With the regular year all shaken out, it’s time for the second season to begin.
Congratulations to Clarkson for winning the regular-season crown, but unlike past years, that title doesn’t mean an automatic NCAA bid. So the fight for the Whitelaw Trophy begins in earnest this weekend.
Vermont at Clarkson
This Season – Clarkson, 5-2 @Clarkson and 4-1 @Vermont
Last Playoff Meeting – 1998 First Round – Clarkson, 2-1 (ot), 5-3, @Clarkson
Call them what you want, but in the end, they are the ECAC regular-season champions for the ninth time. The Clarkson Golden Knights stepped it up in the second half of the season and finished 2001 with a 15-4 record — reeling off a 9-1 stretch in their last 10 ECAC games, including seven in a row to capture the title.
“We are awfully proud of this year,” said coach Mark Morris. “I am happy for the seniors and I am happy for the whole team. We started out at the bottom of the pack and worked our way right to the top, and now we’ve got another banner in the rafters. This is a real accomplishment for us. We’ve had a lot of departures to pro hockey and some other related incidents the last couple of years that have really changed the face of this hockey team. We have a lot of youth, so it is very rewarding to see how much we have grown this year. We are delighted with the outcome of the regular season.”
Call them what you want, but in the end, they are in the ECAC playoffs. An 8-4 win over St. Lawrence and a loss by Colgate to Rensselaer put Vermont into the tournament by the tip of the Cats’ collective tails. Vermont started the ECAC season with a 5-0 record, but in calendar year 2001 the Cats were the opposite of the Golden Knights. The Cats went 3-12-2 in 2001, had lost five in a row before defeating St. Lawrence and went from first in the ECAC to 10th by the time it was all said and done.
“There was a just a feeling we weren’t going to let it go this way,” senior captain Jerry Gernander told the Burlington Free Press after Saturday’s game. “I think having it maybe be our last game fired up a few guys a little bit more.”
“We’ve been trying,” said Ryan Cox to the Free Press. “I don’t know what it’s been, but we found it tonight. I think we showed [tonight] that we’re not quitters, that we’re not going to give up.”
The two teams will meet again after playing each other this past weekend, with Clarkson winning 4-1 at Vermont. It only gets tougher for the Cats as they have to step into Cheel, a place no ECAC opponent has won in the playoffs.
Union at St. Lawrence
This Season – St. Lawrence, 5-2 @St. Lawrence, 6-0 @Union
Last Playoff Meeting – 2000 First Round – St. Lawrence, 8-4, 4-3 (ot), @St. Lawrence
Call it deja vu. These two teams met in the first round of last year’s playoffs — St. Lawrence downed Union and went on to win the ECAC championship. The Saints are obviously hoping that lightning strikes twice, while the Dutchmen are hoping to make this year a different one.
“It’s important that we played in the playoffs last year,” said Dutchmen coach Kevin Sneddon. “For our guys to get that experience, we have literally everyone back from that team, and we know what to expect from the playoffs. We’re looking at it as a very positive experience and we’re looking forward to get up there.”
Both teams are coming off of weekends in which they were swept. St. Lawrence lost the lead in the ECAC after getting swept by Dartmouth and Vermont, while Union moved into the playoffs despite getting swept by Colgate and Cornell.
“It was a disappointing weekend not in that we lost, but in that we didn’t play as well as we had hoped,” said Saint coach Joe Marsh. “We didn’t go in with a gun to our head as far as the playoffs were concerned, but we did want to try to repeat as regular season champions. We lost a lot of the little battles for the puck both nights and weren’t as focused as we could have been.”
“We have to take a look at the positives,” said Sneddon. “I didn’t think we played against Colgate, and they were a team fighting for their lives, and we learned a lesson from it. That was our first taste of playoff hockey and the next night I thought we rebounded real well with a good game against Cornell. We played near perfect hockey in terms of defense. Coming out of there we felt we gave ourselves an opportunity to win the hockey game. I think if anything, we’re looking at it as a positive that we’ve already had a taste of playoff hockey and on the road too. That should help us out going to St. Lawrence.”
