This Week In The ECAC: Feb. 15, 2001

We have a headache. If it wasn’t tight before last weekend, it sure is tight now in the ECAC. Just take a look at the standings (you can use points now, since all the games in hand are evened out).

 1  SLU  23
2T CKN 20
2T COR 20
4 HAR 19
5 DAR 18
6T RPI 16
6T UVM 16
8T PRI 14
8T YAL 14
10T COL 13
10T UNI 13
12 BRN 6

Pass the medication, please.

The Baton Passes

The St. Lawrence Saints took the mantle this week as the top team in the ECAC. A weekend sweep of Rensselaer and Union coupled with two losses by Cornell gave the Saints a three-point lead with six games to play. Can the Saints hold it?

“It’s where you want to be, obviously,” said coach Joe Marsh. “Anytime you don’t need help from anybody, it’s great.

“It’s better than not being there, I guess.”

While the spotlight may be on Erik Anderson, Al Fyfe, Mike Gellard and Russ Bartlett, this Saint team has an intangible that may be tough to beat over the last three weeks.

“There is experience on this team,” said Marsh. “There’s a lot of players that have had a lot of experience, even guys that don’t have a lot of numbers. You take the Muirs, Marchettis, O’Briens, all those kids played in a lot of playoff games last year and I think that helps us on the bench. You can put other people out there.

“We go heavily to Anderson’s line but there are other people contributing a lot. As a team we need to have a lot of guys stepping up and to give us a sense of composure on the bench. Having played in the playoffs and done well, there’s no sense of panic.”

This weekend was a perfect example as Blair Clarance scored the overtime winner against Rensselaer and Charlie Daniels put in two against Union.

The Saints have a team that has been there and that’s something you can’t put in a stat book.

Crimson Spiral

Two weeks ago, the rest of the league was looking up at Harvard. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, 11 teams are now looking the Crimson straight in the eye. Following two straight losses in which Harvard surrendered a combined 15 goals and showed defensive susceptibility, the team has dropped to fourth place and is fighting for its playoff life.

The severity of the team’s current four-game losing has not been lost on the Crimson coaching staff. Injuries have rattled the team and exposed a fragile skeleton of a program that is in the midst of a rebuilding process. And with Clarkson and St. Lawrence entering the Bright Center doors this weekend, the prognosis does not look good.

“By the third period, we were down to four D and three lines. That was all we had healthy on the bench — that was it,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni, referring to his team’s 8-7 loss to Northeastern in Monday night’s Beanpot consolation game. “We’ll have to evaluate that moving forward. Now I don’t like to trap, but maybe I’ll have to trap this weekend and not waste a lot of energy in the offensive zone and neutral zone based on the fact that we don’t have a lot of bodies. We have Clarkson and St. Lawrence coming in. We’re in fourth, one point behind Cornell and Clarkson. Four points out of first, but three points from seventh.”

Injuries are always a determining variable in college sports — no team is immune. The Crimson is simply feeling the pangs a bit more acutely than others. Playing with a limited roster to begin with, Harvard has seen its ranks become thinner and thinner. During the Monday debacle in which Northeastern stormed back from a 6-3 deficit to win, Harvard was without the services of Brett Nowak, David McCulloch and Rob Fried. Kyle Clark had left the team earlier that week, only to be replaced by a young junior varsity player, while Tim Pettit was hit and did not play after midway through the contest.

The result has been a sudden influx of defensive breakdowns. Senior Oliver Jonas, who was playing some the best hockey of his career earlier this season, has been bombarded in recent games, which will no doubt begin to wear away at his confidence. The aggressive forecheck that propelled Harvard to first place in the league has been neutralized by opponents, because they have been able to control play deep in the defensive zone and force the Crimson defenders back on their heels. The offensive creativity of the young forwards has been stifled by the lack of momentum generated in the neutral zone. The once invincible penalty kill is slowly breaking down because players aren’t being marked as tightly in the low slot.

