Here we go, folks — the first full-fledged ECAC weekend since the second week of November, when most teams opened their ECAC schedules. All 12 teams are pitted against each other, which won’t occur again until after the second week of February as the teams hit the home stretch.
Brown/Harvard at Princeton/Yale
It’s a series of clashing momentum. Two teams coming off arguably their worst weekends of play to date are about to run directly into a pair of squads in the midst of midseason runs. Princeton and Yale returned from their nonconference weekends against Bowling Green and Michigan State, respectively, with very little to flaunt. Combined, the road partners were shut out in three of the four games and were eventually outscored by a 22-3 margin.
While those two battled it out against nonconference teams, Harvard broke a four-game losing streak of its own by sweeping a home series against RPI and Union. The Crimson increased its lead in the ECAC standings and came oh-so-close to breaking into the national polls for the second time this season. Following a loss to RPI on Friday night, Brown rebounded with a solid 5-3 win over Union. Although it was only one win for Brown, that contest marked the team’s first ECAC win of the season.
The Brown Bears were hoping that the start of the second half of the season would be radically different from the first. After all, the highlights of the first half included a win over Providence and ties against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Not exactly a blazing start to the season.
“I was hoping it would start on Tuesday, but that was the worst game we’ve played in a long time,” said Grillo, referring to his team’s 4-1 loss to UMass-Amherst on January 2. “But the guys responded. And hopefully what we can take out of [the Union game] is that if we battle and compete we have a shot to win. I’m pleased with the effort and the competitiveness.”
Grillo, who has been vocal about his team’s potential from day one, was positive even after his team lost to the Engineers on Friday night. Following that contest, Grillo said this about his troops:
“If you look up and down our bench, there wasn’t a guy that played poorly. I thought our guys played hard, battled and did what they were capable of doing.”
The Bears came out strong the next night and broke out to an early 4-0 lead over the Skating Dutchmen. But with Brown showing signs of what has plagued the team all season — long defensive lapses and the inability to score in crucial stretches — Union almost broke the back of the home team by scoring three unanswered goals in a 1:15 span. Brown held on, but had the team lost that contest, all hope would have been lost, perhaps mentally more than anything else. Many would argue that another zero-point weekend for Brown would have transformed the second half of the season into an 11-team race for 10 playoff spots. With the victory, however, new breath has been inserted into the Brown lineup, at least temporarily.
With only two league contests remaining for exam break, Harvard finds itself comfortably atop the ECAC standings. Following four straight losses, including two games to Colorado College, Harvard rebounded with a solid weekend sweep of Union and RPI. Those two victories put the Crimson in a favorable position heading into the second half.
“It is a good weekend anytime you can come up with four points, especially after a bit of difficult times,” said head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “We finished very well [Saturday night]. Steve Moore and Dom [Moore] generated a lot of offense and we were good again on special teams.”
The Moore brothers led the Crimson offensively as they combined for 10 points on the weekend. Dominic Moore (8-13–21) exploded on Saturday night with four points, including his first hat trick of the season.
A player yet to demand the spotlight this season is freshman Tim Pettit, who posted his best collegiate weekend to date. The speedy forward registered two goals on Friday night and then followed up that performance with a season-high four assists against RPI. Pettit now sits fourth on the Crimson list in scoring with 15 points, trailing only the Moore brothers and senior Chris Bala (9-7–16).
Once again, Harvard relied on senior goaltender Oliver Jonas to come up big in both games. Jonas finished with 72 saves on the weekend and improved his goals against average to .924.
Jonas has needed to come up big in the face of the Crimson’s lack of depth defensively; with Aaron Kim out of the lineup due to a game misconduct against Union on Friday night, and Graham Morrell out of the lineup indefinitely — most likely for the rest of the season — with a shoulder injury, the team will continue with its five-man rotation. The result has been more shots on net and tired legs come the end of games. Heading into this weekend’s series, Harvard has been outshot by a 566-447 margin and has been outscored in only one period: the third.
“We are still giving up too many shots per game; that is a component of our inexperience on defense,” Mazzoleni said. “But our young guys are starting to get comfortable because they’ve been seeing a lot of ice time in different situations.”
