This Week in the ECAC: February 19, 1999

Hmmm. Seems like the North Country duo is pulling away in the race for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Let’s see, four more points for Clarkson and St. Lawrence after sweeping Rensselaer and Union.

Hmmm. Looks like Princeton is trying to catch up to the frontrunners. Of course, a loss to Harvard and a win over Brown don’t help the cause.

Hmmm. Here’s a nice battle for the last two home-ice playoff spots between four teams — four teams separated by three points. Rensselaer leads this grouping, but got swept by the North Country this past weekend.

Right behind the Engineers is Yale, which split a pair of games. Then there is Cornell. The Big Red also split a pair, with a win over Vermont but a loss to Dartmouth. And let’s not forget Colgate. The Red Raiders were swept last weekend, by Vermont and Dartmouth.

Right behind that group is a pack of four teams looking for three playoff spots and separated by just two points. Harvard and Vermont are tied for eighth place. The Crimson swept Yale and Princeton and Vermont defeated Colgate, but lost to Cornell. A point behind is Dartmouth. The Big Green swept Cornell and Colgate to nab the last playoff spot, at least for now. Brown dropped a pair to Yale and Princeton and is looking in from the outside right now.

And unfortunately, Union is out of the playoff picture by eight points with only 12 points remaining.

ECAC Standings

Will the packs separate out this week? Will it just get more confusing? What happens if Clarkson and St. Lawrence tie? Who will get home ice for the quarterfinals? All these questions may be answered this weekend.

Last Week: 8-4 Season To Date: 100-71, .585

Clarkson (16-9-1, 13-3-0 ECAC, T-1st) and St. Lawrence (17-9- 2, 12-2-2 ECAC, T-1st) at Yale (10-11-2, 8-6-2 ECAC, 5th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Ingalls Rink, New Haven, CT St. Lawrence (17-9-2, 12-2-2 ECAC, T-1st) and Clarkson (16-9-1, 13-3-0 ECAC, T-1st) at Princeton (15-7-1, 10-5-1 ECAC, 3rd) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Baker Rink, Princeton, NJ First Meetings: November 13 — Princeton 4, Clarkson 3; St. Lawrence 3, Yale 1 November 14 — Princeton 2, St. Lawrence 0; Clarkson 3, Yale 1

If it looks familiar, it is. Clarkson is at the top of the ECAC standings, something not new to the Knights or their fans.

This past weekend the Knights defeated Rensselaer 6-4 after falling behind 2-0 early in the first period. But Erik Cole did the job, swinging the momentum back in the Knights’ favor with a shorthanded goal.

"We were down 2-0 and we had dominated the period," said head coach Mark Morris. "It was tough to swallow but we came back with a flurry. That goal was a huge lift for us."

Cole has come on as of late for the Knights and a nine game winning streak is what they are riding at the moment. Those nine games have all come in the ECAC, where it counts the most.

St. Lawrence also clinched a playoff berth last weekend in sweeping Union and Rensselaer. The Saints continue tied for first place, but it doesn’t seem to phase the Saints.

"We’re in the playoffs but we can’t get ahead of ourselves," said head coach Joe Marsh. "We can’t lose sight of what type of team we are and what got us here. The importance of us staying on the agenda and not getting caught up in the rah-rah stuff. We’ve been a resilient team and our focus has been there all year.

"We have to concentrate on where we are going, not where we are. These points are in the bank and there is still a long way to go. We’re trying to solidify things and let’s not do anything to leave things to chance."

The battle now for the Saints is to win the regular-season title and to get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Saints have never won a regular-season ECAC title — save a West Region title in 1982-83 — and this would be something that Saints fans have been waiting for.

But there are still six games left, starting with a trip to Yale and Princeton.

"We’ve broker out season down into phases and now we’re in the last phase going into the playoffs," said Marsh. "It was a good homestand in that we got seven out of eight points. We’ve got people coming after us and we’re trying to raise the bar. So far we’ve put in a solid effort and the guys realize that. Nobody has gotten caught up in things yet and we can’t because we haven’t won anything yet.

"There’s no reason that we can’t keep doing what we are doing and be a dangerous team."

Two weeks ago, Yale collected three points and found itself in a tie for fifth place in the league. Last weekend, the Bulldogs managed only two points on the weekend after a tough loss to Harvard on Friday night, but find themselves all alone in fifth place and only one point out of fourth, behind RPI.

Oh, what a strange place the ECAC is, week in and week out.

