We have a new leader in the ECAC. The Big Red of Cornell have assumed the top of the charts and they don’t plan on looking back. Can they hold the lead? With four weeks to go, no one knows what’s going to happen in the ECAC. It’s unpredictable, it’s crazy, it’s unbelievable.
Yes, it’s just the end of the ECAC season, as usual.
The Big Red of Cornell have ascended to the throne after a weekend sweep of Brown and Harvard, both by 2-1 scores. It took the Big Red overtime to defeat Brown on Friday; on Saturday, they did it in regulation over the Crimson.
“It was a good win for us,” Cornell coach Mike Shafer said after Saturday’s win. “I thought the first period was kind of even, and we were fortunate to have the two-goal lead. After they scored in the third, Harvard had the momentum for about three or four minutes, but we weathered the storm and didn’t give them much after that.”
The Cornell style of play keeps the game interesting, but it seems to be working for the Big Red and Schafer. With four weeks left to go, the coach knows it’s far from over.
“First place is tough to get into,” he said. “It’s tougher to keep it.”
Colgate is trying to move into the playoffs and a split on the weekend helped, but still saw the Red Raiders fall behind as Union, the team above them, swept on the weekend. A loss to Harvard and a win over Brown helped the Red Raiders.
At the same time, the Red Raiders seem to be going to freshman David Cann between the pipes. He has started the last three games for the Red Raiders and despite going 1-2-0, he has posted a 2.35 GAA and a .923 save percentage. That, along with what seems to be more offense for the Red Raiders has them poised for the stretch run.
“We have to go in this weekend and play our game,” said head coach Don Vaughan. “Every game is a big game for us now and we have to just continue to work hard as we challenge for a playoff spot.”
Heading into this weekend, the Princeton Tigers were looking for something anything positive to happen. Over the course of a two-month period in which the team was allowing its opponents an average of 5.6 goals per game, the frustration was certainly beginning to show. The preseason pundits who brushed off the Tigers as a team with no real weapons were poised to sound the “I told you so” bell.
But then came the North Country trip, where it took a Jekyll and Hyde performance for Princeton to break its eight-game losing streak. In the midst of a season which has been anything but typical, the Tigers put a halting stop to their eight-game losing streak with a dominating 6-4 victory over the second-place St. Lawrence Saints. On the strength of two goals by Shane Campbell, three assists by Josh Roberts and a 35-save performance by Dave Stathos, the Tigers took a game on the road and restored some of the confidence that had been drained away since the slide began back on Dec. 8.
The team took one on the chin the next night, however, with a 6-1 loss to Clarkson. As has been the case for the Tigers all season long, the beginning stretch of the game dictated the outcome.
Against the Saints, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead just 1:23 into the contest and essentially never looked back. The Clarkson game was another story as Princeton spotted the Golden Knights a four-goal lead after just one period. Memories of the eight-game losing streak started drifting back, but the Princeton coaching staff was quick to pounce on the positives.
“We’re not concerned about our playoff chances,” said Princeton head coach Lenny Quesnelle. “The focus is on playing better, and to play like we did Friday night [against St. Lawrence].”
The weekend split, coupled with the early-season 10 points racked up by the team, has allowed Princeton to maintain a two-way tie for eighth place with Yale and currently stand only two points out of a tie for sixth place. Thus far, the team has been able to straddle the middle section of the league standings. This weekend may force the Tigers’ hand. A weekend split or sweep will lift the team amongst the league leaders, while two losses will force the Tigers to enter the final four weekends of play in a fight for the final few cherished playoff spots.
Princeton will open its doors to Cornell and Colgate this weekend, which is good for the Tigers, if series history has anything to do with the outcome. The Tigers have had a recent string of luck against the New York teams: Princeton is unbeaten in the last four meetings with Colgate (3-0-1) and owns a 3-1-1 record over the Big Red in the last five meetings at Baker Rink.
“We’re pretty positive right now,” said Quesnelle. “We played well [against St. Lawrence] and executed within our system. We took some steps forward. The biggest thing is to learn something from [the losing streak]. If we don’t, shame on us.”
