This Week in the ECAC: December 1, 1999

The Gate Is Open

The musical chair of ECAC teams in the USCHO Poll has a new leader this week, in the form of the seventh-ranked Red Raiders of Colgate. The Red Raiders captured the 17th annual Syracuse Invitational this past weekend with wins over Merrimack and Niagara.

“They really wanted this, they really wanted to be the 1999 SIT champions,” said head coach Don Vaughan about his team’s first SIT championship since 1984. “They take it in stride and they know the monkey is off of their backs. They have to listen to (the fact that Colgate has not won an SIT since 1984), they read it on the Internet or they read it in the papers, so that’s gone. But their focus after this game — sure they are enjoying it, but their focus is on next weekend. That’s where the focus is for the staff and they’ll enjoy the ride home, but we have to get ready for two league games next weekend.”

The Red Raiders sit at 9-2-0, including some big wins this season already. The Red Raiders split a pair at Colorado College to open the season, with the win a 3-0 Shep Harder shutout. They have also defeated Rensselaer, St. Lawrence and Niagara, teams which have been getting a lot of votes in the polls.

One of the labels that Colgate bears is that of a shootout team, because the Red Raiders have the big offensive guns. That was the case twice this season already, in an 8-6 loss to Union and a 7-6 win over Brown. But put aside those two games and the Red Raiders have put together some consistent numbers on defense. In the nine other games that they have played, they have allowed 22 goals — 2.44 per.

“I have to give credit where it is due,” said Vaughan. “Stan [Moore] and Andrew [Dickson] have done a great job with our defense. They’re probably the most underrated group in our league and it’s the way they are playing back there. We’re finally getting back to where we’re not giving up six or seven goals per game and you’re not going to win games down the stretch that way and so our focus has been on defense. They’re probably not getting the credit they deserve back there.”

Supporting them is goaltender Shep Harder. Harder was just named the ECAC Goaltender of the Week and has gotten the lion’s share of the work this season. Harder has a .908 save percentage and a 2.56 GAA.

“He’s steady as always for us back there this year,” Vaughan said about Harder. “He’s had a couple of bad moments, but overall he’s been really consistent and the guys feel real comfortable in front of him right now.”

The other “label” that Colgate has garnered over the past few seasons is the “label” of not getting past the second half of the season strong despite starting the season out fast. But last season, the Red Raiders made it to Lake Placid after winning a road quarterfinal series at Yale.

“We got that monkey off of our back last year, but I’m not sure that will completely go away,” said Vaughan of that label. “Especially when we get off to where we are now. We know that it takes us three months to play eight league games and then we’ll play eight league games in four weeks and it becomes a sprint. So much changes then, our league doesn’t come into focus until the beginning of February and that’s what we have to keep in our minds; that it’s a long season.

“It’s nice to be on top, yeah it is. Of course we’d rather be 9-2 than 2-9.”

And that 9-2 start has led to a number-seven ranking for the Red Raiders. But as usual, Vaughan takes it in stride.

“I think it’s great for the program, our alumni like it and it’s great for recruiting but our focus has to be on the process, on the day-to-day things,” he calmly stated. “We can’t start reading our press clippings and thinking that we are better than we are because it’s a crazy game. The puck has bounced for us at times for us this year, especially on the power play, but we have to get back to work and all the cliches that you want to use. And that’s the challenge because there is always that other thing lurking out there — the second half. We’ve got to take it a day at a time. It sounds kind of corny, but that’s the way it has to be with us.”

Taking A Step Back

After blazing to a 4-1 start, Mark Mazzoleni’s Harvard team has taken two steps back. The first one came in the form of a lackluster 2-1 loss to Boston University. The Crimson quickly dispelled any thoughts that the loss was merely a result of a nine-day layoff by falling to a then-winless Brown squad, 4-1, on Saturday night.

“Obviously, we’re not pleased about the outcomes of this past week, but it’s not from a lack of effort,” said Mazzoleni. “Against Brown in particular, we had a number of scoring opportunities but just did not finish real well. To Brown’s credit, they were opportunistic in converting their chances.”

The first-year head coach always said that the real test for his team would be when they faced defeat — something which he successfully avoided for the first few weeks of the season. Even the first loss of the season at Colgate didn’t really count since it was mollified by the following night’s victory at Lynah. How impressive was that win from a Harvard standpoint? Think of it this way, from the 1990-91 season to the 1994-95 campaign, Harvard held a 9-0-3 record against Cornell, but then from 1995-96 to 1999-2000, Cornell went 9-2-1 against the Crimson.

It is only now, after consecutive losses to its cross-town rival and ECAC travel partner, that Harvard shown its vulnerability.

“We’ve got to look at ourselves and take a look in the mirror and find out where it is because we can’t keep doing this,” said Steve Moore, who currently stands second behind freshman Brett Nowak on the team in scoring with a goal and six assists. “I think we’ll have to sit down as a team and talk about it and hopefully be ready to go next weekend.”

Against a very inspired Brown team, which was welcoming back Scott Stirling for the first time since the season opener, Harvard was stymied offensively and pummeled defensively. Despite the fact that the Crimson made Stirling fend off 29 shots throughout the night, there were few quality scoring opportunities created by the offense — and even fewer were capitalized on.

“We had good possession of the puck in the offensive zone, but we just didn’t generate any scoring opportunities like we have been,” said defenseman Peter Capouch. “I just think it was indicative of how the whole night went.”

Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of the ice either — a major concern for the Crimson since day one. The final goal of the night for Brown on Saturday night was a perfect example. After Harvard’s Tim Stay attempted to skate the puck into the Brown zone, Mike Bent swiped the puck right off of his stick. Stay’s defensive partner had pinched so far into the zone that he was unable to recover in time. Both blueliners saw only the flicker of the red light and Bent’s back as he wristed a shot past Prestifilippo.

