This Week in the ECAC: March 19, 1999

Those five teams are left to battle it out for the Scotty Whitelaw Trophy on the Olympic ice sheet at the 1980 Arena this Thursday through Saturday.

Here’s to fun, and especially to the crowning of the 1999 ECAC champions!

ECAC Preliminary Game No. 6 Colgate Red Raiders (19-11-4) vs No. 4 Princeton Tigers (19-10- 2) Thursday, 7:30 pm, 1980 Arena, Lake Placid, NY Earlier This Season: Jan. 30 : @Princeton 2, Colgate 1; Feb. 5: @Colgate 3, Princeton 1 Last Playoff Meeting: 1992 ECAC Preliminary Round (@Colgate) – Princeton; 5-4 (2ot)

Lake Placid hopes for Princeton were looking dim midway through the second period last Saturday night against Cornell. The two teams had gutted out a tough 4-4 tie the night before to force what would likely be a deciding game-two confrontation at Hobey Baker Rink in the ECAC’s first-to-three-points format.

The Big Red appeared to have taken firm control over the game as they jumped out to a commanding 4-1 lead. As the seconds ticked off the clock in the second stanza, however, Princeton began its dramatic comeback. First it was a power-play tally by Jeff Halpern in the waning minutes of the period, and then consecutive goals by Benoit Morin and Syl Apps equalized the contest at four-all.

"The attitude was positive throughout the game. I think that was the biggest factor. I think this team has been through tough situations and tournament situations and they knew they had to stay that way," said Princeton head coach Don Cahoon. "They were positive from the start right through the end. When we were down 4-1, the talk was, ‘Last night we were ahead 4-1.’"

Cornell took a short-lived 5-4 lead, but then in a span of 30 seconds Princeton took over with goals by Brad Meredith and Michael Acosta to seal both the victory and a trip to Lake Placid.

"I was having flashbacks to the last time we played them at home," said Acosta. "Syl made an excellent play, as he has all year, winning the draw back to Jackson [Hegland]. Jackson saw me wide open and he just passed me the puck. I looked at the net and saw no one was in front, so I just took the shot. I knew it was in. I don’t score very much, but when I score I know it’s going in."

After a strong first half, the Tigers had cooled off in the latter stages of the season. The return of Steve Shirreffs to the lineup in the last two weeks has helped ignite the struggling offense, but the All-American defenseman is still not 100 percent, seeing most of his time on the power play.

Despite their struggles as of late, however, the overriding strength of the Tigers in the past few years — highlighted by last year’s dramatic championship run — has been their ability to rise to the occasion as the underdog. That is something they will have to do again this time around as they may face Colgate in the play-in game on Thursday night despite being a higher seed.

Colgate, too, threatened to fall apart once the second half of the season came around, but found a way to pull together crucial wins and claim sixth place in the final ECAC standings to earn a quarterfinal matchup with Yale in New Haven, Conn.

What should have been an epic battle between Colgate’s goaltending duo of Jason LeFevre and Shep Harder and Yale’s offensive gun, Jeff Hamilton, fell short of its billing. In the league’s most lopsided playoff series, the Red Raiders effectively shut down Hamilton and erupted for two definitive wins — a 5-1 win on Friday followed by a 7-2 shellacking the next night — to move into the next round.

"We put forth a great effort and we’re excited," Colgate head coach Don Vaughan said. "We’ve had problems here in the past, but our motto the last two weeks has been ‘No doubt, no fear.’ We believe in ourselves. We were confident coming in and the first goal did a lot to boost that. Our team feels really good about itself. We are getting great leadership from our seniors and really responding to every challenge."

Hamilton was invisible throughout both games, while Harder collected 42 saves on the weekend for the first two playoff wins of his career. Harder received unfailing support on the offensive end of the ice as Daryl Campbell, Etienne Morin (who has scored six goals in Colgate’s last eight games), Chad MacDonald, and Dan Wildfong all tallied two goals on the weekend.

Meanwhile Ryan Faubert and Cory Murphy each added a goal to add variety to the boxscore. Andy McDonald, who had four assists on the weekend, has been Colgate’s offensive catalyst this season — as McDonald goes, so go the Red Raiders. In the 15 games he has scored a goal, Colgate is 13-0-2. In addition, the team is 18-1-3 in games when he tallies a point.