It wasn’t a pretty weekend for Princeton. In fact, it was ugly. After claiming that Princeton has a way of taking a positive away from every weekend series, the team turned around and got offensively pummeled by a mediocre Bowling Green team. The Tigers once again fell victim to early defensive lapses — on Friday night, Bowling Green outscored Princeton 6-1 in the final two periods of play.
“We’re still feeling the effects of playing New Hampshire, Wisconsin and North Dakota and not coming out with a ‘W’ on one of those games,” said head coach Lenny Quesnelle. “You saw the result in the games against Bowling Green. We’re fatigued mentally.”
Quesnelle is talking about Princeton’s inability to play three periods of consistent hockey. In both games at the Badger Showdown, the Tigers dug themselves an early hole and could not muster enough strength for comeback victories. Against Wisconsin, Princeton spotted the Badgers a 5-0 lead after one period. The following night, North Dakota glided into the third period with a 4-2 lead. If you’re tracking this problem, it appeared to begin back on December 9, when the Tigers spotted RPI a 4-1 lead after one period. One week later, New Hampshire took a similar 3-0 lead after one period at the Whittemore Center.
The problem has persisted and resulted in two more losses for the Tigers, extending their losing streak to six games. The difference in the last two, however, is that the energy and ability to fight back had disappeared. For the first time since this trend began, Princeton suffered embarrassing losses, outscored by a combined 13-3 margin.
“We’re trying to address it,” Quesnelle said. “We’re going to work our way through it, but it all starts in practice. We’re trying to keep practices short and constructive.”
Despite the losing streak, the team can take solace in the fact that it has saved its best games for league play: Princeton is currently in third place with 10 points. Quesnelle is hoping that the team can gut it out through one final weekend series before heading into the long exam break. The recent losing streak will be ancient history in many minds if the Tigers can steal three or four points this weekend.
While Yale head coach Tim Taylor was busy coaching at the World Junior Championships in Moscow, his Elis were getting pounded by the number-one team in the country. Yale headed into the weekend series with Michigan State with a 3-0 record against ranked teams this year, but the Spartans quickly put a stop to that modest winning streak.
For what it’s worth, Yale outshot Michigan State over the course of two games and generated a handful of solid offensive opportunities. The only problem was that the Elis could not figure out how to beat the goaltending tandem of Joe Blackburn and Ryan Miller, who combined for 37 saves on the weekend.
“They are one of the top defensive teams in the country,” said Yale assistant coach C.J. Marottolo, who filled in both nights for Taylor. “They are disciplined, and they have great goaltending,”
The losses came on the heels of a much-needed victory for Yale over Union on December 9. After winning three of their first five league contests, the Elis began stumbling and dropped their next four ECAC games. The Union game provided a ray of hope for the struggling squad, at least for the time being.
“[The Union] game takes a huge monkey off our back to some extent,” said Taylor prior to his departure for Moscow. “I’m very proud of the effort for two reasons. Number one, because of [the 5-4 loss to Rensselaer the night before] and two, because not everything went our way.”
Taylor will return behind the Yale bench this weekend and will look to right the sinking ship. With eight league points already amassed and with Brown and Harvard heading to New Haven, things look promising for the Elis. Yale holds the series lead over Brown and has posted a 4-0-1 record in the last five outings. In fact, Brown has not beaten Yale since Nov. 14, 1997, when the Bears pulled out an overtime victory at Providence. The Harvard series has been the most interesting, but Yale always seems to have the edge when the Crimson plays at the Whale.
St. Lawrence/Clarkson at Union/Rensselaer
After a week off, the St. Lawrence Saints get to come back to the Capital District and play Union and Rensselaer. Two weeks ago, the Saints took home the championship of the Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Hockey Tournament, and head coach Joe Marsh thinks that perhaps now is the time to get things going.
“We’ve had our nose rubbed in it a little it,” he said about the first half of the season. “We’re not blaming anybody, and the biggest thing to these guys is, don’t expect anybody to do it for you, don’t expect it to be easy, and be willing to look in the mirror and correct your mistakes.