“Of course we have to give credit to our opponent, but that’s two times in a row that we’ve come out of the chute at home and we haven’t gotten it done,” Mazzoleni said. “It’s not acceptable.”

The positive side of the coin has to be the potential of the offensive corps. Although out of sync throughout the past two games, the forwards have been led this season by impressive individual play from such players as the younger Nowak and Dominic Moore. And even Moore’s older brother Steve and Chris Bala have had moments when they would break through neutral ice with speed and create offensive chances with either nifty stick-handling moves or sheer brute force.

With a full week of practice under their belts and a team meeting to boot, the players are hoping to be refreshed for this weekend’s play, which will no doubt challenge all facets of the Crimson’s roster. The defense will have to find a way to control the explosive Rensselaer forwards on Friday, while the offense will be tested against the shifty and often stingy Union squad the following night.

“There’s no doubt that this will be a tough road trip, and we’re anticipating two different types of games,” Mazzoleni said. “RPI will most likely open things up considerably, and we have to be aware of our transition from offense to defense. Against Union, which has proven that it can beat anybody so far this year, we’re expecting more of a defensive game.

“We just have to move forward because I honestly feel as though we have yet to play a solid, full 60 minutes of hockey.”

Jekyll And Hyde?

It was a wicked tale of two teams for Dartmouth.

On Friday night at Thompson Arena, Dartmouth was overmatched and physically battered by Western Michigan. After keeping up with the Broncos through the first period, it all went downhill from there. Dartmouth surrendered four unanswered tallies in just the second period en route to a disastrous 7-3 defeat. The following night the Big Green got revenge with a sweet 4-3 payback.

“[The Broncos] made the best of their opportunities, no question about it,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet about the Friday night loss. “They found a way, they caught us on their heels and they forechecked us intensely. When we don’t play as well as we can, we’re susceptible to a good team like that. We’ll see that type of play from a number of teams in our league and that’s where we want to get better.”

The main problem for the Big Green, who currently hold a 2-3-2 overall record, is their inability to protect their own net. Goaltender Eric Almon has had better years. Through four games this season, Almon has posted a .849 save percentage and a 3.93 goals-against average and has yet to record a win. He has received considerable competition from freshman Nick Boucher. Although Boucher’s numbers are not much better (.894 save percentage, 3.13 GAA), he holds the all-important 2-0-1 record in 1999.

“We want to get better in areas like where we gave up opportunities that hurt us just inside our blue line,” said Gaudet. “Those are turnovers that are not unforced turnovers, but in the game of hockey they are relatively unforced. Our guys are used to playing in that environment and we just didn’t do a real good job at it. I’d like to see us make some better decisions in our end of the ice. There are situations that are fairly common in the course of a game and we have to do a better job of getting the puck over our blue line.”

Many won’t hesitate to connect the struggles in net with the youth on defense, but it’s hard to fault a group of defensemen who are pulling more than their weight offensively. Currently, Big Green blueliners stand second, third and fourth in team scoring. They are led by freshman standout Trevor Bryne, who has amassed five points (three goals, two assists) and classmate Peter Summerfelt (one goal, two assists) and Dory Tisdale (one goal, two assists). Only sophomore sniper Mike Maturo stands in front with a team-leading three goals and three assists.

“We’ve been trying to get our guys to the front of the net, that’s what we have been trying to do,” said Gaudet. “Make the simple plays, shoot the puck off the glass to get it out and those are things that we have to get better at. Part of it’s mental and part of it’s physical and a lot of our own end play is mental and that’s what we have to get better at. Sometimes we are, sometimes we aren’t.”

Something has to be said for the Big Green attack. Thirteen different players have anywhere from six to two points. There was no better example of this spread-out offense than in the 4-3 win against Western Michigan. In that contest, nine different players figured into the scoring.

Gaudet is still not satisfied.

“I’m trying to look at a couple of different guys and some different combinations and I have to honestly get a sense of a few more of our players,” Gaudet continued. “We don’t have many that haven’t played, but we have an extremely young group that I just want to grow up. I’m patient and I know that they are, but I want it to be consistent, so much so that we can control it. The effort is one area and the preparation for a game understanding that we’re into a battle and that we’re not going to be given anything and that is really crucial for us to be good in this league.”

3-2 Mania

Cornell dropped three games in a six-day stretch this past week, to Providence, Niagara and Merrimack — all by 3-2 scores.

The last two games were part of the Syracuse Invitational and after the loss to Merrimack in the consolation game, head coach Mike Schafer was mixed in his message.

“It’s a better effort,” he said. “Our guys were disappointed coming off of [the Niagara game] but we still gave up two soft goals and a goal where we didn’t pick up guys coming back and we’re a totally different team than we were just a week ago.

“Obviously we must have been satisfied with a couple of wins at home and now we have to get back to the drawing board.”

The Big Red were coming off of three wins at home in four games against Brown, St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The Big Red were looking good heading into last week, but the three losses has brought up questions and perplexity from Schafer.

“Down in Providence we created a lot of chances and didn’t score, against Niagara we played poorly and they played very well, you have to score every chance you get and we’ve got to do a better job of capitalizing,” he said. “The work ethic to get to the net and to create rebounds and hustle on loose pucks, those are things that you don’t see in the scoring line and that’s what we weren’t doing this weekend.”

One interesting change in the Big Red lineup for this past weekend saw defenseman Larry Pierce moving up to play the left wing.

“He gave us hustle and speed up there,” explained Schafer. “I’m looking for the guys that jump on loose pucks and create turnovers and Larry did that for us [against Merrimack].”

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