This Week in the ECAC: March 9, 2000

Jenga! Well, we figured it all out. It was easy, actually.

Colgate tied Princeton on Friday evening, giving St. Lawrence the regular-season title, the Saints’ first since 1983 when SLU won the West title, and its first outright ECAC regular-season championship. The Saints made it academic the next night with a 7-5 victory over Dartmouth.

Union defeated Brown on Saturday, 4-2, after each team lost on Friday, and the Dutchmen moved on to play St. Lawrence this weekend in the playoffs.

Then in the three-through-nine grouping, three teams swept the weekend — Rensselaer, Cornell and Clarkson. The fruits of their work? Home ice for the playoffs.

Princeton gained one point to finish sixth, Harvard got one win to finish seventh, Dartmouth got swept to finish eighth and Yale also got swept to finish ninth.

It’s all crystal-clear … now.

Team GP Record Pct. GB

1. St. Lawrence 20 16- 3-1 .825 — 2. Colgate 20 14- 4-2 .750 1.5 3. Rensselaer 21 11- 9-1 .548 5.5 4. Cornell 20 10- 9-1 .525 6.0 Clarkson 20 9- 8-3 .525 6.0 6. Princeton 21 8- 9-4 .476 7.0 Harvard 21 9-10-2 .476 7.0 8. Dartmouth 21 8-10-3 .452 7.5 9. Yale 21 6-11-4 .381 9.0 10. Union 21 6-14-1 .310 10.5 11. Brown 21 4-15-2 .238 12.0

Based on the following playoff tiebreaker criteria,

Head-to-Head Record Record Versus Top Five Teams Record Versus Top Ten Teams Goal Differential Head-To-Head Goal Differential Versus Top Five Teams Goal Differential Versus Top Ten Teams

we can break the two ties in the ECAC standings.

Cornell wins the tiebreaker over Clarkson with a 2-0-0 record against the Golden Knights. Princeton wins the tiebreaker over Harvard with a win in the Record Versus Top Five Teams category. The two teams split the season series, but Princeton went 3-5-2 versus the top five while Harvard went 1-8-1 against the top five.

So our playoff matchups are set.

#10 Union at # 1 St. Lawrence # 9 Yale at # 2 Colgate # 8 Dartmouth at # 3 Rensselaer # 7 Harvard at # 4 Cornell # 6 Princeton at # 5 Clarkson

Now let’s take a look at each matchup.

The Exorcist, Part IV? #6 Princeton (10-14-4, 8-9-4 ECAC) at #5 Clarkson (15-14-3, 9-8-3 ECAC) Fri. – Sun., 7:00 ET, Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY Earlier this season: Nov. 6, 1999 Clarkson 3, @Princeton 3, ot Feb. 4, 2000 @Clarkson 5, Princeton 2 Last Playoff Meeting: 1999 ECAC Semifinal Clarkson 6, Princeton 5

The start of our story lands us on the date of March 15, 1995. The site — Lake Placid, NY. The event — the ECAC semifinal between #1 Clarkson and #7 Princeton. Jonathan Kelley scores a third-period power-play goal and the Tigers move on to the ECAC championship game in their first appearance at Lake Placid. The Tigers would lose the championship to Rensselaer that year, but it was the start of something.

We now jump two years ahead in time. The date — March 14, 1997. The site — Lake Placid, NY. The event — the ECAC semifinal between #1 Clarkson and #6 Princeton. Todd White nets the hat trick and the Golden Knights move on to the ECAC championship game, but lose to Cornell the next night.

The date — March 21, 1998. The site — Lake Placid, NY. The event — the ECAC Championship Game between #2 Clarkson and #7 Princeton. Just 48 seconds into the second overtime, Syl Apps beat Dan Murphy and the Tigers won the ECAC championship, 5-4 (Warning! Very large file), sending them on their first trip to the NCAA tournament.

The date — March 19, 1999. The site — Lake Placid, NY. The event — the ECAC semifinal between #4 Princeton and #1 Clarkson. The Tigers rally furiously to tie the game up at five goals each, only to see Willie Mitchell’s blast from center ice go off Craig Bradley’s glove with three seconds left, giving the Golden Knights a 6-5 victory (Warning! Very large file) and advancement to the ECAC championship game.

