The Dutchmen Cometh
It was a bad bus ride home from Massachusetts almost two weeks ago. The Union Skating Dutchmen had just dropped 6-2 and 3-1 decisions to Mass-Lowell and Merrimack and sat at 0-5-0 on the season. Less than a week later, the Dutchmen shocked many with an 8-6 win over Colgate in their ECAC league opener.
“We had player meetings all week and tried to focus the guys on things,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “The only thing we can control now is the present, and what’s in the past is past. A lot of articles had been written about how we hadn’t won in 17 games and I just kept saying to the guys, ‘Yeah, we’re 0-5, but our schedule and the level of competition, we have to pull the positives out of that.'”
And they certainly did with that 8-6 victory as a lot of streaks were snapped that evening for the Dutchmen. They had lost their last 14 games, dating back to a tie against Harvard last season. They had not won in 17 games, dating back to a victory over Army last January, and they had not won an ECAC game in 19 contests, dating back to November, 1997, when they beat Rensselaer. The Dutchmen also scored at even strength, something they had not done for over 26 periods of play.
“We knew that Colgate has a lot of talent and …. I think they still have more skill and talent overall, and we felt that heart could beat that,” said Sneddon. “There were 20 guys that believed in themselves and they outmatched the speed and skill of Colgate.”
“We weren’t ready for that kind of game,” acknowledged Colgate head coach Don Vaughan.
The next evening, the Dutchmen clung to a 1-0 lead until 2:17 left in the third period, when Cornell scored. The Big Red eventually won in overtime, disappointing those looking for the first Union ECAC weekend sweep since they defeated Colgate and Cornell at the end of the 1997-98 season.
“It was kind of disappointing on Saturday night; it was just one of those things,” said Sneddon. “[Cornell] had some nice plays and the next thing you know you are losing in overtime.
“That was the thing I was most impressed with our team — they were able to handle two different styles. We didn’t want to focus on the negatives and after Friday I didn’t want them to focus too much on the highs.”
“The guys started to believe in themselves and that was the key,” added Sneddon. “It’s a very focused group this year. Everyone is on the same page and it’s a matter of the guys not accepting anything but 110% of themselves.
“It’s a fine line — guys start to almost accept not winning and I had to teach them how to hate to lose. Looking back on Lowell and Merrimack it might have been a good thing. It gave me the opportunity to show the guys what it’s like when you don’t perform, and not give yourselves a chance to win. If we go hard, there will still be times when we fall short, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity, and that’s to play Union-style hockey: that’s to get to the puck first and to be physical. Only good things can come of that.”
A weekend split is not something every team strives for, but it was important to the Dutchmen.
“I think so from a confidence standpoint,” agreed Sneddon. “But I can’t let up on the guys. I can’t let them think that they are going to be successful now and that things will come easy now. The way we’re going to be successful is to come with that grit and determination, and that will allow us a chance to win.
“I’m hoping that it’s contagious. I don’t want them to get complacent. It’s only one win and I want them to get hungry for another win. We showed glimpses of that, coming back, competing well against Cornell and now it’s my job to make sure that they focus on that. If we can do that, we’ll be successful weekend after weekend.”
Let’s Play Special Teams, Part II
This week we chronicle the exploits of the Colgate Red Raiders on the power play, where they have been lethal this season. They have 10 power-play goals in 33 opportunities — a 30 percent clip.
“Our power play has been working well,” understated head coach Don Vaughan. “We got five [Friday] and three [Saturday], and we’ve been moving it around all right; unfortunately, and not to read too much into it, we end up seeing a lot of special teams now. You have to spend at least two days practicing it.”
The Red Raiders came out of the weekend with 21 power plays, scoring on eight of them. That’s 38.1 percent, in case you didn’t have your abacus.
The dangerous first says it all. Andy McDonald centers Sean Nolan and Daryl Campbell, with Cory Murphy and Mike Marostega on the points. It’s not really a coincidence that they are the top five scorers on the squad.
Still Going …
Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni must have awakened early on Sunday morning and immediately checked the papers. His eyes did not deceive him; his Harvard team was undefeated.
After having a mere three months to prepare for the season, implementing an entirely new system along the way, the first year Harvard coach had done what many believed impossible — he had led the struggling Crimson to a 3-0 record. This past weekend it was an offensively dominating homestand in which the team posted 13 goals, the most by the Crimson during a homestand since 1994 and the most in a home opening weekend since 1990. Some were enough impressed by Harvard’s performance to vote them into the top 10.
“We really wanted to start this season and sort of send a message to the league that we’re going to be real contenders this year,” said Harvard senior goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo, who in two games has a 1.00 GAA and a .966 save percentage. “We wanted to get the offense going and that’s what we did.”
There is no denying that the close-marking style of Mazzoleni has suited the Harvard players just fine through two weekends of play. The system has allowed the Crimson snipers to find open ice and penetrate the red zone with ease. Two players who have benefited the most have been the highly-touted rookies, Brett Nowak and Dominic Moore. Last weekend, the two newcomers combined for five goals and three assists. More impressive than the sheer numbers, however, was their confidence on the ice as many of those goals came from spectacular individual moves.
