-10-2, 7-5-2 ECAC, T-5th) and Princeton (14-6-1, 9-4-1 ECAC, T- 3rd) at Brown (7-9-5, 3-7-4 ECAC, T-8th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Providence, RI
It’s sad to see a team that looked so good fall so hard.
As if wasn’t bad enough that Princeton dropped two bad games last weekend against Cornell and Colgate, the Tigers now will be without the services of All-American defenseman Steve Shirreffs, who sprained his knee against Colgate. He is expected to miss four weeks; in addition, Benoit Morin and possibly J.P. Acosta could be out this weekend too.
"The preliminary MRI results [on Shirreffs] show a knee injury to the MCL so he is going to be out three to four weeks," said Princeton head coach Don "Toot" Cahoon. "Every team goes through this, and hopefully we will see him before the season is out and when it most counts: during the playoffs."
The once-feared lines of the Tigers have been all but dismantled as the team appears to be losing steam and confidence. Hobey Baker hopeful Jeff Halpern chipped in his obligatory three points on the weekend, but he got little help from his teammates, who amassed an outrageous 107 penalty minutes on the weekend.
"First of all, we were outplayed on Friday night. Colgate played with a purpose and most assuredly we did not, and consequently the game went the way it should have," Cahoon said. "Saturday night was another story. We played with poise, we got off to a good start and then it developed into something other than we thought it would."
Another big factor for the Tigers has been the disappearing act of senior co-captain Syl Apps on the offensive end. In the first two months of play, Apps recorded at least a point in nine of 12 games as the team cruised to a 9-2-1 record.
Since 1999 has arrived, Apps has gone pointless in six of nine games, during which time the Tigers are 5-4. This past weekend, Apps was kept off the scoreboard once again, and most notably finished with a five-minute major against Colgate and then a 10-minute misconduct infraction against Cornell the following night.
"First of all, Syl is a defensive player, so his offense comes from his defense," Cahoon said. "This is a difficult time for Princeton kids — going into exams, coming out of exams — and there is a lot of continuity that is lost. I think that Syl, as will a lot of our other guys, will gain back that offensive prowess that they had earlier in the year in the next few weeks."
The challenge has been set in front of the Tigers, who face the possibility of falling farther out of the top playoff positions this weekend, as they are faced with two winnable games against two teams struggling to find a winning formula — namely Harvard and Brown.
Two wins would most likely resurrect and spearhead Princeton into the final three weekends of ECAC action, while a pair of losses would spell certain doom for the small band of Tigers struggling for home ice.
For anyone who doubted Yale’s potential to be a contender come March, it is time to own up to the mistake. After a dismal start to the season in which the Bulldog offense struggled while the defense was attempting to find an identity without Ray Giroux, the Bulldogs have recently proven that they are a contender.
What else can you say about a team that everyone forgot about until the past two weekends in which they claimed seven points from a home-and-away series with Cornell and Colgate to move into a tie for fifth and only three points out of third place in the ECAC race?
This past weekend, Yale held off a hungry Cornell team, 2-1, on Friday night and then managed to pull out a respectable 4-4 tie the following night against Colgate. Jeff Hamilton continued to pile on the points (3 goals, two assists), while Alex Westlund played the role of savior by collecting 83 saves on the weekend, including 47 against the Red Raiders.
"I think few teams have that kind of finisher [like Hamilton]," said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. "It’s part of our team makeup and team chemistry, and it’s one of the weapons that we have. Against a team like Cornell, we give away a lot in size and maybe in experience and age, but both our special weapons — Westlund in the goal and Hamilton up front — paid some dividends and were key elements in the fact that we could go in there into that environment and come away with a 2-1 win."
The downside to the weekend for Yale, however, was the loss of defenseman John Gauger, who injured his hand in the second period and is expected to miss at least three weeks of action.
"It’s a loss, because John was just rounding into shape in terms of his physical condition and his mental condition," Taylor said. "His confidence was rising and the team’s confidence in him to handle any situation was improving. He’s a strong kid, both mentally and physically, so he’ll get through this."