"I think that the past two weeks show you how tough it is," said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. "I’m not surprised because back at the media day in August, we were asked to rank the teams and to me it was difficult even back then. It’s difficult to rank these teams, and I don’t even think that it is just happening in the middle of the back. It might be that all 11 teams will be contending right down to the last weekend. It just shows how important getting home ice in the first round will be."

The tale of the tape for Yale last weekend was told by the two boxscores. All season long, the success of the Bulldogs has revolved around the production of its first line. Against Harvard, Jeff Hamilton, Jay Quenville, and Jeff Brow were made invisible all night long as the third line duo of Spencer Rogers and Mark Turco, both of whom have brothers at Harvard, provided Yale’s only offense.

"They did a great job of shutting them out," Taylor said. "I reviewed the tape and they only attempted six shots on net and three were on net. We aren’t unlike other teams in that we have a couple of key players that we rely on offensively. The next night we got a game-winning goal from the Keith McCullough line so that is always cause for optimism."

This weekend, Yale returns to Ingalls Rink for a homestand against Clarkson and St. Lawrence, the two teams that appear to making a clean break from the rest of the pack. Unlike last season, however, Yale’s sights are not set on the league’s top spot, but rather on just getting the all-important home-ice advantage.

"For us it’s an ongoing process," Taylor said. "We have a lot of players were are getting better offensively, but in the ECAC there are a lot of strong defensive teams and good goaltending. You are never going to play anybody where you go in there thinking that goaltending or defense will be a liability. It’s tough for us to generate offense, but it was tough for us last year too.

"We are definitely aware of the points taken, the ones to be had, and the ones remaining," continued Taylor. "We are obviously scoreboard-watching, as I think everyone is at this point."

Lest you think that Princeton is taking a tailspin in the ECAC race as it now sits in third place, four points behind league leaders, Clarkson and St. Lawrence, think for a second about the current state of the team.

Ever since the team returned from a 17-day exam break, the Tigers have endured a recent bout of injuries and roster shakeups that have disrupted the team’s chemistry. The loss of All-American defenseman Steve Shirreffs has created a huge hole in the Tigers defense, as evidenced last weekend by the series of defensive miscues and botched coverages.

In addition, J.P. Acosta, who was starting to blossom into one of the team’s offensive weapons especially alongside older brother Michael, succumbed to academic problems and even Benoit Morin has been plagued as of late with injuries.

On Friday night against Brown, a cast of unlikely characters, which included Brian Horst, David Schneider, Ethan Doyle, and Brad Meredith, helped the Tigers scratch back from an early 3-1 deficit an escape Meehan Auditorium with a 5-4 victory and two very important points.

The following night, however, Harvard did not allow Princeton such luxuries, handing the Tigers their seventh defeat of the season to the tune of 5-3. Frustrating Princeton more than anything, however, is the fact that it has been able to control its opponents down the stretch. After allowing Brown only three shots in the third period, the Tigers limited Harvard to only one shot in the final 20 minutes of play.

Princeton did find the back of the net twice in the third period at Bright Hockey Center, but a four-goal barrage by the Crimson in second stanza proved too much to overcome.

Considering the recent play of the two North Country teams, the fact that Shirreffs spent last weekend at home with his orthopedist father nursing his injured knee and has no plans to return to the lineup in the next few weeks, Princeton must now concentrate on a more realistic goal — securing home ice for the playoffs.

Picks: Clarkson at Yale — Can these Knights be stopped? Not on this night. Can the Knights stop Jeff Hamilton? You bet’cha bottom dollar. Clarkson 5, Yale 2. St. Lawrence at Princeton — This weekend series is about the last thing Princeton needs right now, but at least they tend to match up pretty decently with the Saints. So long as Heffler doesn’t defy the odds and play miracle man again, the Tigers should get at least two points from this weekend. Princeton 4, St. Lawrence 3. St. Lawrence at Yale — The last time these two teams played in Ingalls Rink, the Saints almost sent the Bulldogs out of the ECAC tournament. It ain’t the playoffs and the result won’t be the same. St. Lawrence 4, Yale 2. Clarkson at Princeton — The absence of Steve Shirreffs will be felt the most against the Golden Knights who have the offensive potential and the size up front to punish a discombobulated Princeton defense. Clarkson 5, Princeton 2.

