This Week in the ECAC: February 24, 2000

On With The Show

Well, enough nonsense already. There are 20 ECAC games left. 20 games until an automatic bid is decided. 20 games until five teams get to play the quarterfinals at home. 20 games until one of eleven teams left doesn’t get to move on. There are 10 this week and 10 next week. Let’s get on with the show.

First, we give you the ECAC Standings:

Team GP GL Record Pct. GB

1. St. Lawrence 17 3 13- 3-1 .794 — 2. Colgate 17 3 12- 4-1 .735 1.0 3. Rensselaer 17 4 9- 7-1 .559 4.0 4. Cornell 17 3 8- 8-1 .500 5.0 Dartmouth 17 4 7- 7-3 .500 5.0 Princeton 17 4 7- 7-3 .500 5.0 7. Clarkson 17 3 6- 8-3 .441 6.0 Yale 17 4 6- 8-3 .441 6.0 9. Harvard 17 4 6- 9-2 .412 6.5 10. Union 17 4 5-11-1 .324 8.0 11. Brown 17 4 4-12-1 .265 9.0

We’ll talk about playoff possibilities a little more next week, because if we did that this week, our editor would kill us for the length.

OK, now it’s time to take a look at the 10 games this week.

St. Lawrence and Clarkson at Union and Rensselaer

This matchup of four teams seemed to be the highlight of the weekend — if one were looking at this weekend about a month ago. You had the potential matchup for first place in St. Lawrence and Rensselaer, and perhaps a battle for home ice or the remaining playoff spot in the ECAC.

My, how things have changed.

St. Lawrence looked to have the lead comfortably in hand with four games left to play, and then the Saints ran into Brown and were whitewashed, knocking their lead to just one game in the ECAC standings over Colgate.

Rensselaer was looking to make moves towards first, and then three straight losses have derailed them. The best the Engineers can do now is second.

Union was battling for home ice until the Dutchmen lost five straight.

Clarkson was in danger of not making the playoffs, but now the Golden Knights are only one game back of getting home ice.

My, how things have changed.

The Saints had a two-game lead on Colgate with four games to play before getting stung, and, as mentioned above, sit one game in front of the Red Raiders following Saturday’s loss.

“Saturday’s loss just makes the last three games more important,” said head coach Joe Marsh. “Every one of these last three games is going to be a battle, because all of the teams are fighting for the playoffs and both Rensselaer (Saturday’s opponent) and Dartmouth (next Saturday’s opponent) are fighting for home ice.”

With two games on the road this weekend, only one thing is certain — the Saints will be the first or second seed in the ECAC playoffs.

Over in Troy, Rensselaer is reeling from a combination of three straight losses and the injury bug. After getting swept by Colgate and Cornell on the road last weekend, the Engineers find themselves just one game from losing the home ice which seemed inevitable a few weeks ago.

Over the past four games, the Engineers have lost Joel Laing, Brian Pothier, Dan Eberly and Pete Gardiner to injuries.

“Disappointing,” said head coach Dan Fridgen of the past weekend. “I thought we played real hard, probably as hard as we could play…We had to get some guys in the lineup who aren’t normally in the lineup, and it certainly showed. I thought we handled (having seniors out) very well as we took it to the end.”

With four games left in the season, only two things are certain — the Engineers are in the playoffs and the Engineers can finish no higher than second.

Union was in the midst of fighting for home ice — then a five-game losing streak hit, capped off by a 9-3 loss to Colgate last Saturday.

“You can’t win games against teams of Colgate’s caliber without taking care of the puck in your own zone,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I can’t understand how we can be so aggressive at times and then get so careless. I hope our guys are embarrassed by what went on [Saturday] and use it as motivation.”

With four games left in the season, nothing is known about the Dutchmen, who can finish in or out of the playoffs.

Clarkson, in the meantime, is the only team coming into this set with a win. In fact, the Golden Knights are coming in with two straight wins after sweeping Brown and Harvard this past weekend.

“At this stage of the season we are pleased to be on the right track, and although we did not play our best hockey over the weekend, we did a lot of things well,” said head coach Mark Morris. “RPI and Union are stinging right now from losing two over the weekend and you can bet they will be gearing up for this weekend. It should be a great series.

“We will have to be on top of our game. We will have to consider every game forward as playoff hockey. Since we have not had a whole lot of highlights so far this season, we are bound to have our best hockey in front of us.”

With only three games left in the ECAC season, the Golden Knights, like the Dutchmen, can finish in or out of the playoffs.

Harvard and Brown at Princeton and Yale

The battle of the Ivies has taken a different twist in the past few weeks.

About a month ago, it appeared that Yale and Harvard would be fighting for home ice, Princeton would be jockeying for a favorable quarterfinal match up on the road and Brown would be cleaning up the locker room and making plans for next season.

Since then, it’s as if someone took the ECAC standings and shook them up, because what is left is nothing like what we had expected just 30 days ago.

Although Brown has zero shot at a home-ice berth, the Bears have collected three crucial league points in their last four games and have taken advantage of a late-season Union slide. Currently, the Bears sit in 11th place, but could easily move into a tie for the final playoff spot on Friday with a win over Yale and a loss by Union. If all goes well for the Bears, they could finish as high as sixth place.

Considering that last weekend the Bears provided the league with its biggest upset in some time, let’s start with them. How did a team, which had been — for argument’s sake — dead in the water two weeks ago, with a rock-bottom 2-11 record, push second-place Colgate to overtime and then dismantle St. Lawrence last Saturday night, 6-0?

