This Week in the ECAC: Nov. 8, 2001

Oh boy, ECAC fans, get your cheering faces on. All 12 teams are taking each other on in this, the first full regular-season weekend in the ECAC. The road to the Cleary and Whitelaw Trophies really starts now.

Buckle your seatbelts, we guarantee you it will be intense!

An All-New England Affair

The first-place Brown Bears will travel north this weekend to take on Dartmouth and Vermont.

Wait a minute … did we say “first-place” Brown? A year ago, that statement would have caused a few laughs and a lot of sarcastic comments. For better or for worse, the Bears technically share rights to the best team record in the ECAC heading into the first full week of play, thanks to an opening win over Harvard on Saturday night.

The Bears came back from a 1-0 deficit to defeat the nationally-ranked Crimson, 4-2, at Bright Hockey Center. It was a first for Brown on many levels. The win was the first time since 1999 that Brown had beaten Harvard, and the first time since 1998 that the Bears had opened the season with a victory. And perhaps more importantly, after finishing dead last the past two years, the victory gave the Bears a needed confidence boost.

“The message to the guys was that they had paid their dues during the summer, and a lot of them had paid their dues last season,” said head coach Roger Grillo. “They worked hard as a young team last year to take their lumps and get better, and continue to climb the ladder. So it was a nice reward for the amount of time put in by the players and coaches.”

Brown had its key elements working that night. Goaltender Brian Eklund saved 27 of 29 shots en route to ECAC Goaltender of the Week honors, and the team’s first line of Pascal Denis, Tye Korbl and Keith Kirley figured in on two of the four goals. Depth isn’t Brown’s strength, but wins may come easier this year if those pieces to the puzzle come through with big seasons.

“I thought that our defense played a good game as well,” said Grillo. “Anytime you can limit a team like Harvard to 29 shots on net is a good sign. We did a nice job eliminating quality shots and second shots around the net. Our [top line] had great opportunities, but the other groups did as well. It was a great effort top to bottom.”

Unfortunately for them, the Bears will once again be without the services of senior captain Josh Barker, who suffered a high ankle sprain during the exhibition contest against Moncton. With or without Barker, the big question is whether Brown can repeat its success on the road against the likes of Vermont and Dartmouth.

“We’re not there yet,” said Grillo. “We have to stick to what we have been doing well, come out with energy and play hard. We need to stick to our game plan and have faith in what we are doing and what we have been doing. We had a lot of bad turnovers especially early on [in the Harvard game]. We didn’t take care of the puck in our end of the rink and that was our biggest weakness on the weekend.”

For Harvard, the loss stung for the players and coaching staff as expectations for a strong start were high, despite the lack of a difficult preseason schedule. Some solace, as well as the retention of its national ranking, came the following night when the Crimson rebounded with a 5-2 win over the only other nationally-ranked team in the league — Dartmouth. The Crimson — powered by a two-goal output from Brett Nowak and a 3-for-8 performance by the power play — managed to place more pressure on the Big Green defense and goaltender Nick Boucher than they had the previous night against Brown. The result was a total of 38 shots on net, many within the all-too critical red zone during the power play.

Most impressive for the Crimson was the play of the freshmen defenders — Noah Welch, Jesse Lane and Ryan Lannon. Everyone knew that Harvard would be susceptible and young on the defensive end of things, but with Graham Morrell out for the season and Peter Capouch questionable at best — the Crimson D just got a lot younger. The team dressed three freshmen and three sophomore defensemen last weekend. It also found itself a regular goaltender in Will Crothers, who made his starting debut in the Crimson net. Although not perfect, Crothers finished with 47 saves in two games.

“Our defense played extremely well, and [Crothers] made big saves both nights, which is a very positive indication and a confidence builder,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. “I thought Crothers played very well. He stopped what he needed to stop. He played a very solid game for us.”

Brown and Harvard will travel to Vermont and Dartmouth and take on two teams that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Despite the disappointing loss to Harvard, the Big Green is still one of the most experienced and most dangerous teams in the league. With a healthy Nick Boucher in net, Trevor Byrne along the blue line and Mike Maturo up front, this team has all the potential in the world. They just need to bring it all together and make the system hum, something that they weren’t able to do until the latter half of last season.