Harvard (10-11-2, 5-9-2 ECAC, T-8th) and Brown (7-11-5, 3-9-4 ECAC, 11th) at Colgate (12-10-4, 7-7-2 ECAC, 7th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY Brown (7-11-5, 3-9-4 ECAC, 11th) and Harvard (10-11-2, 5-9-2 ECAC, T-8th) at Cornell (10-10-3, 7-6-3 ECAC, 6th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY First Meetings: November 13 — Colgate 3, Brown 2; Cornell 7, Harvard 2 November 14 — Colgate 6, Harvard 3; Cornell 3, Brown 1

Even when the team was 0-8-1, no one really counted Harvard out. The Crimson has too much talent down the line and they always seem to jump into the heart of the playoff race at the last moment. Last season proved that fact all too well as the team notched its only weekend sweep of the season on the final weekend of play to capture home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

Last weekend, Harvard came out of nowhere and defeated both Yale and Princeton to inch upwards and away from the precarious bottom of the ECAC barrel which currently holds the likes of Brown and Dartmouth.

With the four points, the Crimson is now in a two-way tie with Vermont for possession of eighth place in the league standings, just four points behind Colgate in sixth place. The two crucial victories also make the team’s next two road trips (a double-dip, first to Colgate/Cornell and then followed by a trek to Clarkson/St. Lawrence) a lot less stressful.

"These were two huge wins [and] it makes going to Cornell, Colgate, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence a hell of a lot easier," said sophomore defenseman Graham Morrell. "We finally met the challenge. We actually took the play to them [and] played with more intensity than we’ve had all season long."

The victory against the Bulldogs was extra-special for the Crimson, since that Friday night marked the 10th anniversary of Ed Krayer’s 1989 overtime goal which lifted the Crimson past Minnesota, 4-3, for the national title. With the memories of Harvard’s glory days infiltrating Bright, the current Crimson players used a potent defensive stance to upend Yale and silence the Bulldogs’ always-dangerous first line of Jeff Hamilton, Jay Quenville, and Jeff Brown.

The following night, Harvard managed to survive an early offensive onslaught by Princeton then capitalized in the second period with four unanswered goals, including a power-play tally by Morrell which broke the Crimson’s 0-27 streak with the man advantage, to cruise to an uncharacteristic 5-3 victory. Bringing a welcome sigh of relief for Crimson fans on Saturday night was the return of sophomore Steve Moore, who had been sidelined with a hip pointer. Moore expedited his return to the lineup after classmate Harry Schwefel was injured the night before against Yale.

"It was a gutsy and courageous effort," said Harvard head coach Ronn Tomassoni of Moore, who tallied his 12th goal of the season in the third period against the Tigers. "It was nice that he could add a goal on the breakaway."

As its biggest road trip gets underway this weekend and as it looks to continue its four-game unbeaten streak in ECAC action, Harvard can be happy that its first stop is in Hamilton, N.Y. where the Crimson has not lost in its last four trips to Starr Rink.

If the playoffs started today, the Brown players would be back at home in Providence, watching the ECAC postseason unfold from their dorm rooms.

For the past few weeks, Brown has been entrenched in battle for the final two playoff positions with Dartmouth, Vermont, and Harvard. Those three teams combined for five wins last weekend, while the Bears suffered perhaps their most damaging two losses of 1999.

Roger Grillo’s troops played both Yale and Princeton tough till the end last weekend, but in each case the visiting team got the best of Brown in the final period. Against the Tigers, the Bears controlled play from the start after first-period goals by Paul Giblin and Shawn Brackenridge.

Freshman Gianni Cantini, who has recently emerged as one of Brown’s up-and-coming offensive threats by scoring in seven of the last 12 games, gave Brown a 3-1 lead at the 1:34 mark of the second period. Princeton roared back the rest of the way, however, outscoring the Bears 4-1 to escape Meehan Auditorium with the 5-4 victory.

The following night against Yale, the Bulldogs’ top line was too much for Brown as Jay Quenville and Jeff Hamilton combined for five points and then Luke Earl netted the game-winner at the 9:06 mark of the third period to spearhead a 4-3 Yale victory. Those two points loom large, especially after Dartmouth posted a weekend sweep and now leads the Bears in the ECAC standings by one point. Vermont, which salvaged the weekend with a 5-1 lambasting of Colgate on Saturday night, also stands just ahead of the Bears with 12 points.

Colgate was coming into last weekend on a high. After slumping through the beginning of 1999, the Red Raiders had taken a three-point weekend from Yale and Princeton and were set to take on Vermont and Dartmouth.

Unfortunately things did not go as planned, nor did they go at all like the previous weekend.

The Red Raiders dropped a pair of games, losing to Dartmouth, 5-2, and then to Vermont, 5-1, to complete the zero-point weekend.

The things that were working for the Red Raiders did not work for them this past weekend. The Red Raiders were not scoring goals, but they were giving them up.