“I love this team and I like the work ethic. It’s … that we can’t sit back and wait for things to come to us. We really have to work; we’re a little different type of team than last year. We have to make sure our expectations don’t exceed our aspirations. Hopefully, this goes a long way to showing these guys what kind of team we have to be.”
Clarkson went out to Minnesota State-Mankato and split a pair with the Mavericks, picking up the second game of the two-game set. Now the Golden Knights get into league play in a big way, and it starts in the Capital District.
“I think RPI is playing really fine hockey right now,” said head coach Mark Morris. “They are breaking in two freshman goalies, but they are deep up front and they are getting strong defensive efforts. Dan Fridgen’s teams have been known for their high-end skill and ability to put the puck away. We will have to be more physical, much like we were this past Saturday at Mankato.
“Union is a real hard-nosed, blue-collar team with several veteran players and one of the better goalies in college hockey in Brandon Snee. We will go into that game recognizing that they are a legitimate contender and can knock off anybody. Kevin Sneddon and his staff have done a great job in recruiting real character kids.”
Meanwhile, Union has not had good luck since being ranked No. 11 in the USCHO.com poll in November. Since then, the Dutchmen are 0-7-2 and are looking for answers. After getting swept by Harvard and Brown this past weekend, the Dutchmen dropped a home contest to UMass-Lowell, 5-3, allowing four goals from right in front and leaving head coach Kevin Sneddon scratching his head about his defense.
“Until these guys realize that the most important area to cover is right in front of your own net, then it’s going to be a long year,” he said. “Once they figure that out, we might be a pretty good team, but until guys pay the price and realize that a guy going to the net or standing in front of the net is a serious threat, it’s going to be a long year.”
The other area is offense, as the Dutchmen have dropped off since their hot start.
“The amazing thing is that [the defense] is what we’ll be working on in the next couple of days. When we should be working on creating offense and a lot of other things, we’ll be working on, ‘How do we cover the front of the net?'” said Sneddon.
Rensselaer maintained its No. 12 ranking in the USCHO.com poll after defeating Brown on Friday and then losing to Harvard on Saturday. The split came at a price, as second-leading scorer Carson Butterwick was checked from behind against Brown and missed the Harvard game; his status is unknown. Add that to some other injury problems and the absence of Marc Cavosie, who was at the World Junior Championships, and the Engineers were a hurting bunch on Saturday against Harvard.
“Any time you are not full strength it hurts,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “But it’s just an opportunity for other guys to bring their level of play up, and we’ll get full strength down the road. Injuries are part of the game and part of the season.”
And in the loss to the Crimson, the Engineers once again saw their penalty killing go down the tubes as three power-play goals were allowed.
“We did a very poor job of penalty killing,” said Fridgen. “Otherwise we did a good job of five-on-five play. You can draw it up as much as you want, but we just didn’t execute.
“In order to put yourself in a situation to win hockey games, if you’re going to be taking penalties, you have to do a good job penalty killing. We’re doing a good job over the long haul, but tonight we didn’t get it done, and if you’re going to be allowing goals on the special teams, you have to be scoring goals on the special teams.
“We didn’t do that either.”
Cornell/Colgate at Vermont/Dartmouth
The Big Red of Cornell came into the second half of the season with expectations, and returning home to face Quinnipiac last weekend, the Big Red had to feel good about themselves as the second half started. A 2-2 tie left the Big Red in a different mood.
“I’m just really disappointed in them as a team,” head coach Mike Schafer told the Ithaca (N.Y.) Journal after the tie. “We’ve been there before and it’s up to them to respond in the right way. Your best players have to play really well in order for you to win, and I thought our best players didn’t play well enough for us to win.”
The Big Red will head on the road this weekend. This past week was a hard-working one for the Big Red.
“Guys are comfortable, there’s no school, and there’s got to be a real paying attention to detail,” Schafer said. “Intensity in practice will definitely pick up.”
Colgate got off the schneid last weekend with a 4-2 win over Mercyhurst at home. The Red Raiders are looking for their first road win of the season this weekend, at either Dartmouth or Vermont. The Red Raiders are 0-9-3 away from Starr Rink this season.