This weekend, Yale will hit the road once again and face-off against a potentially dangerous Harvard team on Friday night. Earlier in the season, Taylor and Co. rattled the Crimson at Ingalls Rink with a 7-1 thrashing, but traditionally, Bright Hockey Center has not been a kind place for the Bulldogs. They entered last season’s meeting in Cambridge having gone 0-for-Bright, without a win in 19 tries since it opened in 1979.
If Yale can play the same style of hockey it has in the past couple of weeks, however, then there is no doubt that the Bulldogs should waltz back to New Haven with four more points.
"Lynah Rink is a tough place to play, and it came down to our character in terms of our getting out of there with a win in that situation, so it was a good testament to the character of our team," Taylor said. "For that, I’m proud and thankful that we’re coming together as a team, but I’m a little disappointed that we got out-skated so badly. I wouldn’t say we got out-worked, but we got out-skated."
The Beanpot has come and gone and Harvard is once again finding itself having to look forward as the past left nothing good in its wake.
The Crimson headed into the historic Boston Tournament as the one of the favorites and finished dead last after consecutive losses to Northeastern and then most recently to Boston College in the consolation game on Monday night. In addition, while the team was in the midst of the Beanpot mayhem, it also allowed Union to steal a point from it last Friday night at Achilles Rink.
That tie may prove to be highly significant considering that Harvard is currently sitting in 10th place in the ECAC standings, just one point ahead of Dartmouth.
"The Union game felt like a loss," said Harvard head coach Ronn Tomassoni. "That was a point that we should have gotten. Then Boston College came out with two in the first two minutes, and it just deflated us."
Despite the wretched start, the Crimson responded by taking a 3-1 lead midway through the second period off a four-on-four Scott Turco tally. B.C. quickly found Harvard netminder Oliver Jonas’ weak spot (his five-hole), however, as they posted two goals to equalize the contest heading into the final period.
That’s where it all fell apart for the Crimson. Even a goaltending change which sent Harvard’s ace, J.R. Prestifilippo into the game to relieve Jonas, had no effect as the Harvard defense fell apart piece by piece. There was little backchecking, no marking in front of the net, and absolutely zero energy on the side of the Crimson players which led to the eventual 6-4 defeat.
"It was a Beanpot game, but it was the consolation game," said Harvard captain Craig Adams. I don’t think that anyone is going to lose sleep that we lost this game. We have to focus on our league games."
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the team may be without the services for sophomore scoring ace Steve Moore, who was injured during the Union games, this weekend as it hosts Yale and Princeton at Bright Hockey Center.
The split seems to be the tale of the season for Brown. Once again, the Bears had its ups and downs this past weekend when it got shelled, 7-3, by RPI on Friday night before rebounding with a solid 5-2 win over Union on Saturday.
Against the Engineers, the Bears kept the contest close after two periods following goals by Matt Kohansky and Jade Kersey, but the third period turned into a nightmare very quickly. RPI exploded for five goals, including the first two of the period which were scored within a 25 second span, to seal the contest and send Brown reeling farther towards the ECAC cellar.
Instead of folding, however, the Bears ventured to the next town over and took its frustration out at Achilles Rink on the Skating Dutchmen, who were coming off a tie the night before against Harvard. Brown netminder Scott Stirling, who allowed all seven goals against the Engineers, responded as well, finishing with a game-high 38 saves against the Skating Dutchmen.
"We were up 2-0 but I didn’t think we were playing very well," said Brown head coach Roger Grillo, who got a three-point performance from Mike Bent against Union. "We were lucky on a couple of goals, but if Scotty had not played well for us in the first, I was not happy with the way we played in the first period.
"It was a real good effort for us. We started out doing stupid things and for some reason we were playing young. Even though we are young, we can’t be playing that way at this time of the season. But [Saturday night] was good for us. We settled down, played well in the second half of the game and we got the job done."
In addition to Bent, who is third on the team in scoring with 17 points, the line of Jeff Lawler, James Duval, and Shawn Brackenridge is beginning to become an offensive factor in recent games, but is still lacking the consistency Grillo desires from one of his top lines at this point of the season. This past weekend, the trio accounted for three points, including Brown’s first goal against Union just 1:12 into the period.
This weekend will present a new challenge for the Bears who must find a way contain the physical style of play of Princeton on Friday night and then the team speed of Yale the following night.
