ECAC Column: Nov. 9, 2000

What Is Going On?

Many are looking at the ECAC right now and saying, “What is going on?”

Given what has transpired over the last two weeks, you have to sit there and wonder just exactly what is happening. It’s been topsy-turvy, to say the least.

Among the items in the mixed bag…

  • The inevitable happened as a MAAC team defeated an ECAC team for the first time. Cornell was the victim, as the Big Red suffered a 5-3 loss to Sacred Heart.
  • After getting bombed by Providence, 8-0, Union came back and defeated Rensselaer, 4-2, to open up the ECAC season.
  • Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence tied, 1-1, and then Clarkson defeated Quinnipiac, 4-2.
  • Harvard shut out Brown, 3-0, to open up the ECAC season and then Brown defeated Providence, 5-1 the next night.
  • Yale had the best week of all. In fact, it might have been the biggest shock around the nation all week. The Bulldogs shocked then-third-ranked New Hampshire, 4-3, and then did the same to No. 2 Boston College, 4-3.

    So what is going on?

    We guess we’ll find out more as the ECAC season begins in earnest this weekend. 12 teams, 12 games. Six sets of travel partners in six arenas.

    Oh, baby, we can’t wait…

    St. Lawrence/Clarkson at Yale/Princeton

    Two straight wins over ranked teams have made Yale the most talked-about team in the Northeast. Perhaps the upset victory over New Hampshire wasn’t that surprising, since the Elis turned the same trick last year at this time. The follow-up 4-3 stunner over Boston College on Tuesday night is what really made heads turn.

    Jeff Hamilton hasn’t lost a step, and is averaging a goal and an assist per game. Dan Lombard is holding his own in net with a combined 61 saves in two games (and two first-star honors, for those of you keeping score at home).

    “This has been a dream start for us,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor following the win over the Eagles. “We might change leagues. Most of our games are against teams that play out style — a hard-hitting, grinding style — whereas teams like UNH and BC play a more finesse style.”

    The difference between the two leagues has provided Yale’s forwards with more open space through the neutral zone than ever before. That open-ice style allows teams like Yale, who have incredible speed but limited size up front, to develop plays earlier, and more effectively get behind the defense. Even Hamilton admitted that the last two games have felt easier than any ECAC games because, in his words, “they’re just not as chippy.”

    Unfortunately for Hamilton and the rest of the Yale crew, they have two of the most physical teams in the league entering New Haven this weekend in Clarkson and St. Lawrence. While the two North Country teams will be looking to collect two early road victories, all eyes will be on Yale to see if its first two games of the season were for real. Taylor knows that the key to success for his team is a more balanced offensive attack to take the pressure off Hamilton and Ben Stafford. From that perspective, the good news is that 11 different players have collected at least one point in the first two games of the season.

    “We’re not a big team, but we’re fast and play pretty smart, and that has paid off,” said Taylor.

    Princeton debuted its season with a win and a tie against Niagara. Head coach Len Quesnelle won his debut behind the bench and looked like a veteran doing it.

    Actually, he is a veteran, having served as an assistant for 12 years.

    “People said, ‘When are you going to be nervous?'” he said. “I thought, if I was, it would be just when they dropped the puck. But I wasn’t really nervous.”

    The Tigers had their injuries to fight through, as they went without captain Kirk Lamb, Shane Campbell and Ethan Doyle on Saturday; worse for the Bulldogs, Peter Zavodny may be out for up to two months now.

    “Given that Lamb, Shane and Doyle are out, it’s a good start,” Quesnelle said of the weekend win and tie. “Even though it was butt-ugly, it’s something to build off.”

    Both St. Lawrence and Clarkson took on MAAC leader Quinnipiac this past weekend. St. Lawrence tied and Clarkson won, and both head coaches had the same thought about their teams as the opening weekend of ECAC play looms.

    “This is the best we have played all season,” said Saint head coach Joe Marsh. “We are still a ways away from firing on all cylinders, but we can take a lot out of [that] game. We’re looking for improvement every time out and we’ve got a big road weekend ahead of us.”

    “We’ve clearly made strides towards becoming a more effective team, both offensively and defensively,” said Golden Knight head coach Mark Morris. “I think players are growing more comfortable with their roles on the team.

    “Our outing against Quinnipiac was the best game we have played to date.”

    Both coaches seem confident that their teams are ready to start of the conference schedule.

    Vermont/Dartmouth at Harvard/Brown

    Vermont tuned up for ECAC play this past weekend by whupping Queen’s in an exhibition game. That game was a tremendous boost for the Cats, as they lost the previous week against St. Francis Xavier.

    The Cats scored six times with the man advantage and now seem poised heading into the ECAC season.

    Dartmouth opened its season in the road against Western Michigan and got whitewashed on the first night, 5-0, but almost came back against the Broncos on the second night and barely lost, 5-4.

    The loss was something that head coach Bob Gaudet did not seem too upset about.

    “I thought we played a tremendous hockey game from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer,” he said. “We showed intensity, energy and pride out there. I was proud of our guys.

