One man’s regular-season game is another man’s Super Bowl. Or is it? That is the question that surrounds the upcoming showdown on Friday night between the two top-ranked teams in the ECAC — Harvard and Cornell. After a pair of wins last weekend, Cornell now holds a slim one-point lead in the league standings over the Crimson heading into the showdown at Lynah Rink.
Make no mistake about it; these are the two best teams in the league. One exhibits the most suffocating defense in the East, while the other is a potential offensive juggernaut. That should be the main story this week, but instead it is merely a sidebar. Rather than breaking down Cornell’s defensive trap or Harvard’s forecheck, fans — and even players — prefer to focus on this idea of a huge rivalry between the schools. For your Iron Columnists, we say that if you can’t beat ’em …
Lynah Rink is perhaps the most intimidating environment for opposing teams. The enthusiasm from the knowledgeable and loyal fans is astounding, especially compared to the generally subdued rinks in the ECAC. But why is this Harvard game so important? To give you a feel for what this rivalry means to the Cornell folks, here are a few excerpts from recent articles in the Cornell Daily Sun.
“‘It’s a big thing for them,’ said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni when asked about the rivalry. ‘Harvard has its own backyard rivalries here with Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern. Those are the traditional rivals along with Harvard and Yale, which has been a tremendous rivalry over the years. I don’t know what Cornell’s focus is when they play, but it seems like it’s us which is fine.'”
To say that this game means nothing to Harvard would be false. Who could forget the night when former Harvard goalie Tripp Tracy demonstrated his agility with a hockey stick to the enraged Cornell faithful, or when a Harvard Crimson writer dared to insult the Big Red following.
Hours after that Crimson article hit newsstands, a chain email was forwarded around to all former and present Cornell students, and then the Cornell student paper re-printed the article in its entirety for those who may have missed the email. Things got so intense that the poor Crimson writer was flocked with extra security that night at Lynah and had to endure taunting by the crowd. All of this over a college hockey game?
“They are a well-coached team and they have a very loud, festive environment,” said Mazzoleni. “A rivalry is made when you have good teams and not when two teams are cellar dwellers. Our program is coming along and theirs is right up there so that’s what makes this a good rivalry.”
“They have a great team and that’s what made this rivalry so great, is that we both traditionally have great hockey teams,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer.
So while the Cornell students spend their final few hours before the game scrounging for denizen of the deep, the players and coaches will be focusing on the game at hand. The two teams faced off earlier this year at Bright Hockey Center and Harvard walked away with a crushing 4-3 overtime victory.
“We want the same thing to happen as last year as we went down and played for first place and we beat them,” said Schafer. “We owe them a little bit, and we had a little locker room and bulletin board material after the first game this year. We have a press clipping that says ‘Harvard Dominates Cornell,’ so we posted it in our locker room and our guys take a little offense to that and look forward to the weekend.”
Cornell is in a perfect position to take the second game, since Harvard is coming off an exam break. The team defeated the U-18 team last Saturday night, but that contest in no way can prepare them for what is to come at Lynah. With Cornell’s defense playing its best hockey of the season — it held Clarkson and St. Lawrence to one goal last weekend — this will be a mighty test for the Crimson.
The Harvard coaching staff believes they have a balanced attack that can do some damage, but it will come down to the team’s ability to penetrate deep into the offensive zone. You aren’t going to beat the defense with one-on-one moves, so Mazzoleni has preached the need for his team to fire shots on net and see what happens.
“I like our lines right now. We have three balanced lines to the point where you look at the lines and wonder what is the first line,” said Mazzoleni. “I think that we have three first lines … We like the lines that we have and we don’t have to worry as much about a bad matchup. We beat them already this year and we know the type of environment we are going into and the type of team we will be facing. We need to do the things well.”
Mazzoleni said that senior captain Peter Capouch addressed the team on Monday to make sure the younger players knew what they would face (namely flying fish) when they stepped into Lynah Rink. Despite the hostile environment, Harvard has fared quite well in Ithaca during the regular season. The team is undefeated at Lynah in its last three regular-season games and holds an 11-3-4 record there since the 1984-85 season.