"I’m just thrilled for this team," Vaughan said. "This is what you work for in the ECAC, and no member of our team has ever been to Lake Placid. I am especially proud of our seniors. With all the talk surrounding our program and the way things ended for us last season, this is unbelievable. Give our guys a lot of credit. They didn’t buy into the negativity — they turned things around. I’m just so proud."

Colgate and Princeton enter Thursday’s contest having split the season series. The first time these two teams met on Jan. 30, Princeton broke out to an early lead and pulled out a 2-1 win off of goals by Halpern and Scott Bertoli. Just five days later, the two teams confronted each other once again, this time with the Red Raiders coming out on top with a 3-1 victory in front of a home crowd.

The two teams offer similar styles, as both possess great speed straight through the roster. Princeton has perhaps the more lauded offensive weapons in Halpern and Apps, but the Red Raiders counter with the likes of Andy McDonald and Wildfong. The one weak spot for the Tigers has to be their shaky goaltending as of late; while Colgate will enter the game with a reputation for playing its best hockey during the regular season.

"Our focus is still on us. If we continue to play the way we’re playing, I like our chances a lot," Vaughan said. "The slate is clean now, all the records are can be tossed out the window. It’s winner-take-all every game, so you never know what might happen."

Pick — If Princeton proved anything this past weekend, it is that the players know how to pull out a win when their backs are against the wall. That quality will be a major factor this weekend as the Tigers will not get flustered by an early deficit. Colgate cruised through its two playoff games and may not respond as well to adversity. Princeton 5, Colgate 4

ECAC Semifinal Colgate or Princeton vs No. 1 Clarkson (23-10-1) Friday, 7:00 pm, 1980 Arena, Lake Placid, NY Earlier This Season: Nov. 12 : Princeton 4, @Clarkson 3; Jan. 3: Colgate 4, @Clarkson 3; Feb. 20: Clarkson 4, @Princeton 2; Mar. 5: @Colgate 4, Clarkson 3 Last Playoff Meetings: 1995 ECAC Consolation (@Lake Placid) – Colgate; 10-5 1998 ECAC Championship (@Lake Placid) – Princeton; 5-4, 2ot

The Golden Knights of Clarkson remained unbeaten at Cheel Arena in the ECAC playoffs with their weekend sweep of Brown, 3-2 in overtime and 3-1. It wasn’t pretty but the Knights are still the only team to move on to Lake Placid every single year the championships have been held there — seven times, to be exact.

In fact, the streak for the Golden Knights reaching the semifinal round of the ECAC tournament was started in 1990, the second year the Mark Morris was the head coach of the Knights.

Kent Huskins had both game-winning goals last weekend against the Bears. But of the six goals that the Knights scored, those two were by Huskins and the other four were by four different players.

"We have had a lot of different contributions from the goal on out," said head coach Mark Morris. "You will not see too many statistics individually that will knock you back, and say that this guy or that guy has been unbelievable. I think it has been a total effort by our team."

The Knights are on a roll with 15 wins in the last 16 games, but one can’t help but hear the whispers that come around at this time of the year, every year. How the Knights have only been able to win two ECAC championships in the 1990’s after making it to the semifinal round every year.

This year the Knights want to quiet those whispers.

Pick — Will the Knights get revenge on the Tigers for last year? Nope. Princeton 4, Clarkson 3, 2ot

ECAC Semifinal No. 2 Rensselaer Engineers (22-11-2) vs No. 2 St. Lawrence Saints (22- 11-3) Friday, 4:00 pm, 1980 Arena, Lake Placid, NY Earlier This Season: Jan. 29 : St. Lawrence 5, @ Rensselaer 4; Feb. 13: @St. Lawrence 4, Rensselaer 3 Last Playoff Meeting: 1992 ECAC Semifinal (@Boston) – St. Lawrence; 6-5, 2ot

The St. Lawrence Saints are making their first appearance in the ECAC championship Round since 1992. That year, they defeated Rensselaer en route to the title in the last tourney to be played at the Boston Garden.

This year the Saints go to Lake Placid for the first time and will meet up with the same team that they last faced in the semifinals — the Rensselaer Engineers.

The Saints swept by Vermont, 9-2 and 4-1, and are cruising going into the championship round.