In 1997, Todd White exorcised the ghost of Jonathan Kelley. In 1998, Syl Apps exorcised the ghost of Todd White. In 1999, Willie Mitchell exorcised the ghost of Syl Apps. In 2000, will a ghost be exorcised by Princeton or will Clarkson buck the trend?

It’s tough to say what is going to happen in this matchup this year. As you can see, these teams have quite a recent playoff history and its gone the other’s way each year that they have met in the playoffs. But, then again, what do trends have to do with the playoffs?

The most important trend, it seems, is the fact that Clarkson has won five straight ECAC contests and seven of the last nine. That string of seven was started with a win against Princeton. Eerie, eh?

The Tigers stumbled to the finish line, going 1-2-1 in their last four after reeling off three straight ECAC wins.

Or, how about this trend — the Golden Knights have never, ever, lost a playoff game at Cheel Arena.

Does any of this mean anything? The way most of this ECAC season has gone, the appropriate answer would be, “I don’t know.”

What is known is that these two teams have a thrilling history in the playoffs and this season, the stakes are just as high.

“I can’t think of a team in our league that plays as nasty as they do. I think it will be a very intense series and the last team standing will probably end up in Lake Placid,” said Clarkson coach Mark Morris. “They play a very antagonistic style of hockey. Benoit Morin is noted as an agitator and often times he can get you off your game. I think Princeton rallies around that aspect of their hockey team. Last time up here we had their number and hopefully that will prove true again this weekend.”

Can the Tigers take their turn at exorcising the ghosts of playoffs past?

This Ain’t No Love Story #7 Harvard (11-15-2, 9-10-2 ECAC) at #4 Cornell (13-12-2, 10-9-1 ECAC) Fri. – Sun., 7:00 ET, Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY Earlier this season: Nov. 13, 1999 Harvard 2, @Cornell 1 Feb. 4, 2000 Cornell 6, @Harvard 2 Last Playoff Meeting: 1997 Quarterfinals Cornell 2-2 and 4-1

The fans are excited. The players are pumped and the coaches are anxious. What more do you ask for in a series? When word spread that Harvard would be traveling to Lynah for the quarterfinal round of playoffs, the price of fish skyrocketed in Ithaca, NY.

The flying fish is the least of the Crimson’s worries, however. Head coach Mark Mazzoleni is more concerned with Cornell’s offensive attack, which pelted the Crimson with six goals back in the beginning of February, and with his team’s inconsistent play. Despite the fact that Harvard captured a major upset victory earlier this season with a 2-1 win in Ithaca, the Crimson have lost six of the previous nine playoff contests against the Big Red, including the last two meetings in 1996 and 1997.

In the past, Cornell has physically worn down Harvard in a three-game series. The story is very similar. Harvard plays even, and in most cases, outplays Cornell throughout the first game and either drops a heartbreaker or pulls out the tie. Too tired and beat up, the Crimson falls hard the following night. The key to this series is not brain surgery. In order for Harvard to win, Mazzoleni and his squad need to figure out a way to handle Cornell’s bigger, more physical style of play.

“We’re a real big, physical team, and I think their defensemen have a hard time handling our physical players,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said in his Weekly Coach’s Corner. “They have very skilled players, probably the best one-on-one players that we have faced all year, but we’re good defensively and our forwards will give them a hard time physically. It’s a difficult thing to come into Lynah and win two games.”

Harvard does indeed possess some of the best one-on-one players in the league in Steve and Dom Moore and Brett Nowak, who finally broke out of his offensive shell with the game-winning goal last Friday night against Union. Harvard will need to spread out its offense to give those type of skaters more room to move through neutral ice and create chances in front of the net. What Cornell has done so well against the Crimson in the past, is lock down the wings and quickly and effectively close down the passing lanes with hard checking.

Aside from its defensive strengths, Cornell has also been getting enough production from its top lines.

“Harvard has spread their offense around and we want Doug Murray and Danny Powell against the top line,” Schafer said. “But the key is to match up offensively, and I think they have some weaknesses that we can exploit when we have (Ryan) Moynihan or (Matt) McRae’s line out on the ice.”

The one positive for the Crimson, aside to the fact that they have won four of their last five ECAC contests, is that they have been able to produce on the road this season, outscoring conference opponents by a 30-25 margin on the road. Plus, the players are ready for the raucous crowd that awaits them Friday night at Lynah.

