This Week In The ECAC: Dec. 27, 2000

Welcome back to the ECAC.

It’s been a quiet three weeks, and everyone (with the exception of idle Yale) gets to tune up this week with some nonconference action before a few teams step right back into league play.

Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Hockey Tournament

The Rensselaer Engineers are one team that did not want to see the break for exams and holidays come when it did. The Engineers had just swept a weekend series at Yale and Princeton, moving their unbeaten streak to six and picking up four valuable points in the ECAC; at the same time, the Engineers are now the highest-ranked ECAC team in the polls, coming in at the No. 11 position for the second straight week.

There are doubters of the Engineers and their streak — after all, the wins came against UMass-Amherst, Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac, Yale and Princeton, plus a tie against Union. The Engineers will look to put the criticism to rest this weekend as they host Northeastern to open up the 50th edition of the Rensselaer Holiday Hockey Tournament, and then play either St. Lawrence or Notre Dame. The Engineers will be without Marc Cavosie, serving a tour of duty with the U.S. National Junior Program in Moscow.

The Engineers will have to continue to get contributions from the number-one line of Matt Murley-Nolan Graham-Carson Butterwick, who have been on fire over the streak, racking up 40 points (18-22–40) in the six games. With those three gaining cohesion, the Engineers may have a line that could take over the ECAC.

The St. Lawrence Saints had a successful opening weekend in December, picking up three points in ECAC play with a win over Harvard and a tie against Brown, and then went out to Michigan and were unceremoniously dumped by the Wolverines in two straight. The Saints continue the killer nonconference schedule with a matchup against Notre Dame in the Rensselaer Tournament and then either a rematch with Northeastern or a matchup with the host Engineers.

Overall, the Saints only have three wins on the season, and only a win against Holy Cross out of conference. Everyone knew the schedule — and adjusting without two key players — would be tough, but fans are left wondering if the real Saint team has shown up yet.

The seniors certainly have, as Erik Anderson, Mike Gellard, Al Fyfe and Matt Desrosiers are four of the top five Saints in points, accounting for 73 percent of the Saint scoring this season. That’s where the start will come as the Saints look to heat up the second half of the season.

Ledyard National Bank Auld Land Syne Hockey Classic

Dartmouth and Vermont don’t have to travel very far for holiday action. The Catamounts will kick off the Auld Lang Syne tournament on Friday night against Miami, while the host Big Green play the second game against New Hampshire.

Vermont enters this year’s tournament with a national ranking in tow. After losing just twice in its last 10 games, including a come-from-behind victory against Harvard on December 9, Vermont is now ranked 15th in the nation and is the only undefeated team in the ECAC with a 5-0 record. Senior netminder Andrew Allen has been solid in net this season, posting a .903 save percentage and a 3.13 goals against average. Offensively, the Catamounts are led by J.F. Caudron (7-9-16), but have eight players in double digits in points.

Vermont has the seemingly easier first-round game, facing Miami. But after starting the season with a 1-5-2 record, the RedHawks have turned things around, winning nine of their last 10 games.

The Big Green may have a tougher time making the final of its own tournament. New Hampshire has become quite accustomed to ECAC hockey, as the Wildcats’ last two victories have come against Princeton and Harvard. Fifth-ranked New Hampshire is also in the midst of a nine-game unbeaten streak and playing its best hockey of the season.

Dartmouth has slowly been turning its season around. After dropping five of its first six games, the Big Green has showed signs of improvement with overtime victories over Maine and Merrimack.

The Crimson In The Mountains

As Harvard prepares for a two-game series against No. 6 Colorado College, the Crimson players are focusing their efforts on two main things: getting healthy and getting past their two recent losses against Vermont and New Hampshire. After fumbling an early 3-0 lead against the Catamounts, the Crimson played two of its worst periods of the year en route to a 4- 1 loss to New Hampshire.

Although Harvard sits atop the ECAC leaderboard and has shown flashes of disciplined hockey, the team is still very vulnerable. The players know it, the coaches know it and now the opponents are starting to take advantage of it. Midway through the Vermont contest, Harvard lost junior defenseman Graham Morrell when his shoulder popped out yet again. Vermont coach Mike Gilligan spread out his offense in the third period and successfully executed a chip-and-charge attack which resulted in four goals. The tactic worked well for Gilligan primarily because without Morrell the Crimson is left with only five primary defensemen, two of whom are freshmen.

With Morrell most likely out for this week’s two-game series, the Crimson will need to finish off any and all offensive chances it gets against Colorado College. In particular, the play of Dom Moore and Chris Bala will be critical. Both players have shown an ability to sneak past defenses, but finishing will be a key.

Mariucci Classic

One month seems like an eternity to the Union Skating Dutchmen. After all, one month ago, the Dutchmen were the No. 11 team in the country and everything seemed to be going right. The Dutchmen were winning, they were scoring, they were having fun. But right now, the Dutchmen can’t be saying that. Since being ranked No. 11, the Dutchmen have won a total of one game, tying two and dropping their last three, dropping them off the national radar.