The Big Red of Cornell split their games the previous weekends and had some momentum going into last weekend’s road trip into Vermont and Dartmouth. After putting on an offensive show, the Big Red were ready for the Cats and didn’t disappoint, winning 3-2 and never trailing in the game. The next evening against Dartmouth, the Big Red did hold the early 1-0 lead, but it didn’t last as the Big Green defeated Cornell, 3-2.

"It’s frustrating, coming off a good win against Vermont," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. "A few of our guys didn’t come ready to play on the power play, but give Dartmouth the credit. They deserved to win.

"Dartmouth did a good job, we were up 1-0, and had an opportunity on the power play and we don’t even get a chance to capitalize and we lose momentum.

"Some guys didn’t show up — they know who they are. They need to look at themselves in the mirror and realize that they let an excellent chance slip away today."

A temporary holding of the last quarterfinal home-ice spot was in the Big Red’s hands, but after the loss, the Big Red dropped to sixth in the standings. They still remain one point of the last spot, though.

A big question that Big Red fans continue to ask is, "Where is the offense?" After an eight-goal outburst against Princeton, the Big Red could only muster five goals on the weekend. Besides the Princeton game, the Big Red have only scored four or more goals twice in the ECAC season.

Picks: Harvard at Colgate — Harvard is on a roll, and considering that Steve Moore is a week healthier and Ben Storey plans to be back on the blue line (he was knocked out of the Princeton game after a hard hit by Benoit Morin in the first period), the Crimson should have no problem keeping their Starr Rink streak alive. Harvard 6, Colgate 2. Brown at Cornell — The Big Red are in need of a win to keep pace with the teams around them. The Bear need a win to keep in the playoff hunt. On the road and in the face of Lynah, the Bears stay in eleventh. Cornell 3, Brown 1. Brown at Colgate — The Bears could be the cure for the Red Raiders. Both teams need to turn it up a notch and Colgate salvages two points out of the weekend. Colgate 5, Brown 3. Harvard at Cornell — The rowdy Lynah crowd will make sure that the fish will fly (as they always do) towards the Harvard players during warmups. In recent years, whenever these two teams meet up, Cornell seems to play abnormally well and Harvard crumbles in the face of the intimidating environment. Cornell 4, Harvard 2.

Dartmouth (9-13-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 10th) and Vermont (11-12-2, 5-9-2 ECAC, T-8th) at Union (3-20-3, 1-13-2 ECAC, 12th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Achilles Rink, Schenectady, NY Vermont (11-12-2, 5-9-2 ECAC, T-8th) and Dartmouth (9-13-1, 5-10-1 ECAC, 10th) at Rensselaer (16-9-1, 9-6-1 ECAC, 4th) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY First Meetings: November 13 — Rensselaer 8, Dartmouth 5; Vermont 4, Union 1 November 14 — Vermont 2, Rensselaer 0; Dartmouth 5, Union 1

Has this young team finally turned the corner? All season long, teams have kept an eye out for Dartmouth simply because the Big Green have the potential to be dangerous — it was just a matter of when it would all come together. This weekend the Big Green proved why they could take over the role of the ECAC’s official 1998-99 black horse with a weekend sweep.

Dartmouth scored an unexpected weekend sweep with an unquestionable 5-2 win over Colgate on Friday night and then a 3-2 squeaker the next night against Cornell in Lynah Rink.

"The kids played real well," said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. "We had a couple of stinkers and then the weekend before when we went to the North Country I thought that we played outstanding hockey but unfortunately we had nothing to show for it. This past weekend we did."

Once again, it was the youth movement that kept the Big Green alive offensively, with freshman Mike Maturo netting two goals on the weekend with classmate Jamie Herrington adding a goal and an assist of his own.

"They are a resilient group of kids and they bounced back from the North Country nicely," Gaudet said. "The wins are a nice step and it’s also a positive one. I feel that we’re getting better and better as the season goes along and hopefully we can get some good bounces down the stretch."

Considering the strength of the team’s last four opponents, Dartmouth will get what should be a breather on Friday night against Union before taking on the wobbly Engineers at Houston Fieldhouse on Saturday.

Inconsistent play and lack of a go-to line continues to plague Vermont, but with each passing week it continues to stay in the playoff hunt with big, timely wins. This week it was a dominating, 5-1 dismantling of Colgate on Saturday night which allowed the Catamounts to stay even with Harvard in eighth place in the ECAC standings.

The night before, Vermont suffered a tough 3-2 loss to Cornell — a game which saw the Catamounts outshoot the home team by a margin of 9-6 and pull within a goal of the Big Red midway through the third period, but to no avail.