“We enjoy playing at Cornell,” said Harvard senior Trevor Allman. “It’s a difficult place to play, but the crowd generates our enthusiasm as well.”

It always comes back to the fish, doesn’t it?

“Lynah is a very intimidating place to play, and you have to come out strong and play a physical game,” Schafer said. “We need to play that kind of hockey to shut a team down … One of the reasons I like a physical team is that you have to play two games in a row, and I think Colgate benefited this year by playing a team after we were very physical against them.

“That helps you in a two-game set in that they have to come back the next night. It’s a physical edge when you come back and you have to play at least 120 minutes.”

Red Light, Green Light. One, Two, Three? #8 Dartmouth (9-15-4, 8-10-3 ECAC) at #3 Rensselaer (19-12-2, 11-9-1 ECAC) Fri. – Sun., 7:00 ET, Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY Earlier this season: Jan. 7, 2000 @Dartmouth 2, Rensselaer 0; Feb. 5, 2000 @Rensselaer 2, Dartmouth 0 Last Playoff Meeting: 1996 Preliminary Game Rensselaer 5, Dartmouth 4, ot

When all was said and done for the Rensselaer Engineers, they wound in the same place they were seven games ago — third place. A five-game losing streak put the Engineers into a third-place tie with one weekend to go. A sweep would give them home ice. A combination of things would give them third place.

Everything went the Engineers’ way last weekend, as Joel Laing shut out Brown and Harvard, 3-0 and 2-0 respectively, earning his fifth and sixth shutouts of the season and 12th and 13th career, both school records, and the Engineers landed in third place — just where they were when their slide began.

“It certainly is amazing, this game of ice hockey,” said Rensselaer head coach Dan Fridgen after the defeat of the Crimson. “To have that one weekend at Cornell and Colgate where we lost our opportunity, knowing what we know now about St. Lawrence and Colgate, and our shot at first place. Then we were looking to hold on to third place, and that even though we lost five in a row it didn’t really make a difference where we ended up.

“It’s good to see that with home ice on the line and that losing the game could have put us anywhere from the sixth to eighth spot, that these guys have an outing like this and work real hard. It shows the character of the team.”

The opposite actions plopped the Big Green of Dartmouth into eighth place. Two wins for the Big Green last weekend would have put them at home, but instead two losses dropped them to eighth.

Nevertheless, the Big Green are where they haven’t been since 1996 — the ECAC playoffs.

“You never like to lose,” Big Green head coach Bob Gaudet said of the season finale against St. Lawrence. “But I’m not thinking about that now.

“We’re in the show, we’re in the tournament, and we’re going to win it. That’s what we’re going to try to do. We’re going in with the thought that we’re going to win it. And I know that we’ll compete. I know that we’ll battle.”

If you back up a bit, the last time the Big Green made the ECAC playoffs, it was as the number-nine seed and they came to Rensselaer for the preliminary-round game. Jon Pirrong’s overtime goal sent the Big Green home in their only appearance since 1980.

Of concern to Rensselaer should be the health of the team. Marc Cavosie has missed four games in a row with an ankle injury and Matt Murley sat out last weekend with a hurt leg. These two were just the latest victims of the injury bug for the Engineers. But the Engineers continue to get healthy, and with that comes more weapons.

Of concern to Dartmouth should be their ability to contain the Engineer forwards and get the puck past stingy Joel Laing. The Big Green scored nine goals this past weekend after scoring just 10 in the previous six games, and they have to continue to put the puck in the net. But also of concern is the fact that the Big Green have allowed 30 goals in the last eight games.

Once And Again #9 Yale (9-14-5, 6-11-4 ECAC) at #2 Colgate (21-7-2, 14-4-2 ECAC) Fri. – Sun., 7:00 ET, Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY Earlier this season: Dec. 3, 1999 @Yale 2, Colgate 0 Mar. 4, 2000 @Colgate 7, Yale 1 Last Playoff Meeting: 1999 Quarterfinals Colgate 5-1, 7-2

The best part of the playoffs for Yale is the fact that they get to start fresh, brushing aside the events of the past few months. After a strong start to the season, the Eli has fallen apart during the second half of the season. The team has never been explosive offensively — no one expected as much from the Jeff Hamilton-less team — but the deterioration of its defensive prowess has been the real factor in the team’s 1-8-1 record in its last 10 games.