It wasn’t as bad as the Michigan State series, but it wasn’t much better. After a period of time in which Yale saw its fortunes turning, the team returned home from the North Country with two losses and zero goals to show for its effort. Not exactly the momentum Tim Taylor & Co. were hoping for after a recent string where the team won four of five games.
The Bulldogs began their weekend at Clarkson, where nothing good seemed to happen for the visiting team. The Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the first 10 minutes and cruised along to a convincing 6-0 victory. Yale couldn’t seem to stop any of the Clarkson players as 13 different Golden Knights figured into the scoring column that night.
“Mark [Morris] said it was their best game of the year, and I hope so, because it was our worst,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor after Friday’s night contest. “I’m very disappointed with all aspects of our game. We were very vulnerable defensively, [they] beat us in all the one-on-one battles, and on faceoffs they dominated us.”
The following night, Yale responded with a more solid performance but was left with nothing to show for the effort. The team battled evenly through three periods, but fell after only eight seconds had elapsed in overtime. It was one of those plays that happened so quickly and left the Yale players standing there in disbelief. Not only were the two North Country shutouts disappointing, but they also marked the third and fourth shutouts of the season for Yale, tying a school record.
The two losses also kept Taylor one victory shy of becoming Yale’s all-time wins leader. The 23-year head coach is currently tied with legendary coach Murray Murdoch (1938-65) atop the school charts with 278 wins.
Much like Princeton, Yale has been successful against Colgate and Cornell in recent years. Although they dropped a 4-3 heartbreaker in Ithaca earlier this year, the Bulldogs are 4-1-0 in the last five games against Cornell and 4-3 against nationally-ranked teams.
Something Has To Give
In the North Country this weekend, there are four teams which took a total of 13 of 16 points last weekend. Weekend sweeps by Clarkson and Union, coupled with three points from Rensselaer and two from St. Lawrence, made this a set of games in which teams seem to have gotten things going.
Clarkson is on a roll as of late. Despite a loss to St. Lawrence earlier in the week, the Golden Knights rebounded to destroy Yale and Princeton by 6-0 and 6-1 scores. The Knights are now 7-2-0 in ECAC play in 2001 and are looking to wrap up a five-game homestand with four more points.
They will try to do it against Union and Rensselaer, who the Knights swept in their first set of ECAC games back in January.
“Union no doubt will give an improved effort over the last time we faced them a few weeks back,” said head coach Mark Morris. “I am certain they will have time to think about the way the game went down there and to bounce back. Brandon Snee is one of the better goalies in our league. With a strong effort from him they could compete with anybody in the ECAC.
“RPI obviously is always a team to reckon with. They are an explosive team and it is very important to play them in a tight checking, grinding affair to try and diffuse their offense.”
Last season the Knights lost both games at home against Union and Rensselaer.
Union picked up four points at a great time of the year. The Dutchmen have been stumbling for the last two months, but turned it up a notch and picked up their first ECAC wins since November in defeating Vermont and Dartmouth last weekend. The wins helped the Dutchmen maintain the last playoff spot, but also helped them gain ground on the teams ahead of them to try and solidify a playoff spot.
“We found a way to win,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “And that’s something that this hockey club hasn’t been doing lately. So it’s nice to get back on track.”
Rensselaer picked up three points last weekend. In coming from behind to defeat Dartmouth and tying Vermont in the annual Big Red Freakout game, the Engineers hang precariously in the fifth position of the standings.
But then again, the ECAC standings are tight no matter where you are.
“It would have been nice to win one in front of the fans from a Freakout perspective. I thought it was a real good crowd in here and I certainly would like to have Freakout every night,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “It would have been nice for them to go home with a win, but I’ll take three out of four points on the weekend.”
St. Lawrence took two points last weekend and needed overtime in order to do so. After getting outplayed and outgunned in a loss to Princeton, the Saints needed overtime to defeat Yale, 1-0.
The Saints are the end of a four game homestand and are looking to make the best of it after going 1-1 last weekend in the front end of the homestand.
“We’ve done pretty well lately in league play on the road, but we haven’t played as well as we’d like at home,” said head coach Joe Marsh. “We want to be a much better team than .500 on our own ice.