The Saints have been playing without Erik Anderson, which has had an effect. But with Anderson in the lineup, the Saints are deadly, especially at Appleton.
“We have a chance to make a third straight trip to Lake Placid and we are playing at home,” said Marsh. “It isn’t going to be easy, the whole season has shown just how tight this league really is, and that was pointed out to us pretty dramatically this weekend — but if we can play the way we are capable of playing, we have the chance to advance.”
What could make the difference this weekend is defense. Sneddon certainly knows that offense is hard to come by.
“I would be more concerned if we weren’t generating those chances,” he said in regards to generating offense. “We’re not an offensive team and we need to concern ourselves with defense first. We are generating the opportunities and we just have to capitalize on our chances. The players know that and as coaches there’s nothing we can do about it, they have to bury their chances.”
Even though the seedings may be two and nine, there’s not a lot of difference in the ECAC and both teams certainly know that. This is going to be one tough series: the Saints hope to repeat as ECAC champions and the Dutchmen are looking to get to Lake Placid for the first time.
“It doesn’t quite come down to X’s and O’s right now,” said Sneddon. “It comes down to character and execution and I feel comfortable that we’re ready to do that.”
Yale at Harvard
This Season – Yale, 3-1 @Yale, Harvard, 6-4 @Harvard
Last Playoff Meeting – 1998 Consolation – Harvard, 4-1, @Lake Placid
It’s a ticket seller’s dream: Harvard and Yale facing off in the first round of ECAC playoffs — for the first time ever in an elimination situation. It has everything you would want — history, rivalry, drama, and more importantly, the interest of the respective student bodies. Over the past few years, it has been no secret that the rowdy Harvard fans of the past are no longer. Although a third-place finish for the Crimson in the ECAC race will certainly help bring the students back to Bright Hockey Center in years to come, the playoff matchup with Yale will have a more immediate effect.
The rivalry has been very unique over the years. For quite some time, the pattern was predictable. No matter how strong either team was in a given year, Harvard would always win in Cambridge, while Yale would be victorious in New Haven. Even during the Crimson glory years of the late ’80s and early ’90s, the pattern stuck. It wasn’t until recently when the Bulldogs began to find chinks in the Harvard home-ice armor and vice versa. A nightmare for coaches, but a rush of adrenaline for fans. Nowadays, it’s not so easy to predict the outcome when these two teams meet. What makes this season even more interesting is that you have two teams who have proven that they are pretty evenly matched when you stick them on the ice. The scouting reports read almost identically:
Fast-skating team; generates speed effectively at neutral ice; struggles to create deep in the offensive zone; will take the body when necessary; prone to defensive breakdowns; solid goaltending; relies heavily on special-teams play.
Earlier this year, the Bulldogs defeated the Crimson in front of a sold-out crowd, 3-1, but Harvard was without the services of its two top freshmen, Tyler Kolarik and Tim Pettit. Just one week ago, Harvard snuck by Yale, 6-4, but the Bulldogs were playing with Dan Lombard, who suffered a punctured lung the day before. All of that buildup makes this upcoming series even that much more interesting.
“We have a chance to control our destiny in the playoffs,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, whose team enters this weekend with a 7-4-1 record at home versus a 6-8-1 mark on the road. “It’s huge for us to open the playoffs at home because we are not a very good road team. Now we have to take care of business with no excuses.”
Harvard will have to contend with a Yale team that has finally figured out how to score goals. In its last five games, the Bulldogs are averaging 5.2 goals per game. It’s no surprise that Jeff Hamilton amassed 13 points in that stretch, but Luke Earl has been unstoppable at times, posting 15 points in five games. Teams also have to watch out for Ben Stafford and freshman Jeff Dwyer — arguably one of the best newcomers in the league this season.