    “As I told them after the game, if we can play with this intensity and passion during the season, I know good things will happen. And that’s what I expect. I don’t expect this to be an aberration.”

    Harvard began its ECAC campaign in fine fashion with a convincing 3-0 victory over Brown on Saturday night. It’s a tossup deciding what was more comforting for the Crimson: the successful debut of Oliver Jonas, who begins his first season as a starter, or the three unanswered goals by the young offense.

    For head coach Mark Mazzoleni, in his second year at the Crimson helm, the shutout victory calmed a lot of nerves while answering critical questions as to where the team stands in its development.

    “We’ve made a major improvement in our team from last year to this year up front in regards to team speed,” Mazzoleni said. “It’s something that we’ve stressed from the standpoint of the way we want to play, forechecking-wise — by pressuring the puck — and in our transition game to get the puck as quickly as we can in the offense’s hands.

    “We’re also letting them play a little bit more up there. There is structure there, but not anywhere close to what we did last year. We’re letting them use their creativity a lot and they just have to be responsible with the puck.”

    Although Jonas posted the shutout victory, the Crimson continues to struggle along the blue line. Injuries to junior Graham Morrell and freshman Kenny Smith forced Mazzoleni to dress only five true defensemen against Brown. To make matters worse for Harvard, the team lost freshman Dave McCulloch during Saturday’s game to a knee injury.

    “It’s scary. When McCullough went out with the knee, we were down to four,” Mazzoleni said. “There’s a chance that will get Graham Morrell back [this weekend] and Kenny Smith back the next, and that’s what we need. We need to get our health back on the blue line. Of all the positions we said that we couldn’t have injuries, that’s the one.”

    Had Yale not delivered two huge wins this past week, Brown would have been handed the title of upset team of the week. After a lackluster, offensively-anemic performance against Harvard on Saturday, the Bears came back the following night and pounded out a 5-1 win over Providence.

    Brown has had the Mayor’s Cup edge as of late, winning five of the last six games against its crosstown rival, and this season it was no different. The Bears scored five goals and held Providence — which had scored at least four goals in each of its games this season — to only one goal, including an 0-for-6 performance on the power play.

    “I think we are a pretty well-balanced team. We don’t have anyone who is a super-superstar, but we don’t have anyone who is real weak either,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “We are strong from top to bottom and I think that what we can do is keep coming after people, keep competing and hopefully we can wear them down.”

    Against Providence there were five different Brown scorers, which is a welcome sign for Grillo — who has repeatedly said that he expects a lot of the offensive burden to be picked up by seniors Doug Janjevich, Matt Kohansky, Jon Zielinski and John Petricig.

    “The big key for us and the big question mark for us here at Brown the past couple of years has been scoring,” Grillo said. “We need somebody to step up and pop a few for us. We have the guys to do that. Some guys just need to step up.”

    They did exactly that on Saturday night, but the Bears will face a big test this weekend against Dartmouth and Vermont.

    Cornell/Colgate at Union/Rensselaer

    These four teams played four games this past weekend and an ECAC team lost all four times. Cornell was defeated by Sacred Heart, Colgate was swept by Ferris State, and in an ECAC contest, Union upended Rensselaer.

    The biggest game of note was Cornell‘s loss to Sacred Heart. The Big Red became the first member of the “Big Four” conferences to lose to a MAAC team. It was inevitable, but no one wants to know that it’s their team that goes down in the record books.

    “We really should have played our type of game against a team like this,” said forward Sam Paolini. “We were the favorite and we should have taken it to them.”

    Colgate went out to Big Rapids and came home with two losses at the hands of Ferris State. The Bulldogs picked up their first two wins of the season at the Red Raiders’ expense.

    The losses dropped the Raiders to 0-3-2 on the road, not good news for Colgate fans when you consider that the team will again be on the road for the sixth and seventh time in eight games.

    The Red Raiders will likely be without Sean Nolan and P.J. Yedon for this weekend’s games; both are listed as doubtful with hip and knee injuries, respectively.

    Union is out to a quick start in the ECAC with a 1-0-0 record after defeating Rensselaer on the strength of four power-play goals, 4-2. It was a nice return after getting blown out by Providence, 8-0, in the previous game.

    “Nothing went right in that game,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “Our team fell apart and we tried to stay together. We learned a lesson: any time it’s a new year you have to go through the process, and it’s a good thing we learned that lesson early on. We got beat up a little bit and we were better for it.”

    Rensselaer was on the other end of that loss, a frustrating evening for head coach Dan Fridgen and his Engineers. The Engineers did not capitalize on three five-on-three opportunities and gave up those four power-play goals.

    “All the little things we had to do to kill penalties, we didn’t do,” Fridgen said. “Those things are going to happen when you have a young team. You got a guy down on the backside and we didn’t do a good job of rotating. Man, it was a horror picture.”

    Thanks to J.V. Anderton, David Sherzer, Adam Wodon and Jim Connelly for their contributions this week.