“This league is so tight that every game is going to be and end-to-end battle and you have to be on top of your game to be successful.”
Getting Back On Track
Despite a disappointing 4-1 loss to Boston College in the semifinal round of the Beanpot on Monday night, the Harvard Crimson is still tied for second place in the ECAC standings with 19 points. That lone fact is something that makes this weekend’s upcoming matchup against Dartmouth one of the most critical games of the season. The standings are as congested as ever and every possible point has the potential to change the playoff field dramatically — especially for a team like Harvard, which has a game up on 10 of the 11 other teams.
Although the Crimson players may have wished they had last Saturday night off, the team will have an extra night of rest this weekend in preparation for their consolation game against Northeastern at the FleetCenter on Monday night. The loss to the Eagles came on the heels of a weekend split with Colgate and Cornell. In front of an anxious FleetCenter crowd, the Crimson displayed some of its worst hockey of the year as they were outplayed and outplayed all night long by a very strong and fast Boston College.
“We didn’t have our edge,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “We needed to play much better defensively than we did. We knew what we had to do to win. We just didn’t have it [against Boston College], and I can’t really sit here and blame that on playing three games in four days.”
To top off the lost, the team will be without the services of sophomore Brett Nowak indefinitely as he was injured midway through Monday’s game. The team had already lost junior Graham Morrell for the year and is now barely able to fill out four full lines.
The one player who has established himself as the Crimson’s most dynamic player has been Dominic Moore. Through 19 games, Moore has amassed 29 points — five more than his total during his freshman year — and is on pace for a 40-point season. The last Crimson player to achieve such a feat was Steve Martins, who collected 60 points during the 1993-94 season.
The most astounding statistic for Moore, however, is the fact that 68 percent of his points have come on special teams. Moore’s stat line is very similar to that of the whole team. Of Harvard’s 60 total goals this season, exactly half have come either on the power play (21) or when the team was shorthanded (nine). In fact, Harvard has scored more shorthanded goals (eight) than it has allowed power-play tallies (seven) in ECAC games.
The Crimson will need to play behind the strength of its special teams come Friday night when they take on the Big Green. Dartmouth‘s power play has experienced a surge of its own, connecting on six of its last 14 attempts. The Big Green will also be foaming at the mouth for a win following its recent road trip to the Capital Region.
Despite a strong performance against both Rensselaer and Union, the Big Green saw its two-game winning streak take a 180-degree turn. Incidentally, the team’s winning streak was spurred on by two victories against the Engineers and Skating Dutchmen the weekend before in Hanover, N.H. The Saturday night loss to Union was especially disappointing considering that the Big Green fought back from two deficits that night to eventually fall, 4-3.
“I thought we worked hard tonight, but we couldn’t find a way to put the next one in,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “It’s unfortunate. I’ve said it over and over again — Union is a very good team. But we have the ability to dominate every facet of the game. The game’s funny — it can come down to a bounce of the puck here and there.”
Despite the recent scoring drought by leading scorer Mike Maturo, who has managed only three assists in his last six games, Trevor Byrne continues to establish himself as one of the premier defensemen in the league as he snagged his fifth goal of the year. Byrne enters this weekend’s contest against Harvard with 14 points in his last 13 games and he currently leads all Dartmouth defensemen with 20 total points.
With Byrne’s help, the Big Green will look to maintain the home advantage that it has enjoyed over the past few months. The team has won its last five games at Thompson Arena.
“It’s a hard one,” said Gaudet of his team’s zero-point weekend — the first since mid-November. “I’m trying to find a lesson out of it. You have to work your butts off in order to accomplish anything. But because you work, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”
The Catamounts emerged last weekend with a loss and a tie. But considering that single point — courtesy of a 2-2 deadlock with Rensselaer on Saturday night — is one of only four points collected by Vermont in its last 10 games, they’ll take it.
“Once we were in overtime, a lot of us were thinking the worst,” said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan. “I wanted them to go for the win, and not just try to nail down the tie, but we’ll take it. On the road, with the boys we have out, it’s pretty impressive to get one point.”
Vermont has been without the services of Andreas Moborg for the past three games and that certainly has hurt.