"There are standings and there are teams below you and in our league it’s going to be a dogfight until the last weekend," Grillo said. "The objective for us is to put as many points up as we can. We were playing good hockey [Friday] except for about 12 minutes and [Saturday] we played well except for a few minutes. We’re playing pretty great hockey right now, we just have to keep up with the good things and work with the bad things."
Picks: Princeton at Harvard — In the only other meeting between these two teams this season, Princeton eked out a 3-2 victory at a time when everyone else was beating up on the hapless Crimson. This time around, the roles have switched a bit. Harvard is playing a much better brand of hockey, in addition to being highly-motivated by the fact that the Crimson are fighting for their precious playoff lives. Harvard 3, Princeton 2 Yale at Brown — With team speed and potent weapons up front, Yale is a tough matchup for Brown. Despite the loss of Gauger, the Bulldogs should have no problem controlling Bent, Smith, and Lawler. The Bears, on the other hand, will have difficulty stopping Yale’s transition game as well as Hamilton up front. Yale 6, Brown 3 Yale at Harvard — The records don’t bode well for Yale heading into Cambridge, but for anyone who has watched the Harvard-Yale hockey rivalry the past four years or so, it is clear that the fear of Bright Hockey Center is no longer an issue. Yale is playing well and Harvard’s confidence is suspect. Yale 4, Harvard 1 Princeton at Brown — Princeton is having its own problems at the moment, but after being swept last weekend, the same thing shouldn’t happen again…even without Shirreffs on the blue line. It won’t be the prettiest game, but in the end it’s Princeton 2, Brown 1
Cornell (9-9-3, 6-5-3 ECAC, 7th) and Colgate (12-8-4, 7-5-2 ECAC, T-5th) at Vermont (10-11-2, 4-8-2 ECAC, T-8th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Burlington, VT Colgate (12-8-4, 7-5-2 ECAC, T-5th) and Cornell (9-9-3, 6-5-3 ECAC, 7th) at Dartmouth (7-13-1, 3-10-1 ECAC, 11th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 5:00 pm, Hanover, NH
Cornell started last weekend with a 2-1 loss to Yale at Lynah Rink. A 1-1 tie was broken with just over six minutes to play in the third. Head coach Mike Schafer was disappointed at the loss.
"What can I tell them," he said. "We outshoot them 37-15, and we lose a hockey game off a puck that bounces three times and finds the net. We have to change our own destiny; we get beat by a goal down at Princeton the other night in a game that we had under control. We get beat in a game tonight that I felt we deserved to win."
Good news came to the Big Red last Friday when defenseman and assistant captain Jeff Burgoyne came back after a battle with the flu that forced him to miss the previous weekend’s games.
"Getting Jeff back is huge for our team," Schafer said. "The kid lost 8- 10 pounds last week with the flu, and even though he wasn’t 100 percent tonight, he had a huge impact on the game."
Burgoyne assisted on the lone goal of the night — a 5 x 3 tally by Kyle Knopp.
The lack of scoring had been one of the woes for the Big Red, but they broke out on Saturday evening with an 8-4 victory over Princeton. The Big Red scored eight unanswered goals after the Tigers broke out to an early 3-0 lead.
Among the goals were two 5×3, two 4×5 and two 5×4.
The downward spiral looked as if it were never-ending for the Red Raiders of Colgate. Not only in terms of losses, but also in terms of lack of offense. The offense was not quite there on Friday night, but a 3-1 win over Princeton was the right medicine.
"This was a big win for us, especially against such a good team and after the difficult January we had," head coach Don Vaughan said. "We really refocused in the past week and got back to believing in ourselves."
Two goals in the first period were enough to put the Tigers away and the two points kept the Red Raiders in a tie for fifth place in the ECAC heading into a showdown the next evening with the team they were tied with — Yale.
After falling behind 3-1 after one period of play, the Red Raiders scored twice in the second period to tie the game and then the teams traded goals in the third period and each got a point and a share of fifth place in the standings.
"Quite frankly, we’re disappointed," said Vaughan about the tie on Saturday. "We proved we can skate with the elite last night, then came out flat. We have to learn to play all three periods."