So when people glance at the Crimson’s record and wonder how a team that had been so solid for so long can all of a sudden look sorely outmatched against Boston College, and give up seven goals to Dartmouth and eight more to Northeastern … well, there’s your answer. “We have young kids who for the majority are playing well, but they have a tendency right now to when they get down, they try to do too much,” said Mazzoleni. “They put it on their shoulders and they forget about playing and moving the puck, beating your man off the puck and just trying to carry it. You got to learn from that. That is part of the maturation process. They’re bright kids, as we all know to get into that school. They’re good hockey players. We’ve made progress and we’ll be better for it.”

Although the team still has a long way to go this season, Mazzoleni realizes that this program will not reach its potential this year. Sitting before a handful of media members following the Beanpot consolation loss, the second-year coach was candid about his program — where they are now and where they will be in the future.

“We have to continue to recruit well. Those of you who know this team will say that our freshman class is excellent and I think that the freshman class we have coming is very, very good right now,” explained Mazzoleni. “You’ll see next year, we’ll play 17 freshmen and sophomores. That’s part of the transition in a program.

“I say that in a city where I know there is a real respect for guys like Jerry York. Remember when he came to BC, it didn’t turn overnight. I was in the CCHA when Red Berenson came, and it took until his fourth year until he had a winning season. It doesn’t happen right away. Harvard has not had a winning program in five years. It doesn’t turn overnight. You have to change not only at times personnel but attitude. Right now we need more of a competitive attitude — to find those players.

“Luckily for me, I got a five-year deal when I came here. They know where I’m at. [Harvard Athletic Director] Billy Cleary knows full well where we’re at right now.”

Bouncing Back

Clarkson came back from a Friday loss to Union to defeat Rensselaer. Combining with Cornell’s results, the Golden Knights are now in a second-place tie.

“They’re all big now,” said Clarkson coach Mark Morris after the win over Rensselaer. “We squandered two points last night [against Union] and we made this a must-win. We can’t afford to slide from here on in. We didn’t make the most of our opportunities on home ice last night and that still sticks in my mind.

“We’re heading down to Harvard and Brown, so we’ve pretty much eliminated any slack for error and everybody’s fighting for position now and it’s important that we capitalize on our opportunities.”

Things have turned around for the Knights, who were sitting out of a playoff spot when 2001 rolled around.

“The staff feels like we’re capable of playing much better,” said Morris. “We’ve come to appreciate real solid defense and we think we have one of the better defensive units. With Mike Walsh’s goaltending now, we feel we have a chance.”

Looking Up

After the weekend sweep at the hands of St. Lawrence and Clarkson, Rensselaer is sitting in a sixth place tie with Vermont. For the third straight game, the Engineers had a lead, but lost it in the third period and wound up losing the game.

“Going into the third period, we’re just not winning that period,” said coach Dan Fridgen. “Unfortunately in our case, losing one period has cost us two hockey games. It’s that time of year where those things happen, we just have to find a way to make it better. Right now you got some young guys playing in some key situations and at critical times and unfortunately the experience isn’t lending to good things happening. But then on the other hand we have some upperclassmen that are playing like freshmen.

“We’ve got to play more as a team and more as a unit at critical times.”

The Engineers will have four straight games at home to try to right the ship and knows that despite being in sixth place, there’s still time.

“Anything can happen and no matter what happens we’ll be prepared,” said Fridgen. “Unfortunately we didn’t take care of our own destiny at this time so it’s going to matter what happens around the league, but hey, there’s six games left.”

What A Difference A Week Makes

Colgate was trailing the last playoff position by two points heading into last weekend, but after a sweep of Yale and Princeton, the Red Raiders are right back in it, tied for the last spot and only five points out of home ice.

“I think the two wins on the weekend were must-wins for us,” said coach Don Vaughan. “I am very proud of the way we played, especially in two buildings that we haven’t had much success in.

“last weekend the team got some reward for all the hard work they put in. I’m proud of this team with the way they have stuck with it. They have had several chances to throw in the towel, but this team hasn’t.”

The Red Raiders are looking to cash in at home against Vermont and Dartmouth this weekend and plant themselves firmly in a playoff position.

Home. For Now

A weekend sweep by Dartmouth has them in the fifth and final home ice position. For now. The Big Green know the importance of playing at Thompson Arena. The Big Green are 9-4-0 at home, and only 2-6-2 on the road. They have six in a row at home and eight of the last nine home games they have played.