The loss to Harvard was a blow to Dartmouth, especially after a positive preseason that included contests against McGill and Moncton. After going up early on the Crimson, the Big Green was outscored 2-0 in the second period and was never able to recover.

“The two goals in the second period killed us,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “We didn’t recover, and we’ve got to be able to. It seems to be an even game and then all of a sudden, they’re up by two. It was tough.”

The key for Dartmouth this weekend will be special teams play — the Big Green went 1-for-8 on the power play against Harvard — and the ability to stay out of the penalty box. The two-goal explosion in that crucial second period was caused by a pair of penalties assessed to Trevor Byrne (crosschecking) and Lee Stempniak (hitting after the whistle) at the 10:07 mark, giving the home team a 5-on-3 advantage.

“It was a special teams game,” Gaudet said. “It was a game that was there for the taking in the second period, but we got a couple of tough ones that hurt us. There were guys that I didn’t get on the ice for long stretches of time because we were either on the power play or killing penalties.”

The Catamounts, coming off an emotional high last year that included a brief visit in the Top 15 poll, are battling growing pains this year and have already experienced the sting of defeat. The team had a heck of a time against Boston University. After spotting the Terriers a five-goal lead after 34 minutes of play, the Catamounts scratched out a semi-respectable 6-4 loss.

Although Boston University is one of the top teams in the nation right now, Vermont was without some of its best talent as the injury bug has already found its way to Burlington. The first victims were junior Ryan Miller, sophomore Oriel McHugh and freshman Scott Mifsud. The absence of those players was a main reason why Vermont went 1-for-8 on the power play that night. Six days later, the Catamounts once again fell behind early, this time a 5-0 deficit after a period and a half. In a case of déjà vu, Vermont struggled back for a more even result, another 6-4 loss.

“We made some big mistakes in the neutral zone in the first and second periods,” said Vermont coach Mike Gilligan following the Moncton contest. “We only played 20 minutes of intense hockey. We just dug too big a hole for ourselves. After the third period, we can feel a little bit better about life.”

After a full week of recovery, Miller, McHugh and Mifsud are back in good health and will be on the ice to take on Harvard on Friday night.

The Longest Trip

If there was ever an enigmatic team heading into this weekend, it would probably be Yale. After the pundits predicted a sour season for the Jeff Hamilton-less Bulldogs, the team has shown an offensive prowess thus far. Granted the competition hasn’t been national caliber quality, but the team still put 16 goals on the board in two games first against St. Francis Xavier and then versus the Under-18 National team. Although freshman Chris Higgins, who ironically was offered a spot on the Under-18 National Team but turned it down to finish his high school career at Avon Old Farms, led the way with two goals in each game, the offensive production was evenly spread. Is this what the new look of Yale will bring?

“We have four lines that can spend time in the offensive zone and not so much time in the defensive zone,” Taylor said. “This is a very balanced team with good team speed. If everybody continues to improve, we will be able to skate with anybody.

“I am pleased with where we are right now. We do have another step to take, but I think we are ready for that, and we have enough confidence in ourselves.”

Another team that may have a royal North Country struggle on its hands is Princeton. The Tigers suffered two crushing defeats last weekend against Niagara to open up their season. After falling by a score of 4-2 on the first night, Princeton was stamped out, 7-1, the following evening.

“The positive is that I saw a lot of guys working hard,” said head coach Len Quesnelle. “We weren’t always as smart as we needed to be to win games at this level. We made a lot of mental mistakes, but the effort overall was good. We need to play smarter and limit the mental mistakes.”

Adding to the dismal outlook, the Tigers will be without Brad Parsons, Scott Prime and Matt Maglione. These players are the key to any Tigers’ success and are listed as week-to-week with injuries. Parsons, who will be looked upon to fill the offensive void left by the graduation of Chris Corrinet and Kirk Lamb, hurt his knee during Friday night’s game, Prime’s back is acting up as it was last year and Maglione sat out both contests due to an injured foot.

It all doesn’t add up well for the Tigers as they head north for the longest trip in the ECAC.