“It certainly helps bring the team together early on, but for us this year, the amount of time we have been away from home has been an extreme challenge and rough at times,” said head coach Don Vaughan.
The Red Raiders will head to the road once again, but within the ECAC and its schedule. This time around one big difference will be that the Red Raiders will be at full strength as the full roster will be available to Vaughan.
“It’s nice to be able to look there and have depth,” he said. “It’s great because it creates a lot of competition in practice and helps make us a better team. It also helps to take some of the pressure off of some of the guys who were filling in roles on the power play and penalty kill that they might not have been ready for at this point of the season and now I can return them to a more comfortable zone.”
Despite having its five-game unbeaten streak stopped by Dartmouth last Friday night, Vermont maintains its national ranking for yet another week. The Catamounts are ranked No. 13 and are having a dream season. Heading into the Dartmouth series, the team had won 10 of last 12 games The Big Green victory not only snapped the unbeaten streak, but it also stands as Vermont’s only ECAC loss thus far.
“We knew we weren’t going to go 22-0 in the league,” said head coach Mike Gilligan after the 4-2 loss. “Dartmouth seemed to have better legs tonight. We knew they were a good team, and we respect them. Any team that beats Maine and New Hampshire deserves your respect.”
The following night, Vermont salvaged a 1-1 tie, thanks to a power-play goal by the team’s leading scorer, J.F. Caudron (10-10–20). The senior forward continues to be the main offensive threat for the Catamounts as he has registered at least one point in 13 of 15 games this season. The 1-1 tie also gave Vermont a critical point which keeps the team in sole possession of second place right now, just one point ahead of Princeton heading into this weekend’s series against Cornell and Colgate.
A motivating factor for the Catamounts heading into this weekend’s series will be the man standing on the bench. Head coach Mike Gilligan is only two victories away from hitting 400 for his career. With those two wins, Gilligan will become only the 18th coach in NCAA history to accomplish such a feat. Earlier in the season, the Catamounts pulled out an emotional 5-2 win over Harvard to give Gilligan the title of winningest coach in the program’s history.
While a few teams in the ECAC are experiencing bumps along the road, Dartmouth is starting to pick up the pace. After a deplorable 1-5 start, the Big Green has turned things around over the past month, posting impressive wins over national ranked teams such as Maine, New Hampshire and most recently Vermont.
Considering the fact that Vermont walked away with the Auld Lang Syne title Dartmouth’s holiday tournament just days earlier, this recent victory was especially sweet. It also doesn’t hurt that the 4-2 win came in front of a near-sellout home crowd.
The three-point weekend was a welcome surprise for Dartmouth fans, who have been patiently waiting for their team to turn the corner. Although the squad has been somewhat solid defensively thanks to the play of Trevor Byrne and Nick Boucher, the team has struggled offensively. One of the big weapons is Mike Maturo, who has been relatively quiet this season. Maturo’s play certainly dictates Dartmouth’s success as he has scored 10 of his team-leading 16 points since the Maine victory on November 25.
“Mike is a real leader and a difference maker on our team,” said head coach Bob Gaudet. “When he plays well, it lifts the entire team because he sets a good example and he gets everyone working hard and wanting to win. Mike is really what this program is all about.”
Here’s a quick series note: Dartmouth has struggled against Colgate (its last win coming on February 12, 1999), but has dominated the Cornell series as of late. The Big Green has won four of the last five meetings.
Some happenings from around the ECAC…
And The Telly Will Ruin All
The ECAC Television Package starts this weekend in a rematch of last season’s ECAC Championship game when St. Lawrence travels to Rensselaer. The games will be shown live via a combination of NESN and Empire and will feature 13 games this season, including a Division III matchup between Middlebury and Norwich and the Division I Women’s championship game.
For the schedule, check the sidebar on the right.
A Repeat Participant
The upcoming season will feature the first time that the Ice Breaker Cup will be played in the East, as Maine will host the tournament on October 12-13, 2001, after turns in Madison, Minneapolis, Denver and Ann Arbor.
Along with Bowling Green (CCHA) and St. Cloud (WCHA), the four-team tournament will feature its first repeat participant as Clarkson will get the nod from the ECAC once again.
