This Week in the ECAC: Jan. 24, 2002

Bears, Oh My

Last week, we wrote about Brown’s top two moments of the 2001-02 season, and as if on cue, the Bears came up with yet another huge win. With the odds firmly stacked against them, the players turned in a gritty, performance to upend the second-ranked team in the nation, St. Cloud. And they did it in their own barn. Go figure.

“It certainly was a big win for us on the national scope,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “To knock off a team that has had a year like they have is a real feather in our cap, something that we are very proud of.”

If you think that it’s an aberration, remember that Brown has now beaten Wisconsin, St. Cloud and Harvard (two of the three were ranked teams at the time) and pushed Maine and Providence to overtime. Not bad for a team that finished last year with a record of 4-21-4, 2-16-4 in league play.

That illustrates the Bears’ dramatic turnaround from last season. What was the cause? Some point to specifics:

  • Yann Danis establishing himself as a reliable netminder and snatching the starting position from Brian Eklund.
  • Maturation of the sophomore and junior classes. Eight of top nine scorers come from those two classes and have accounted for 90 of the team’s 123 points (73 percent).

    The Brown coaching staff, however, feels that this season is more representative of what they are all about. With a few critical wins behind them, the Bears have begun to accept the system. The positive reinforcement has given them confidence heading into every game — ECAC or nonconference.

    “The people who saw us play last year saw that we were a good hockey team that struggled to find ways to win,” explains Grillo. “We were young and made mistakes at key times. That adversity has made us a stronger team. The [Harvard] win early in the year gave us confidence and reestablished the standards and values that we are trying to get across.

    “Wisconsin was a nationally-recognized program and has had great success at their own tournament [the Badger Showdown]. For us to go out there and do what we did, that was a real positive for us.”

    The Bears have one more nonconference game coming up next Tuesday against another ranked team — UMass-Lowell. For the first time in years, you can bet that no one is overlooking Brown in this contest.

    That is a fact that ECAC teams will have to take to heart more than anything else. Over the past two years, teams have had somewhat of a luxury when Harvard and Brown came to town. With the Crimson program a step ahead of Brown in terms of its rebuilding process, they could overlook the Bears and focus on Harvard’s young talent. Not anymore. Now opposing coaches have to prepare for two teams that a) have the potential to pull out victories and b) play very different styles of hockey.

    “I think that the league games and playoff games are as big if not bigger now,” said Grillo, whose team sits in a two-way tie with 10 points. “It’s such a tight race in the ECAC that every game is like a playoff game. We feel good about what we are doing, but we also need to get better in some areas. We need to play with more consistency, but we are excited about where we are headed.”

    And they have every right to be.

    North Country Tests

    Three of the favorites in the ECAC get together in the North Country this weekend as Cornell travels to take on Clarkson and St. Lawrence. With Harvard ensconced in first place, whoever comes out of this weekend with two wins may have the best shot at catching the Crimson come February.

    Clarkson was undefeated heading into a huge grudge match game against Vermont last Saturday, but the Cats dropped Clarkson, 2-0, sending Clarkson to its first ECAC loss and helping out the idle Crimson.

    “I never would have guessed that in our first matchup against Vermont this season we would have such a lackluster effort,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. “Give Vermont credit for a gutsy performance. They were more physically and emotionally prepared. We had several opportunities to win, but we were not able to produce offensively.

    “Cornell is hitting on all cylinders. Their record reflects consistency all year. Their top lines have produced all season and they have gotten great goaltending. As we have seen throughout the years, Cornell is big and physical. We will have to match their intensity if we want to beat them at Cheel.

    The Saints, meanwhile, got right back into ECAC contention with their first ECAC sweep of the season, and with four games in hand on Harvard, can move back into the standings with a big weekend.

    “Now the big thing is to sustain it through the home series we’ve got coming up,” said Saint head coach Joe Marsh. “We need to stay on an even keel emotionally and keep doing what we’ve done the last few games to continue our climb.”

    Cornell swept travel partner Colgate last weekend and with three games in hand on the Crimson, has the best shot at overtaking the Raiders. But the Big Red will need wins this weekend in the tough North Country.

    “We limped up there last year hurt,” said head coach Mike Schafer. “They always have a good hockey team; it will be a great team and they’ve had a lot of success there. They play well at home.