Hamilton collected two assists last weekend against Harvard, but the Crimson did a good job containing the prolific scorer. Matchup-wise, Harvard was able neutralize the Yale offense as most of the Bulldogs’ scoring opportunities came off of Harvard defensive breakdowns.
“Against Harvard we are going to have to find some better matchups,” said Yale coach Tim Taylor. “They had the right guys out there at the right time [last weekend]. We have to stop digging ourselves holes though, because they get tougher and tougher to climb out of.”
And then there is the situation with Dan Lombard. Following the injury to the starting netminder on Thursday afternoon, Taylor gave the starting nod to freshman Peter Dobrowolski, who had only 10:43 of collegiate goaltending experience heading into the weekend stint. Dobrowolski held his own (58 saves) but there is no replacement for Lombard, who has been the savior for the Yale defense all year long.
The key to this weekend’s matchup will certainly be momentum. Harvard needs to get the crowd involved early and use that energy to finish off the series as quickly as possible. Yale isn’t afraid of Harvard — in fact, the Bulldogs feel better equipped to face the Crimson than probably any other ECAC team. Yale has also proven that it will fight to the end as was evidenced by its ability to regroup in the face of an early 3-0 deficit last weekend. Harvard possesses more overall talent and team speed, but Yale has the edge if this series turns into a long, physical battle.
Princeton at Cornell
This Season – Cornell, 3-0 @Cornell, Princeton, 4-1 @Princeton
Last Playoff Meeting – 1999 First Round – Princeton, 4-4 (ot), 6-5, @Princeton
A double-edged sword? That’s probably a good phrase to describe the news that Princeton would be heading to Ithaca for the first round of playoffs. The knee-jerk reaction is disappointment, since no team likes to play at Lynah. During the regular season, it’s an intimidating environment, but it’s even worse during the playoffs.
However, if you take a step back, the matchup becomes more intriguing. Cornell has lost five of its last eight games and is struggling offensively. Princeton, on the other hand, is playing its best hockey of the year and has proven in the past to be a good playoff team.
The gap between fourth and seventh place just got smaller.
“[Securing home ice is] a big burden off our guys’ shoulders,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “I think they’ve been really feeling the pressure here in the last couple of weeks. We’re looking forward to playing Princeton in the playoffs. I like our matchup. The way we played our hockey at home tonight, it’s going to be very difficult for teams to come into this rink.”
Throughout its scoring drought, Cornell has responded with a suffocating defense. Over its last 12 games, the Big Red has allowed teams to average just over two goals a game. That statistic is ultra-important for a team that has scored only 1.75 goals per game during the 12-game stretch. Despite the offensive doldrums, Cornell managed to salvage home ice, but just barely. It took a 2-1 victory against Union on Saturday night to accomplish that feat.
“Guys have to put it in the back of the net; it’s been our problem for a long period of time here and it just continues,” said Schafer. “We have a lot of shots on net and we’re not executing. That’s the bottom line. … Our guys are frustrated and they should be, but they’re not getting the puck into the back of the net.”
Princeton has had more luck scoring goals during the latter half of the season, but its main problems have been a lack of consistent play and an abundance of defensive breakdowns. The Tigers will be bolstered by the return of senior Kirk Lamb, who sat out Saturday night’s game against Harvard to rest a sore knee. Even without Lamb — the team’s leading scorer — Princeton played one of its best games of the year against the Crimson.
“We battled back from a 2-0 deficit on the road against a good team,” said Princeton coach Lenny Quesnelle following the 2-2 tie to Harvard. “That we did it with our captain out is just a further credit to our character.”
The Tigers were able to find open ice and create many offensive chances. More importantly, the team was much more efficient and effective in front of its own net. There were far fewer loose rebounds left in front of netminder Dave Stathos, who along with Shane Campbell, Matt Maglione and Chris Corrinet, has been a surprise contributor, game in and game out, this season. Princeton will also look to use its physical presence to knock Cornell off its game plan. The Tigers are much more successful when they can disrupt offensive flow early on and not allow teams to cycle in the offensive zone.