The Golden Knights participated in the first Ice Breaker Cup along with Wisconsin, Boston University and Michigan State and finished fourth.
CSB Midseason Rankings Out
Seven ECAC student athletes were among those ranked in the National Hockey League Central Scouting Bureau’s midseason rankings. Those seven are:
No. 56 Patrick Sharp, Vermont
No. 59 Francois Senez, Rensselaer
No. 61 Dennis Packard, Harvard
No. 90 Kenny Smith, Harvard
No. 145 Mikael Hammarstrom, Rensselaer
No. 161 Jim Lorentz, St. Lawrence
No. 228 Jeff Miles, Vermont
Comings and Goings This week three vital members of squads will return to the ice for the ECAC as Yale head coach Tim Taylor, Harvard forward Brett Nowak and Rensselaer forward Marc Cavosie all return from a fifth place finish for the United States National Junior Team in Russia.
In goings, Zach Schwan has taken a leave of absence from Clarkson University to play for Des Moines in the USHL this spring. He is expected to return in the fall to Potsdam.
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
Another week, another fan goes down.
The contest thus far:
Becky and Jayson d. Vic Brzozowski – (10-2-2) – (8-5-1)
Becky and Jayson d. Tayt Brooks – (7-7-1) – (5-9-1)
Becky and Jayson d. Michele Kelley – (5-4-3) – (2-7-3)
Becky and Jayson d. C.J. Poux – (9-4-2) – (6-7-2)
If memory serves us right, the newest team in the ECAC has been playing in the league for 10 years and were off to their hottest start ever at the Division I level. Their fans have been known to be vocal and spirited. Shawn Natole, show us what the Union fans will bring into USCHO Stadium to try and defeat the Iron Columnists. Whose picks will reign supreme?
Friday, January 12
Harvard at Princeton
Shawn’s Pick – Princeton 4, Harvard 3
Becky and Jayson – Harvard 4, Princeton 2
Brown at Yale
Shawn’s Pick – Yale 4, Brown 2
Becky and Jayson – Yale 5, Brown 3
Colgate at Dartmouth
Shawn’s Pick – Colgate 2, Dartmouth 2, ot
Becky and Jayson – Dartmouth 4, Colgate 1
Cornell at Vermont
Shawn’s Pick – Vermont 4, Cornell 1
Becky and Jayson – Vermont 3, Cornell 2
St. Lawrence at Union
Shawn’s Pick – I gotta go with the Dutch on this one. Union 4, St. Lawrence 3
Becky and Jayson – St. Lawrence 4, Union 2
Clarkson at Rensselaer
Shawn’s Pick – Clarkson 5, Rensselaer 3
Becky and Jayson – Rensselaer 3, Clarkson 2
Saturday, January 13
Harvard at Yale
Shawn’s Pick – Harvard 3, Yale 3, ot
Becky and Jayson – Yale 3, Harvard 2
Brown at Princeton
Shawn’s Pick – Princeton 3, Brown 1
Becky and Jayson – Princeton 6, Brown 2
Colgate at Vermont
Shawn’s Pick – Vermont 4, Colgate 2
Becky and Jayson – Vermont 6, Colgate 4
Cornell at Dartmouth
Shawn’s Pick – Dartmouth 2, Cornell 1
Becky and Jayson – Cornell 3, Dartmouth 2
St. Lawrence at Rensselaer
Shawn’s Pick – St. Lawrence 3, Rensselaer 2
Becky and Jayson – St. Lawrence 4, Rensselaer 3
Clarkson at Union
Shawn’s Pick – Sorry, loyalty lies with the Dutch again. Union 4, Clarkson 3
Becky and Jayson – Clarkson 4, Union 3
Tuesday, January 16
UMass-Lowell at Brown
Shawn’s Pick – Lowell likes these Tuesday games, especially after the Tuesday win over Union. UMass-Lowell 2, Brown 1
Becky and Jayson – UMass-Lowell 5, Brown 4
And remember that if you are interested in putting your money where your mouth is, drop us an e-mail to be eligible to be chosen when Shawn bites the dust.
Thanks to David Sherzer for his contributions this week.