    “The control of momentum is what’s important (against Clarkson). The longer the game goes where it’s an even game, the more uptight they get as a hockey team, whereas our guys will be comfortable with that. And we need to be disciplined and get ourselves on the power play.

    “(SLU) is a young team and now you look for them to be much stronger in this half.”

    Beanpot Teaser

    With Harvard about to emerge from exam break (the team takes on the Under-18s on Saturday night at Bright Hockey Center), that means one thing — the Beanpot is nearing.

    There will be one big change to this year’s 50th annual championship that many fans will never have a chance to see with their own eyes. Every player from each of the four schools will be outfitted with some of the most advanced technology that will provide real-time tracking of their movements. Trakus, Inc., a Boston-based company, has been working with the National Hockey League for the past two seasons and is now bringing its system to the college ranks.

    Each player will have a “player patch” installed between the shell and the padding of his helmet. Through something called “Digital Sports Information” (DSI) applications, this device will measure the impact of body checks, speed, power and even endurance. For the fans watching on television or the web, Trakus will be introducing interactive graphics. The most exciting feature will probably be the Hit Gauge, which is a quantified index of checking intensity. In other words, you will now be able to see who lands the biggest hit in each game.

    Fans will also be able to watch a real-time animated recreation of the game by clicking on the individual schools’ web sites. The most interesting aspect of this web cast is that you will be able to click on a specific player at any point during the game and be able to pull up various statistics such as maximum or average skating speed, average shift length, total distance skated and even the time spent in each zone. For a preview of this technology, check out the Boston Bruins home page. The Bruins have been faithful Trakus partners for the past two years.

    Aside from the obvious viewer benefits, this technology has the potential to improve the performance of teams and also prevent injuries. And in the age of multiple concussions and career-ending injuries, the ability to measure the impact of the game on players could prove to be invaluable.

    Well-Deserved Congratulations

    Whether either of them wins the award or not, it’s always nice and refreshing to hear about student-athletes’ contributions to their communities.

    Last week Jeff Wilson of Union and Dan Casella of Dartmouth were named two of the four finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, to be doled out at the Frozen Four in Minneapolis.

    Wilson has been an integral member of the Schenectady, N.Y., community, having been involved in causes such as the “Dutchmen Skate for Cancer,” with the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. He’s also been involved in Big Brothers and Big Sisters Night, the Walk for Juvenile Diabetes, and visits to children’s hospitals.

    He also created “A Skating Dutchmen Christmas,” during which the team sponsored a family via social services and purchased gifts for the family. Plus, he established “Pennies for Points,” in which sponsors donated one dollar for every point a Union player earned during a game. The proceeds were then given to underprivileged youth hockey players in Schenectady.

    Finally, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he created “Dutchmen Skate for 9/11.” The proceeds from that fundraiser on February 11 will go to the NYPD and NYFD fund, and to two local families affected by the attack.

    Casella became involved in community service while attending Lawrence Academy. While there, he volunteered at a soup kitchen, a senior citizens home, and shoveled sidewalks in the neighborhood.

    His work in the community continued after he matriculated at Dartmouth. Among his activities, Casella has visited the Hanover, N.H., area schools where he taught students about the dangers of drugs. He has also coached local youth hockey programs from mites to peewees and has been a key factor in the Big Green’s Holiday Toy Drive.

    Casella plans to enlist in the Peace Corps, and will be working to rebuild a community in the Caribbean after graduation.

    Great as it is to see the impact of caring student-athletes in this world, we are even prouder that two of the finalists are from the ECAC.

    If It’s So Easy, You Try It

    John Beaber and Lisa McGill tied us once, but not again! They went down this week, though they put up a valiant effort.

    The competition thus far:

    Vic Brzozowksi t. The Iron Columnists — 7-2-1
    The Iron Columnists d. Vic Brzozowksi8-3-1 to 7-4-1
    Ben Flickinger d. The Iron Columnists — 11-4-2 to 10-5-2
    The Iron Columnists d. Ben Flickinger5-1-4 to 4-2-4
    John Beaber and Lisa McGill t. The Iron Columnists — 6-7-0
    The Iron Columnists d. John Beaber and Lisa McGill7-5-3 to 6-6-3

    The Iron Columnists have taken this week off to lick our wounds. But we will be back next week!

    And remember that if you are interested in putting your money where your mouth is, drop us an email to be eligible.