“It’s important for us to make this place a very difficult place to play for the opposition,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “I felt all along that when we start drawing people — even though I’d like to have a more boisterous crowd at times — that that would make it a much better home-ice advantage. [Saturday], I thought the energy helped us to stay focused and played a good game.”

The Big Green could be at a disadvantage, though, as they play four of the last six on the road. But wouldn’t the Big Green love to be at Thompson for the playoffs with the success they have had lately?

Congrats To Mike and Tim

Congratulations to Vermont head man Mike Gilligan and Yale head man Tim Taylor.

Gilligan became the 18th coach in NCAA history to record 400 wins as his Catamounts defeated Brown 2-0 in the only action last weekend for the Cats.

“This means a lot,” he said after the game. “I think of all the great players who have played here, and all the great games, in Boston, in Albany, in Cincinnati, and all the great assistant coaches I have had. Certainly (current Brown head coach) Roger Grillo was one of the guys who helped put this program on the map.”

The Cats stand tied with Rensselaer in sixth place and are looking to move up in the standings and try to get a series in the great confines of the Gut.

“I’m just hoping we can springboard off this win, do some things on the road and get home ice for the playoffs,” said Gilligan. “If we can win three of four on the road and then come home and do some things we’ll have some jump in our step for the playoffs.”

Taylor became the all-time winningest head coach at Yale last weekend after the Bulldogs downed Cornell, 1-0, in overtime. That was his 279th win, surpassing Murray Murdoch.

“Quite frankly, I’m just glad it’s over,” Taylor said. “It was nothing that I was thinking about or focused on.”

The focus for Taylor will be on Union and Rensselaer this weekend.

Next up in the coaching milestone marks is St. Lawrence head man Joe Marsh. He is two wins away from 300.

If It’s So Easy, You Try It

Ow. Your Iron Columnists fell, and fell hard last week. Normand Chouinard brought us down, meaning that he is back again to try to make it two in a row. Chairman Brule is not happy with 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)
Normand Chouinard d. Becky and Jayson – (8-4-0) – (4-8-0)

Normand Chouinard took the Iron Columnists down. This week, he has to repeat that feat, a feat which none has tried. None has gotten that far. So, Norman Chouinard, bring your skills into USCHO Stadium and try to defeat the Iron Columnists once again. Whose picks will reign supreme?

The Picks

Friday, February 16

Clarkson at Harvard
Normand’s PickClarkson 4, Harvard 2
Becky and JaysonClarkson 5, Harvard 3

St. Lawrence at Brown
Normand’s PickSt. Lawrence 4, Brown 2
Becky and JaysonSt. Lawrence 5, Brown 1

Yale at Union
Normand’s PickYale 3, Union 2
Becky and JaysonUnion 3, Yale 1

Princeton at Rensselaer
Normand’s PickRensselaer 5, Princeton 3
Becky and JaysonPrinceton 5, Rensselaer 4

Dartmouth at Cornell
Normand’s PickDartmouth 3, Cornell 2
Becky and JaysonCornell 2, Dartmouth 0

Vermont at Colgate
Normand’s PickColgate 4, Vermont 2
Becky and JaysonColgate 5, Vermont 3

Saturday, February 17

Clarkson at Brown
Normand’s PickClarkson 4, Brown 1
Becky and JaysonClarkson 6, Brown 4

St. Lawrence at Harvard
Normand’s PickSt. Lawrence 6, Harvard 5
Becky and JaysonSt. Lawrence 4, Harvard 1

Yale at Rensselaer
Normand’s PickYale 3, Rensselaer 2
Becky and JaysonRensselaer 5, Yale 1

Princeton at Union
Normand’s PickUnion 5, Princeton 4
Becky and JaysonUnion 6, Princeton 5

Dartmouth at Colgate
Normand’s PickColgate 5, Dartmouth 4
Becky and JaysonDartmouth 4, Colgate 2

Vermont at Cornell
Normand’s PickCornell 2, Vermont 1
Becky and JaysonVermont 3, Cornell 1

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 David Sherzer and Dan Fleschner for their contributions this week


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