The defense of the Dutchmen has allowed almost one goal per game more than during the first six games of the season, while the scoring has dropped by a goal a game — not a good combination.

The Dutchmen will head into the Mariucci Classic to face a ranked opponent, where they will start to find out if they can get back to the form that saw them start out the season 5-1-0. As head coach Kevin Sneddon put it, this is a not a team that can afford to take any part of a game off.

Badger Showdown

After a first half in which the team posted a respectable 5-5-3 record, Princeton will receive a real gut check this weekend when it faces off against No. 13 Wisconsin during the first round of the Badger Showdown. It goes without saying that playing the host team of a tournament is never easy — just ask Union.

With a new coach in place and no real superstars to report, the Tigers didn’t have much of a chance this season, at least in the eyes of the prognosticators. Thanks to steady goaltending by junior Dave Stathos (3.13 GAA, .900 save percentage) and increasing offensive production from the likes of Chris Corrinet (9-7-16), Kirk Lamb (4-12-16) and Brad Parsons (7-7-14), the Tigers have pulled out some surprises this year.

Don’t get us wrong: it’s not that they’ve knocked off ranked teams, or anything flashy. It’s more that they haven’t rolled over and died against teams which on paper should beat them, like Yale, Dartmouth, Colgate and most recently Union.

Princeton has found a way to play within itself and make its system work. The challenge this week will be to hold its own against potent offenses: although Wisconsin hasn’t obliterated opponents game-in and game-out, the Badgers still possess strong forwards who can transition quickly and take advantage of a weakened Princeton defense. After Princeton’s most recent loss to New Hampshire, head coach Lenny Quesnelle highlighted his team’s most vulnerable point.

“UNH is a very quick team up front, and we knew going into the game that they were quick in transition… . We went with five defensemen we thought could log the ice time [because] we’re short on defense. That was exposed at times.”

Princeton will have similar problems against Wisconsin.

Everblades College Classic

Quietly Cornell has come to the forefront, beginning the second half as the team that is 5-1-2 in its last eight, rather than the first-ever “Big Four” team to lose to the MAAC. A loss to Niagara in the Syracuse Invitational is the only blemish on the Big Red record since starting the season 0-2.

Suffice to say, the Big Red look ready to start the second half.

The depth of the Big Red has come in handy, as different members have gone on and off the injury list as the season has unrolled. With the break, those that needed the rest are welcomed back to the fold and the depth once again shows itself.

Clarkson, on the other hand, is experiencing mixed results. Many hoped that a big win over St. Lawrence in Canton would be the building block, but after that huge win, the Golden Knights faltered in the first round of the Syracuse Invitational, defeated Colgate in the consolation, and then picked up one point in an ECAC weekend with a loss to Harvard and a tie to Brown.

The Knights sit at .500 right now, and their traditional second-half upswing could get underway in Florida. Youth should mix with experience, and the Knights look set to work on the positives of the first half to gain an edge come February.

Silverado Shootout

It is safe to say that the 2000-2001 season hasn’t started out exactly as the Colgate Red Raiders wanted. The Red Raiders are 3-10-2, losers of five of their last six, and just have not seemed to put things together this season after starting out in strong fashion, tying Michigan at Yost and then playing New Hampshire tough until falling apart in the third period. From there, it’s been downhill.

If there is one saving grace, it’s that the Red Raiders are over .500 at home, at 3-2-0. The flip side of that, however, is that the Raiders are winless on the road. That’s where they will be this weekend as they take part in the Silverado Shootout, going up against No. 7 Western Michigan in the first game.

It isn’t easy to isolate the cause of the horrendous start for the Red Raiders. Scoring, defense and goaltending are all off. On top of that, the injury bug has been prevalent. With the break, the Red Raiders are hoping that healthy bodies mean a turnaround to the season.

Brown and Blue

With all the holiday tournaments in full gear, many may forget that two teams very much in need of a victory will be facing off in Amherst, Mass.

That’s right — the 1-6-2 Brown Bears will face off against the 4-11-2 UMass-Amherst Minutemen to cap off the 2000 portion of their schedules. It has been a frustrating first half of the year for both squads, which will make this game even more interesting. Aside from their sub-.500 records, another similarity between the two teams is that their last wins both came against Providence. The Minutemen broke an eight-game winless streak on December 8 when they upset the Friars by a 3-1 margin, while Brown defeated their crosstown rival 5-1 nearly two months ago.

The Bears have been an unpredictable team all year long. After battling for two ties in their recent road trip to St. Lawrence and Clarkson, the Bears turned around and played a lackluster game against Harvard five days later. Head coach Roger Grillo is convinced that he has the raw materials for a competitive team, but has yet to see his vision come to fruition.

This nonconference contest against UMass-Amherst may be just what Grillo needed before the New Year. Watch for him to mix things up both offensively and defensively in search of a more successful 2001.