The low point came in last weekend’s regular-season finale against the Red Raiders when Yale was pounded, 7-1. Was the message sent to the folks in New Haven, or was that simply a meaningless game which will serve as a motivation tool for Tim Taylor? The Yale fans are hoping the latter is the case, and Colgate head coach Don Vaughan, whose team has lost only one game dating back to Jan. 15 against regular-season ECAC champion St. Lawrence, is not taking his team’s first round matchup lightly.

“[This] week is going to be completely different,” Vaughan said. “I have a lot of respect for [Yale coach] Tim Taylor, and I know he’s going to look at the videotape and they are going to adjust. We’ll probably be looking at a game similar to the one we played down in New Haven.”

In that contest last Saturday night, Yale was unable to contain the likes of Andy McDonald and Bryan Long, who both collected two goals. McDonald captured the ECAC individual scoring title this season by averaging 1.89 points per game in 19 conference games. The senior forward also posted 16 goals and 20 assists overall.

McDonald is one of a handful of impressive Red Raider snipers who have allowed Colgate to exorcise its own ghost of sorts this season — its tendency to fade during the second half of the season. Everyone was patiently awaiting that fall from grace, but it never happened this season. On the contrary, Colgate began playing some its best hockey late in the season and was a mere game away from clinching the regular-season championship from. How good was this season for Colgate? The team was a superb 12-1 at home this year and its 21-7-2, 14-4-2 (ECAC) record was the program’s best in 10 years.

If Yale is to make any noise in this quarterfinal round, it will need to get a solid performance in net to keep the Red Raiders’ offense at bay. That is easier said then done, however, as Colgate is averaging six goals per contest at Starr Rink this year. They are also allowing less than 2.5 goals per game which accounts for its 9-0-1 home record in conference games this season.

And don’t forget, the Eli also remember what the Red Raiders did last year, when they came into Ingalls Rink and took two games to move on to Lake Placid. That left the Eli as the only home ice team to not advance to Placid. They’re hoping to return the favor to the Red Raiders this season.

Top To Bottom #10 Union (8-22-1, 6-14-1 ECAC) at #1 St. Lawrence (22-7-2, 16-3-1 ECAC) Fri. – Sun., 7:00 ET, Appleton Arena, Canton, NY Earlier this season: Nov. 13, 1999 @St. Lawrence 6, Union 3 Feb. 25, 2000 St. Lawrence 2, @Union 1 Last Playoff Meeting: Never

Much like Dartmouth, the Dutchmen of Union are somewhere they haven’t been since the 1996-97 season, while the St. Lawrence Saints are something they have never been — the regular-season ECAC champions.

A team that needed a win over the last place team in the league to make it versus the number eight team in the country looks like a mismatch on paper.

“It should be a good series,” said Saint head coach Joe Marsh. “Union played us tough both times this season and there isn’t an awful lot of difference between the teams in the ECAC. We are going to have to be on top of our game, but the guys have a chance to win the league tournament to go along with the regular season championship, something not many people have a chance to do.”

The key for the Saints all season has been consistency. They started out consistent on defense, then went consistent in not winning for a few weeks, then went on a tear and haven’t stopped. The Saints are looking forward at a chance to return to the ECAC championship game.

The Dutchmen, meanwhile, almost lost it at the end. After getting in a position to battle for home ice, the Dutchmen lost seven in a row, but defeated Brown on the last day of the regular season to make the dance.

“It’s real big [making the playoffs],” Union head coach Kevin Sneddon told Ken Schott of the Schenectady (NY) Gazette after Saturday’s win. “I’ve been trying to downplay it a little bit, and not trying to put too much pressure on our team. My whole goal was to be able to take these guys to the dance, and show them what it’s all about. Once you get there, you never know.”

It could be fun for Union. But then again, it could also be fun for St. Lawrence.

Thanks to Steve Marsi and David Sherzer for their contributions. Video clips used with the permission of the ECAC. Any reproduction without authorization from the ECAC is prohibited. All photographs used by permission of the appropriate Sports Information Departments. Any reproduction without authorization is prohibited.