Picking up three points on the weekend is a much needed boost for the Red Raiders and they hope to continue the push.
"Mostly we just have to learn to be a tougher team mentally. I wish I could say it’s rookie mistakes, we’re young, but that’s not the truth," Vaughan said. "It’s all about putting together three periods every night. Still, if we can play the way we did for five periods this weekend, we can contend."
After a great goaltending performance by Andrew Allen against St. Lawrence on Friday evening that resulted in a 1-1 tie, Vermont went into Cheel Arena and found itself in another low scoring affair with Clarkson. This time the Cats gave up a goal in the third period and lost the game 3-2.
As mentioned in the Clarkson preview, the goal was a bit controversial in that some thought the puck had not crossed over the goal line. Despite the controversy, it was not what was on head coach Mike Gilligan’s mind following the game.
"I didn’t see the goal, but that’s not the thing that’s bothersome," he said. "What was is that we didn’t skate as well in the third period as we had in the first and second.
"[Clarkson] believed they could put it away, I don’t know if we believed we could beat them."
The Cats are barely hanging on after a strong start to the ECAC season. With only three points in the ECAC since the beginning of 1999, the Cats are tied for eighth in the standings and face a tough weekend against Cornell and Colgate.
Dartmouth played two hard-fought contests against the two of the top teams in the league last weekend, and unfortunately it has nothing to show for its efforts.
Oh, the pains of rebuilding rear its ugly head! Instead of stealing a few crucial points from the weekend and holding sole possession of eighth place, the Big Green is now sitting in 11th place with seven points, only three points ahead of Union.
On Friday night, Dartmouth kept the offensive pressure on throughout the contest as they outshot the Golden Knights, 39-27. Two power-play tallies by Clarkson in the first six minutes of the second period, however, proved to be the difference en route to the 2-1 Dartmouth loss.
"It was not from a lack of effort," said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. "It’s all I can ask from them. We played a very good team in their own building, but it’s tough when you play a solid game and get an ‘L’. We just need to find a way to put the puck away."
The following night was much of the same as Dartmouth gave St. Lawrence all it could handle. Within the first two minutes of play, Dory Tisdale and Scott Peach found the back of the net for the Big Green for the early 2-0 lead. The Saints stormed back in the second period to tie the game at two, and after both teams notched a goal in the third, the two teams headed into the overtime period.
To add insult to injury, with only three seconds remaining in the extra period, Erik Anderson netted the game winner to send Dartmouth home with zero points for the second straight weekend.
"With a couple of bounces here and there, it could have been a three or four point weekend for us," said senior captain David Risk. "They’re the two top teams in the league right now, but we played them tight both nights. It’s disappointing. It was devastating, but you have to wake up the next day and continue to fight."
Once again, Dartmouth must go back to the drawing board this weekend as it hosts Colgate and Cornell — two teams that are playing exceptionally good hockey at this stage. Despite the recent losses, there is a positive side for the Big Green in that their p layoff hopes are still alive as the bottom teams continue to stay within striking distance.
"Right now we need to find a way to get into the playoffs and get some experience," added Gaudet.
Picks: Cornell at Vermont — The Big Red found some offense on Saturday against Princeton. With the taste of scoring once again, the Big Red motor into Burlington and get the win. Cornell 4, Vermont 2 Colgate at Dartmouth — The Red Raiders, too, have found the touch once again — both in terms of winning and scoring goals. They make the Big Green suffer through some more growing. Colgate 5, Dartmouth 2 Colgate at Vermont — That all-important fifth spot continues to be held, in part at least, by Colgate. Colgate 4, Vermont 1 Cornell at Dartmouth — More success for the Big Red. Cornell 5, Dartmouth 3
Next Week in the ECAC: Friday, February 19 St. Lawrence at Princeton Clarkson at Yale Harvard at Colgate Brown at Cornell Dartmouth at Union Vermont at Rensselaer
Saturday, February 20 Clarkson at Princeton St. Lawrence at Yale Brown at Colgate Harvard at Cornell Vermont at Union Dartmouth at Rensselaer
Thanks to Jason Frank, Juan Martinez and Steve Marsi 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.