"They got some bounces and created some chances on their own," said head coach Joe Marsh on the win. "It was a great night, but we couldn’t dwell on it, because we had to turn around and do it all over again on Saturday. You would think momentum would be on our side, but history shows that it doesn’t always work out that way. We beat Vermont 8-2 the first night in 1991, but they came back and won the second game and could well have taken the series."

But the Cats didn’t that year, and they didn’t in 1999 either.

"Saturday’s game was just the kind of game we expected," said Marsh. "A close-checking game more typical of playoff hockey. We got a big break on the winning goal, but I was particularly pleased with our defensive play, and then we were able to put it away late in the game. It was a great weekend for us and it should give us a momentum boost going into the semifinals."

While it may have seemed easy for the Saints, the Engineers had to battle back against Harvard. The Crimson took game one, 2-1, but the Engineers came back to win two straight, 4-0 and 4-2, to advance.

"The guys in that locker room realized how we let the first game slip away from us by not playing the first 40 minutes on Friday," said head coach Dan Fridgen. "We played seven solid periods of great hockey after that and the guys came up big. Our big players came up big for us.

"It was a real solid defensive effort, especially on the power play. [Harvard] didn’t score one power-play goal over the three games and that’s a credit to the PK unit. They sacrificed their bodies and they blocked shots."

The Engineers and the Saints battled closely in their two regular-season meetings, both won by the Saints by one goal. In the first meeting, the Saints scored with four seconds remaining to beat the Engineers. In the rematch two weeks later, the Saints never trailed, winning 4-3.

This time around the Engineers are looking to break through against the Saints; the Saints are looking to continue their dominance over the Engineers.

"We’re looking forward to another opportunity to play St. Lawrence," said Fridgen. "Both games were pretty close and it should be a heck of a game.

"We match up real well with them and we’re looking for a little bit of redemption."

Pick — Fridgen is right. These two teams match up against each other real well. Both teams have great forwards that can score, wheeling up and down the ice, and both have great freshmen in Matt Murley and Brandon Dietrich, and goaltending in Joel Laing and Eric Heffler. Someone has to win this one, so we’ll put our money on Heffler in the clutch. St. Lawrence 4, Rensselaer 3 in overtime

ECAC Consolation/Championship Saturday, 4:00 pm/7:00 pm, 1980 Arena, Lake Placid, NY Earlier This Season: Nov. 21: @St. Lawrence 3, Clarkson 1; Jan. 23: @Clarkson 5, St. Lawrence 4; Jan. 30 : Clarkson 5, @ Rensselaer 3; Feb. 12: @Clarkson 6, Rensselaer 4; Jan. 3: @Rensselaer 4, Princeton 1; Mar. 5: @Princeton 4, Rensselaer 3 ot; Dec. 4: Rensselaer 4, @Colgate 3 ot; Feb. 27: @Rensselaer 4, Colgate 0; Nov. 13: Princeton 2, @St. Lawrence 0; Jan. 2: @St. Lawrence 3, Colgate 2; Feb. 20: St. Lawrence 4, @Princeton 1; Mar. 6: @Colgate 2, St. Lawrence 1 Last Playoff Meetings: St. Lawrence vs Colgate; 1994 ECAC Preliminary Round (@Colgate) – Colgate; 4-3; St. Lawrence vs Princeton; 1992 ECAC Quarterfinal (@St. Lawrence) – St. Lawrence; 6-3; St. Lawrence vs Clarkson; 1993 ECAC Quarterfinals (@Clarkson) – Clarkson; 3-1, 5-3; Rensselaer vs Colgate; 1995 ECAC Semifinal (@Lake Placid) – Rensselaer; 2-1; Rensselaer vs Princeton; 1997 ECAC Consolation (@Lake Placid) – Rensselaer; 8-4; Rensselaer vs Clarkson; 1994 ECAC Semifinal (@Lake Placid) – Rensselaer; 6-2;

Picks: Consolation Game — Does anyone want to play in this game? Clarkson is getting ready for the NCAAs, while the Engineers finish out the season. Clarkson 5, Rensselaer 3

Championship Game — Ah, the Whitelaw Trophy on the line. The Saints are hungry, but the Tigers are looking to repeat. The Tigers earn their way to the NCAAs with their second straight crown. Princeton 4, St. Lawrence 3

We hope that everybody has had an enjoyable ECAC season — we know that we have. See you at Lake Placid and see you next year!

Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy are ECAC Correspondents for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1999 Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy. All rights reserved.