“I don’t think that the travel bothers our program,” said Quesnelle. “What makes it interesting and a challenge is that you are going up against two teams rich in hockey tradition. They have had success over a number of years, not just recently. It’s tough for our guys to walk into two buildings with such tradition.”

The two host teams this weekend, Clarkson and St. Lawrence, played a memorable North Country battle last weekend to open the ECAC season. A 7-6 overtime win for Clarkson had a lot of people talking.

“You know what, I think it was great for North Country hockey,” said Golden Knight head coach Mark Morris. “It must have been painful for Joe and his staff. The fact of the matter is that we bounced back after we had a big lead and lost it and then when we got scored on, we came right back and that’s encouraging in that we helped to generate a lot of excitement in the building. We were really good when we were good and when we were vulnerable, oh boy.

“The momentum swing if we had lost that game could have been devastating after having such a huge lead and dominating the whole first period. It could have been a real big swing.”

“If we had folded up shop after the first period, I would have gone, just…,” said Saint head coach Joe Marsh. “I’m as excited as I can be following a one-goal loss.

“I’m very, very encouraged. I just saw some real good things tonight. Our last two games have been overtime losses and as a young team we don’t have the time to beat ourselves up over it. We have to get right back in it and fight back. We’ll just keep getting better.”

The Saints are certainly a young team and are taking their lumps.

“It’s a whole different ballgame and we have our own new look for sure,” said Marsh. “The personality is such as that we’re developing that personality on the team and that goes a long way to making sure that we fully understand how hard we’re going to have to work and we can control our own destiny.

“We may be 1-4, but we were here last year, we were four games under .500 at Christmastime, so I feel very good that we’ll have a good team, but we have to do more than just say it.”

The task at hand is the pair of Princeton and Yale, in the North Country and both teams know that it’s a tough weekend to start the season.

“Princeton traditionally has been a team that has given us all we can handle regardless of where they are in the standings,” said Morris. “They had a tough outing against Niagara and it will be interesting to see how they bounce back. With a young coaching staff and lots of new players they will have plenty to play for.

“Early reports on Yale are that they are a team that is very underestimated in the polls. They have some outstanding talent and they are well coached. I think they have experience at key positions that will give them the ability to knock anybody off on any given night. They will be a real formidable matchup for us at this stage of the season.”

Centralizing It All

Central New York will be the battleground for Cornell, Colgate, Union and Rensselaer. It should be an interesting test for all four teams, as three are coming off of successful weekends, while one team was off.

The Cornell Big Red dumped Alabama-Huntsville twice last weekend and are on the verge of busting into the Top 15.

The Big Red have a game plan against the speedier Dutchmen and the Engineers, and it was worked on against the Chargers last weekend.

“I don’t think we played as physical a game as possible at the beginning,” head coach Mike Schafer told the Cornell Daily Sun. “We were a little bit tentative, at the start, to get on top and finish our checks. As the game wore on we started getting more hits and we started playing stronger with and without the puck. We didn’t bring the puck physically to the net. We didn’t shoot at the net.

“As we started playing a little more physical, I think they started getting frustrated. That’s what we have to do to teams. We gotta have them mad at us and lose their composure.”

The Raiders of Colgate got in the win column last weekend with a victory over Iona at home — something badly needed after a horrible weekend at Minnesota the previous week.

A long plane ride and a good week of practice got the Raiders going and even though the season has started tough, head coach Don Vaughan knew that the win would be there.

“We talked a lot about work ethic. You’ve got to make sacrifices,” he said. “Tough to me is standing around in front of the net, taking a hit to keep the play alive, getting into the corners, making a play in your own end when you know you’re gassed and your muscles are aching and you’ve got a cramp in your stomach. When you see guys doing that, it’s contagious. We knew if we did that, then the rest of it would come.”

Union saw two wild and hairy games last weekend against Bemidji State. A slugfest in game one resulted in an 8-6 Dutchmen win, but a goal in the final seconds forced a tie, 2-2, on Saturday’s closing game.

“Anytime we can be disappointed in the way we played and win the game, that’s a good sign for our program,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon after Friday’s game. “Things just didn’t go our way from the get-go tonight. Our guys came together at the end and were able to get a win. When you play poorly and come away with a win it’s a positive thing.”