“They are both very, very good players and I think the thing that we are trying to do — and they are reaping the benefits of — is a good, balanced attack,” Mazzoleni said. “When you look at their ice time, it’s probably not in the top half of what we’re putting out there with our forwards, but they are just chipping in real well out there. They are just very skilled players.”
Asked about their ability to create one-on-one, Mazzoleni replied. “You can’t teach that.”
Likewise, older players such as Jamin Kerner, Matt McLeod and Scott Turco are finding a home in the Mazzoleni system, and that newfound confidence and excitement is contagious. “This [past] weekend was very big,” said Harvard senior captain Trevor Allman. “It’s all about confidence with our new system right now, and putting the past behind us.”
The schedule has been one of Mazzoleni’s biggest assets thus far. The defensive holes and lack of experience with a 1-3-1 system has yet to be exposed by the likes of Brown, Dartmouth and Vermont. Defensively, the Crimson has gotten solid play from newcomer Aaron Kim, sophomore Peter Capouch and senior Matt Scorsune, but they will be tested by the agility and experience of Colgate and Cornell this coming weekend. Unlike the past three games, each errant deflection and miscommunication on defense will be punished.
Is this team for real? The jury is still out, but if the Mazzoleni system can stand up to the pressure of its first real road trip and the speed and size of Cornell and Colgate, then maybe, just maybe …
Earning Their Stripes …
After getting trounced by Niagara in the season opener, the sympathy thoughts (or hearty high-fives, depending upon who you are a fan of) began streaming towards Princeton, N.J. It appeared that it was going to be a very long season for Don “Toot” Cahoon and his Tigers as they tried to get over the loss of a dynamic senior class.
One week later, such ideas have changed. Is Princeton actually going to be a contender after all? Following an impressive performance against a stingy St. Lawrence club in which the Tigers outshot the Saints by a 45-29 margin, and then a gutsy come-from-behind tie with Clarkson on Saturday night, the answer could be a resounding yes.
“We’re a whole lot more organized than we were two weeks ago,” said Cahoon, following the surprising 3-1 loss against St. Lawrence.
Although the Tigers are having trouble finishing — they did, after all, only score four times on a total of 75 shots last weekend — they are beginning to show signs of cohesiveness. Case in point, the Princeton power play created numerous scoring chances down the stretch against St. Lawrence and then Shane Campbell played the role of hero with the game-tying goal against Clarkson.
“When you play Clarkson, it’s very hard to generate flow,” Cahoon said. “They’re physical, they lock on, and they live and die with the power play and faceoff plays, and they live and die with all these little things. [We’re] a team with a group that hasn’t experienced a lot of that.
This weekend will be an enlightening experience for Princeton. The young Tiger corps was thrown into the fire during its first league weekend, having to face two of the top-ranked teams. Dartmouth and Vermont should be less daunting to Princeton defensively as both lack the tight-checking, disciplined style of Clarkson and St. Lawrence. But Princeton made it very clear last weekend that although it has the innate talent to compete with anyone, it also has many roadblocks to overcome before it can compete week in and week out.
“We’re a long way from being game ready,” Cahoon admitted. “There are situations that arise during the game where it’s a whole new thing with a whole new group of people. So we need more practice and we need more games.”
New Sheriff In Town?
Clarkson head coach Mark Morris is on the verge of becoming the all-time win leader as a head coach at Clarkson. With one win this weekend against Union or Rensselaer Morris compiles his 254th win at Clarkson, tying him with the legendary Len Ceglarski. Two wins and Morris is the new leader in Potsdam.
The Eli On A Roll
Picked to finish seventh, but closing the gap quickly. That could just be the running motto of the Yale Bulldogs through one weekend of league play.
Things weren’t looking so great for Tim Taylor’s team after losing five players, including All-American candidate Jeff Hamilton, to a preseason suspension. But the team has come out of the gates strong, beginning with an impressive (if a loss can be impressive) 3-2 season-opening loss to then sixth-ranked Michigan at Yost Arena.
The Bulldogs have only dropped one since, and that was a 2-0 empty-net contest against one of the stingiest teams in the league — St. Lawrence.
The rotating goalie system of Trevor Hanger and Dan Lombard is working smoothly. Both netminders have stepped up to the plate in the absence of All-American Alex Westlund and have provided stability to the defensive corps. The two combined for 66 saves over the weekend.
It is no surprise, however, that with Hamilton sidelined the past four games, finishing has been an issue for Taylor. Yale’s lone goals this past weekend came from somewhat unlikely sources in Lee Jelenic and Luke Earl.
“In retrospect, in both games we had a plenty of breakaways and our share of quality chances,” said Taylor to the Yale Daily News. “We’ve got to finish, but it’s not easy to score.”
Hamilton is expected to return to the lineup on Saturday against Dartmouth.
“We have the potential to be very good; we had some pretty good chances and worked hard to get them,” continued Taylor. “But we scored two goals in 120 minutes of hockey and you can’t do that.”
Thanks to Adam Wodon for his help with this week’s column.
All photographs used by permission of the appropriate Sports Information Departments. Any reproduction without authorization is prohibited.