“It’s been a trademark of our team,” Quesnelle said. “If we’re physical, we give ourselves a very good chance to win.”
Cornell is also a very physical team. Schafer knows that, but he also knows that at this stage of the season his team’s fate is in the hands of his players. If they can find a way to end the scoring drought they will most likely win the series. If they don’t — well — it will certainly be a long offseason for the fourth-place Big Red.
“It’s in their hands. There’s nothing else that we can do as a coaching staff,” said Schafer. “We’ve talked to the guys, we’ve shown them video, they’re well-prepared. They’re the ones that are on the ice and they’re the ones that have to execute. What more can they do except for when that chance arises, to finish? And I can’t give them the confidence to do that. They have to get that confidence themselves.”
Rensselaer at Dartmouth
This Season – Dartmouth, 2-1 @Dartmouth, Rensselaer, 4-2 @Rensselaer
Last Playoff Meeting – 2000 First Round – Rensselaer, 7-2, 3-2 (ot), @Rensselaer
It’s another case of deja vu in the ECAC playoffs. Last season, these two teams met in Troy, with the Engineers blowing past the Big Green in the first game — but then they had to go to the last minute of the second game to tie it, before winning in overtime to advance to Lake Placid. This season, the matchup is the same, but the venue has changed, which might make a difference.
Last weekend the Big Green took down St. Lawrence to clinch home ice, and then was defeated by Clarkson as the Golden Knights capture the ECAC title. But once again, the home ice can make a difference, or at least one Big Green skater thinks so.
“I think good things are going to happen for us next weekend,” said tri-captain Michael Byrne. “We’re a confident team when we’re at home. I didn’t think anyone could beat us here, but I guess Clarkson proved me wrong.
“I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat next week at home.”
But is it that much of a factor?
“Home ice certainly matters, [and] we had our opportunities earlier on, but hindsight is 20-20,” said Engineer coach Dan Fridgen. “We wanted to get a couple of wins this weekend and let things take care of themselves. If we’re on the road, we’re on the road. And we deal with it.”
The Engineers did what they had to do to secure home ice, as they picked up wins over Cornell and Colgate on the road, but didn’t receive help from others and, though tied with Dartmouth in the standings, lost the tiebreaker.
“We certainly would have liked to have been home and we did everything we could do to get home picking up the two wins this weekend,” said Fridgen. “We just have to move forward and going to Dartmouth, that’s alright, both of our sweeps have been on the road this year.
These two split a pair of games this past season, with each winning on home ice. Those two games were consecutive, split by six days. Dartmouth won the first game and the Engineers the second.
“We’re two evenly matched teams, that’s all it is,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet after the two-game “series.”
One more fact in this home-ice discussion: Dartmouth is 10-5-0 at home, while Rensselaer is 7-8-0 on the road.
If one looks at last season, the Big Green almost pushed last year’s series to three games, but a late Pete Gardiner goal tied the game and then Carson Butterwick won it for the Engineers. With that series win, the Engineers’ record against the Big Green over the last 20 games was 15-5 and 10-1 over the last 11 games.
“All that stuff is history,” said Gaudet about the streaks. “But you know, these guys didn’t have much to do with that except that late last year they played in the playoffs. To be honest, they were a better team than we were last year and we gave them everything we could in that second game last year, and that’s the whole history with this team. It’s newsworthy, but it doesn’t matter who we play, it’s the same game.”
So, this season at home, streaks and history aside, the Big Green have a chance at avenging last year’s playoff loss to the Engineers.
In the process they will try to make it to Lake Placid for the first time.
“I’m very proud of the guys for putting ourselves in a position to play at home,” said Gaudet. “I think it’s an excellent accomplishment for this team.
“On the other hand, I told them that that’s not what we’re after. That’s a step along the way. What we’re after is winning the ECAC championship.”