Another positive was that of the 10 goals scored by the Dutchmen this weekend, seven were the first collegiate goals for seven different Dutchmen.

“They’re doing a great job,” said Sneddon. “Our younger guys did a great job and our veterans know they have to step it up a little bit.”

The Dutchmen have a lot of youth in the lineup and thus far it’s taken them to a 3-1-1 start as league play is about to enter into their lives.

Rensselaer suffered two one-goal losses in Duluth, Minn. two weekends ago, the first night was an overtime 4-3 loss, and the next 6-5. The first night Minnesota-Duluth scored two goals within a span of 10 seconds and then the second night, the Bulldogs scored two goals in 12 seconds, leading to disaster for the Engineers.

“I didn’t like how they scored two quick ones on us and then we left a guy wide open,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “We tend to get puck watching instead of picking up men and that’s something we’ve got to work on.”

The Engineers have been off for a week and through a 1-3-0 start, the Engineers know they have a lot of work to do as league play starts.

“We may not play games, but it’s not a week off,” said Fridgen. “We’ve got league play coming up and we learned a lot about ourselves and what it takes to be a consistent team. We have a little ways to go in that regard, but we’re gearing up for that Colgate-Cornell weekend and we’ve had some time to prepare for it.”

If It’s So Easy, You Try It

Vic Brzozowski was able to muster a tie with the Iron Columnists this week. Therefore, we will go to overtime until a winner is decided! It is almost as remarkable as the time that Riyou Ju Kyo tied Chen Kenichi in the Pork Belly Battle.

If memory serves us right, Vic was soundly defeated in the very first Iron Columnist challenge last season. He has saved some face by tying the Iron Columnists. But remember, a loss and you are done.

So, Vic Brzozowski, bring your skills into USCHO Stadium and try to take down the Iron Columnists — something you still have not done. Whose picks will reign supreme?

The Picks

Friday, Nov. 9

Union at Cornell
Vic’s Pick — The Union jinx over the Big Red continues. Union 3, Cornell 2
Becky and JaysonCornell 2, Union 1

Rensselaer at Colgate
Vic’s Pick — Colgate’s youth again shows. Rensselaer 6, Colgate 2
Becky and JaysonRensselaer 5, Colgate 3

Princeton at Clarkson
Vic’s Pick — Hopefully, the Knights get their PK and PP straightened out. Clarkson 5, Princeton 2
Becky and JaysonClarkson 5, Princeton 1

Yale at St. Lawrence
Vic’s Pick — SLU and its youth succumb to the Eli. Yale 4, St. Lawrence 2
Becky and JaysonYale 4, St. Lawrence 2

Harvard at Vermont
Vic’s Pick — Another early season upset. Vermont 4, Harvard 3
Becky and JaysonHarvard 6, Vermont 4

Brown at Dartmouth
Vic’s Pick — Harvard loses to Brown and beats Dartmouth, so therefore… Brown 4, Dartmouth 2
Becky and JaysonDartmouth 3, Brown 1

Saturday, Nov. 10

Union at Colgate
Vic’s Pick — Union’s winning ways continue. Union 3, Colgate 2
Becky and JaysonUnion 3, Colgate 1

Rensselaer at Cornell
Vic’s Pick — The Big Red over the Little Red. Cornell 6, RPI 5
Becky and JaysonCornell 3, Rensselaer 2

Princeton at St. Lawrence
Vic’s Pick — A loooooooong season it will be for the Tigers. St. Lawrence 4, Princeton 2
Becky and JaysonSt. Lawrence 6, Princeton 2

Yale at Clarkson
Vic’s Pick — Another huge victory for my Knights. Clarkson 4, Yale 2
Becky and JaysonClarkson 6, Yale 3

Harvard at Dartmouth
Vic’s Pick — The Green turn the tables on the Crimson. Dartmouth 5, Harvard 2
Becky and JaysonDartmouth 3, Harvard 1

Brown at Vermont
Vic’s Pick — Gutterson is unfriendly to the Bruno’s. Vermont 5, Brown 4
Becky and JaysonVermont 6, Brown 4

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 Vic bites the dust once again.

Alex Clark, Ron Vaccaro, David Sherzer and Jennie Sullivan contributed to this column this week.