Thankfully for the Burlington faithful, the Catamounts took out all frustrations on the Red Raiders by pounding them with three unanswered goals in the first period by Stephane Piche, Don Richardson, and Matt Sanders, including two with the man advantage. Kevin Karlander and Jason Reid added tallies for good measure in the final stanza to seal their team’s fifth league win of the season. Andrew Allen was also a key to the contest with one of his best games of the season. He finished with 38 saves, 17 in the first period.

Defensively, Vermont has been buoyed by the continued strong play of Jason Reid, who appears to have fully recovered from his midseason hand injury, and was able to contain both Cornell and Colgate by allowing only four goals on the weekend. The Catamounts will need a similarly stingy performance this Friday night when it must attempt to contain an Engineer team that has the potential to put multiple goals on the board at a very fast rate.

Things are looking bleak for Union. The Dutchmen are seven points out of a playoff spot with only 12 points left in the season to earn.

"We’ve said all along that we want to play it one game at a time," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "But I’d be lying if I said that our guys and the coaching staff don’t realize that we have to win all of our games to have a chance at going into the postseason.

"It’s definitely do or die for us right now. We have to live up to that challenge."

Union has not scored an even-strength goal in the last 286:40, since Jeff Wilson scored against Clarkson on Jan. 29. The Dutchmen have four power-play goals and a shorthanded goal since, but it is a huge concern for Sneddon, especially in this situation.

"It’s been strange," he said. "Earlier on in the season we couldn’t score a power play goal and all of our goals were coming at five-on-five. Now we’re on the flipside of it — we can’t buy a goal at even strength. We haven’t quite figured out what we are doing wrong."

With the entire situation looking grimmer and grimmer for the Dutchmen, it is easy to get down.

"Fortunately is hasn’t affected us in the locker room," said Sneddon. "The guys still work hard and they work smart. No one has given up or are feeling sorry for themselves.

"They realize that we just have to put a string of wins together."

Rensselaer, which once went through a nine-game winning streak, has now lost four of its last five to two teams. Last weekend the Engineers lost a pair in the North Country to Clarkson and St. Lawrence, and now sit in fourth place in the ECAC.

"I’m not upset with the way the team played whatsoever," said head coach Dan Fridgen despite the two losses. "Against a good hockey team you have to limit your breakdowns and we didn’t limit our breakdowns and they capitalized."

Against St. Lawrence in a 4-3 loss Fridgen decided to break up his line combinations. Alain St. Hilaire had been centering Mark Murphy and Pete Gardiner, but found Doug Shepherd on his wing against the Saints. Murphy went to a line with Steve Caley and Brad Tapper. Tapper had been on a line with Danny Riva and Matt Murley, but those two found themselves on a line with Chris Migliore or Keith Dupee.

"It’s something I had been thinking about and something I didn’t feel I needed to do until this point," said Fridgen. "When you look at the [Clarkson game, a 6-4 loss] all the goals we scored were power play goals so it wasn’t like it was putting a kink in the armor in terms of offense five-on-five."

The Engineers are looking to rebound against Vermont and Dartmouth this weekend and Fridgen is not looking at the little slump as something to be concerned about.

"We were getting those bounces earlier, now we’re not getting them," he said. "As far as the work ethic and the lines they played as hard as they could. A few breaks here or there and it could have been different.

"We just have to keep working hard and keep our heads up high."

Picks: Dartmouth at Union — Union is the only team that has all but sealed its fate in the ECAC playoff race, while Dartmouth — fresh off a weekend sweep of Cornell and Colgate — is finally feeling as if it has a newfound life. The youngsters are on a roll. Dartmouth 5, Union 1. Vermont at Rensselaer — Which Engineer team shows up? Which Catamount team shows up? Will anybody show up? Rensselaer 3, Vermont 2. Vermont at Union — How about the upset special here? Union 3, Vermont 1. Dartmouth at Rensselaer — RPI is falling, and falling fast, these days. Would it defy logic for Dartmouth to pull off another sweep? Probably. Rensselaer 4, Dartmouth 2.

Next Week In The ECAC Friday, February 26 Brown at Clarkson Harvard at St. Lawrence Cornell at Rensselaer Colgate at Union Yale at Dartmouth Princeton at Vermont

Saturday, February 27 Harvard at Clarkson Brown at St. Lawrence Colgate at Rensselaer Cornell at Union Princeton at Dartmouth Yale at Vermont

Thanks to the Jason Frank and Juan Martinez 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.