Our All-ECAC Picks
Here they are, our picks for the Awards that will be handed out next Thursday, March 15, in Lake Placid.
ECAC All-Rookie Team
Our choices are based on what we have seen this year. And to think these folks have three more years left in this league (hopefully).
F – Rob McFeeters, Clarkson – A powerful skater with a touch who propelled Clarkson late in the season.
F – Tim Pettit, Harvard – One of the heralded group of freshmen in Cambridge, Pettit showed he will be a force.
F – Ryan Vesce, Cornell – This youngster will be the sniper that everyone talks about when discussing the Big Red.
D – Jeff Dwyer, Yale – In the tradition of Ray Giroux, Dwyer showed he is big time, and he’ll stay that way in New Haven.
D – Matt Maglione, Princeton – Nade a nice impact on the blue line for the Tigers this year and is one of the reasons the Tigers are there.
G – Nathan Marsters, Rensselaer – What an impact he has made as a one-man rescue squad for the Engineers on numerous occasions this season.
ECAC Rookie of the Year
This one was tough to pick — there were a lot of good candidates out there. But would Rensselaer have been where it is without this player’s work? It’s highly doubtful.
Nathan Marsters, G, Rensselaer
ECAC Defensive Defenseman of the Year
Misapprehensions abound about this award. Is it really for the defenseman that plays the best defense, or is it for the one that plays the best defense and offense at the same time? In either case, our pick is:
Kent Huskins, Clarkson
ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year
This is really a tough one, but take a look at the team from Ithaca and what this sophomore has done. He has controlled the defensive-zone draws and is out there in defensive and offensive situations. Our pick?
Matt McRae, Cornell
The Dryden Award
He came out of nowhere to make a splash. In the beginning everyone was thinking about how two other goalies would do in Potsdam, but in the end, it was the third guy everyone was talking about.
Mike Walsh, Clarkson
All-ECAC Second Team
G – Oliver Jonas, Harvard – Kept the Crimson in games this season and backstopped his way to home ice.
D – Matt Desrosiers, St. Lawrence – With big holes to fill on defense, he was more than up to the challenge.
D – Cory Murphy, Colgate – Despite not being in the playoffs, Murphy has led his team from the blue line both defensively and offensively.
F – Jeff Hamilton, Yale – How many times have you heard, “Stop Hamilton and you stop Yale”?
F – Kirk Lamb, Princeton – Through the good and the bad, Lamb has led his team.
F – Matt Murley, Rensselaer – The most important offensive cog in the Engineer arsenal, Murley leads the Engineer skaters.
All-ECAC First Team
G – Mike Walsh, Clarkson – I think we’ve said it all above.
D – Trevor Byrne, Dartmouth – Just a sophomore, he perhaps has ECAC Player of the Year in his future.
D – Kent Huskins, Clarkson – The Golden Knights need him and he delivers.
F – Erik Anderson, St. Lawrence – The complete player.
F – Mike Gellard, St. Lawrence – Led the league in scoring. Though at times overshadowed, he gets the job done.
F – Dominic Moore, Harvard – What a breakout year he had. He and Byrne will be battling for future Player of the Year honors.
ECAC Player of the Year
He gets it done offensively and defensively. He’s out there when the game is on the line, and he takes the game out of line at times as well. As we said above, he is the complete player.
Erik Anderson, St. Lawrence
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
The Iron Columnists did not lose this past week. But then again, we didn’t win either. It was a tie.
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 d. Becky and Jayson – (7-4-1) – (6-5-1)
Normand Chouinard d. Becky and Jayson – (9-1-2) – (5-5-2)
Becky and Jayson t. Normand Chouinard – (6-4-2) – (6-4-2)
If memory serves us right, there is always next year. Thanks to all for the fun — except Normand.
Thanks to Dave Sherzer, Mike Volonnino and Charles Persons for their contributions this week.