The Brown Bears will take center stage this Saturday night when the face off against Dartmouth in the ECAC game of the week. Brown is coming off a 0-for weekend against Cornell and Colgate. The team gave the Big Red all they could handle on Friday night and forced the contest into overtime. Unfortunately for the Bears, a turnover on the Brown blueline opened the door Cornell’s Krzystof Wieckowski’s goal at the 1:17 mark of the extra session.
The loss snowballed into an uninspired 4-1 defeat the next night in a very winnable game against Colgate.
“I thought we were flat tonight,” said Grillo following the loss — his team’s fifth straight. “We had chances to go up a goal or more, but didn’t get it done. We just lost that jump in our skates we had for a while.”
The enduring problem for the Bears — as was evidenced by last weekend’s play — has been their inability to finish off the well-played games when they have a chance. The team has had numerous chances to steal close games this year. Here’s a quick snapshot of the games Brown could have easily won: the 4-3 overtime loss versus Dartmouth, the 2-0 loss at Cornell in which the teams skated into the third period scoreless and the two consecutive ties against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. If those four games had gone the other way, the Bears would be battling for improved playoff position and not just hoping to still be playing hockey in four weeks.
Unfortunately for the Bears, there is no turning back at this point. The two most recent losses sink Brown to sole possession of last place in the ECAC standings, three points behind 11th-place Colgate.
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
Can you believe it? Another week of the challenge, and yes, your Iron Columnists are still undefeated. Steve Lombardo fell last week; this week, who will try to unseat us?
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)
Becky and Jayson d. Shawn Natole – (5-8-0) – (3-10-0)
Becky and Jayson t. Julian Saltman – (7-4-2) – (7-4-2)
Becky and Jayson d. Julian Saltman – (9-2-0) – (6-5-0)
Becky and Jayson d. Steve Lombardo – (8-4-1) – (6-6-1)
If memory serves us right, a school in New Haven has great fans that pack the “Whale” for every game. Our challenger this week is one of those fans at Yale. What will Normand Chouinard bring into USCHO Stadium to try and defeat the Iron Columnists? Can he go where no one has gone before? Whose picks will reign supreme?
Friday, February 9
Cornell at Princeton
Normand’s Pick – Princeton 4, Cornell 3
Becky and Jayson – Cornell 3, Princeton 1
Colgate at Yale
Normand’s Pick – Yale 4, Colgate 2
Becky and Jayson – Yale 5, Colgate 2
Rensselaer at St. Lawrence
Normand’s Pick – St. Lawrence 4, Rensselaer 1
Becky and Jayson – St. Lawrence 2, Rensselaer 1
Union at Clarkson
Normand’s Pick – Clarkson 6, Union 1
Becky and Jayson – Clarkson 4, Union 1
Harvard at Dartmouth
Normand’s Pick – Dartmouth 4, Harvard 2
Becky and Jayson – Harvard 4, Dartmouth 3
Brown at Vermont
Normand’s Pick – Brown 3, Vermont 2
Becky and Jayson – Vermont 5, Brown 3
Saturday, February 10
Cornell at Yale
Normand’s Pick – Yale 3, Cornell 2
Becky and Jayson – Cornell 2, Yale 0
Colgate at Princeton
Normand’s Pick – Princeton 4, Colgate 1
Becky and Jayson – Princeton 3, Colgate 1
Rensselaer at Clarkson
Normand’s Pick – Clarkson 5, Rensselaer 3
Becky and Jayson – Clarkson 3, Rensselaer 2
Union at St. Lawrence
Normand’s Pick – St. Lawrence 4, Union 2
Becky and Jayson – Union 3, St. Lawrence 2
Brown at Dartmouth
Normand’s Pick – Dartmouth 4, Brown 1
Becky and Jayson – Dartmouth 7, Brown 2
Monday, February 5
Harvard vs. Northeastern
Normand’s Pick – Northeastern 3, Harvard 1
Becky and Jayson – Harvard 4, Northeastern 2
And remember that if you are interested in putting your money where your mouth is, drop us an email to be eligible to be chosen when Normand bites the dust.
Thanks to Mike Volonnino, Shiva Nagaraj, Sean Peden and David Sherzer for their contributions this week