“I thought going into the game that we’d play hard,” said head coach Roger Grillo. “We’ve been pretty injury-free up front for the past few games, which has allowed us to keep some lines intact, which has let the guys get a feel for each other on the ice.

“There is a fine line between winning and losing in this league. If [St. Lawrence] had come out in the second period and scored, it’s a different game. We were on the right side of the line this time, and we just need to keep it up.”

We do know that the Bears will either be in the playoffs and on the road, or out of the playoffs.

With a bit of good luck and a string of wins, Brown has a chance of catching ninth-place Harvard, which is coming off another 0-for weekend — this time dropping two hard-fought contests against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The team is now winless in its last seven ECAC games. Harvard can’t seem to win in 2000 as they are now 1-6-1 since the New Year, dropping from second to ninth in the standings. The drought has been so dismal the past two months that Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni may need to take a page out of the Princeton book and offer to shave his head to motivate his team to pull out a three- or four-point weekend.

Inconsistency up front and defensive lapses along the blue line have plagued the Crimson all season long. The one bright spot this past weekend was the performance of the newly-formed first line of Chris Bala, Brett Nowak and Trevor Allman. The trio combined for three goals and helped boost Harvard’s struggling offense, but to no avail.

Bala, in particular, has been playing with increased confidence as of late. He has pulled into a tie with Steve Moore for the team lead in points with 18 and almost became the hero on Friday night against Clarkson. After the Crimson had pulled to within 4-3 of the Golden Knights, Bala broke down the left wing and fired a shot which clearly beat Clarkson goalie Karl Mattson. Unfortunately for Bala, the puck pinged off the far post and bounced to Adam Campana, who led Clarkson on a 2-on-1 break which eventually led to the backbreaking fifth Clarkson goal.

“Sometimes you have to be puck-lucky,” Mazzoleni said. “Face it, there is luck in sports. They seem to throw it on goal and it bounces in, where we hit three posts and we’re hammering the puck from the middle of the slot, and get nothing. To be the type of team we want to be sometimes you have to experience failure. I couldn’t have asked the team to play any harder than they did.”

Another team which hasn’t been puck lucky the past month has been Yale. After a fast start, the Eli has won only one league game in its last seven tries. This weekend’s final home contest for Yale is undoubtedly the biggest of the year, as Yale currently sits in a two-way tie for seventh place and a mere .059 (in terms of percentage points) out of the three-way logjam in fourth.

“We have two big games [this] weekend,” said head coach Tim Taylor following a disturbing 2-1 loss to Dartmouth on Friday night. “Obviously, I would think that somebody with a better-than-.500 win percentage would have a real good chance of home ice [in the first round of the playoffs]. This was a giant step in the wrong direction for us in a pivotal game.”

Like Harvard, Yale is either in or out of the playoffs, and that’s all we know.

Just two weeks ago, Princeton made a serious move up the standings by sweeping RPI and Union, and then followed that performance up by knocking off Dartmouth last weekend.

Princeton maintained its momentum with a perfunctory 5-2 win over Dartmouth on Sunday afternoon. Kirk Lamb added a goal and two assists to up his team-leading point total to 24 (8-16), while netminder Dave Stathos held off the Big Green with a 34-save performance, 15 of them coming in the third period.

“There’s a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose,” said head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon about the third period. “We were playing in the end not to lose, and that’s what had me so concerned. That’s something we’re going to have to address.

“You’re not going to win a lot of big games when you shift gears to that extreme. The team has to learn something from that. But I was really pleased with the way the guys came to play, especially in the first 35 minutes.”

Much like Yale and Harvard, Princeton has not yet earned a playoff slot, but could finish as high as third and as low as 11th depending on the outcome of the remaining games.

Colgate and Cornell at Dartmouth

There is bound to be some shuffling in the ECAC standings after this set is through. Colgate is one back of the leaders in the ECAC and are looking to get to the top. Cornell and Dartmouth are tied for fourth place and the winner of that game will take a giant step towards gaining home ice for the ECAC quarterfinals. It’s going to be a tough weekend in New Hampshire.

Colgate clinched home ice for the ECAC playoffs and moved within one game of the ECAC leaders with a sweep of Rensselaer and Union this past weekend and now look to get to the top of the heap and the automatic bid. The Red Raiders made their debut in the USCHO Top Ten this week and are poised and the stretch is here.

“We’re trying to find that right balance right now,” said head coach Don Vaughan. “At this time of year practice can get a little mundane and it’s more mental than anything.

“It’s nice to be at home,” he added, referring to the home-ice playoff berth the Raiders have already secured.

The gang in Ithaca is jumping for joy right now. The Cornell Big Red swept Union and Rensselaer this weekend and in the process are tied for fourth place in the ECAC and a home ice spot for the playoffs.

“Our guys showed a lot of character once again,” said head coach Mike Schafer. “We had strong play from a lot of role players on our hockey team. The closer we get to the playoffs, the more those guys have to step up and they certainly did. And our power play is now coming together, so it is all coming around at the right time.”

The Big Red have three games left and have clinched a playoff spot.

Dartmouth had a chance to move into a third-place tie with Rensselaer on Sunday with a win over Princeton. But the Big Green trailed 4-0 headed into the third period, lost 5-2 and are in a three-way tie for fourth place. That still-strong position is a surprise to some, but not head coach Bob Gaudet.

“I really like this team,” he said. “People keep talking about next year and what we are going to do, but I think we can make waves this year.”

With four games left, the Big Green know one thing for certain — they will be playing in the postseason for the first time since 1996.

Thanks to Steve Marsi and David Sherzer for their contributions to this week’s column.

All photographs used by permission of the appropriate Sports Information Departments. Any reproduction without authorization is prohibited.