“It will be a great game and I hope we can knock a lot of the rust out of them in the first period,” said Schafer. “The first period will be critical in the sense that we get off to a great start. They’re going to be healthy and they’ll have some jump and they’ll be flying around. We have to come out and play very well at home and they’ll try to take the crowd out of it to begin with and play for that 0-0 tie in the first period.”
No matter how you look at this game — whether you wear a Harvard or Cornell jersey — this game means everything. It goes beyond rivalries because when those players take to the ice, they will be battling for first place. And in a league where every point counts, there is truly no bigger game than the one that will be played on Friday night in Ithaca, N.Y.
There certainly are plenty of great matchups this weekend in the ECAC. Aside from Cornell and Harvard, you have to look at the other two teams in this travel partner set — Brown and Colgate.
One has been knocking off ranked teams and surprising many, after all, it was almost unanimous that the Bears would finish last in the standings this season, and Colgate, who did not look like any semblance of a team earlier on in the season. Don’t look now, but the Raiders are in seventh place after a three point weekend in the North Country.
The Bears have gone 4-1-0 in their last five games and hope to turn the success of wins over UConn, St. Cloud and UMass-Lowell into league wins. It’s also no coincidence that the Bears have gone up whilst seeing Yann Danis take over the starting goaltending job.
“Part of our resurgence has been that Yann Denis has played extremely well for us,” said head coach Roger Grillo.
If the Bears can use their non-conference prowess and apply it within the league, the ECAC may be watching out.
Then there is Colgate, which at one point was down and out. Frustrated, kicked in the can and miserable. Then January came around. A close win over Iona, then a sweep over Vermont and Dartmouth. Then the Raiders were swept by Cornell. Undaunted, the Raiders took three of four points in the North Country this past weekend.
“We’re getting some great leadership,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughn. “It’s from all sources, it’s not just coming from the guys who wear the letters. We’re getting it out of the younger guys too. The guys knew that even though we didn’t have a great second [on Saturday against Clarkson], they knew that they were capable of getting back into this game.”
And that they did. Colgate could be peaking at the right time.
Then there is the drama in New Haven and Princeton this coming weekend where St. Lawrence and Clarkson travel the longest distance within the ECAC. The Bulldogs and Tigers are coming off of breaks while the Saints and Knights have played three games in the last week, including another North Country classic this past Tuesday night.
The Saints are lifted after their win, the Knights deflated. The Tigers get back on the ice after exam break, and the Bulldogs get back into conference play holding the last home ice spot.
“That’s a huge win for us,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “Not just because its Clarkson. We’ve had 11 one-goal losses this season. There was more relief than jubilation after this win.”
The Saints couldn’t get a point from Cornell or Colgate this past weekend, but moved into a tie for eighth place in the conference with their win over Clarkson on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Knights had a chance to move back up to third place, but only got one point in three games this past weekend, making this weekend critical for them.
One of the Knights’ challenges has been scoring. As if on cue, they scored five on Tuesday. Unfortunately, they were outscored by one. Now if the Knights can continue that scoring touch …
“We are hoping to be able to produce with more regularity,” said head coach Mark Morris. “We have scored just five goals over the past four games and that is not enough. Five goals is a good output for one contest.”
Meanwhile the Tigers are looking to keep things together after the long exam break and draw a tough foe. Thus far, the Tigers have not strung together many wins, but are starting to gel. After upsetting Harvard, the Tigers couldn’t close out Brown to gain a weekend sweep — something they haven’t done in two years.
In New Haven the Bulldogs are back on the ice after a week off, but come off a good weekend at Ohio State the last time out. A close loss and a win had head coach Tim Taylor happy.
“In my fondest dreams, I didn’t expect to get six goals tonight,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor, whose Bulldogs have dropped eight one-goal decisions this season. “Sometimes it’s hard with a team when you ask them to play tight defense and they do what you ask them to do and you lose, especially on the road, it’s tempting for them to kind of loosen up a little bit, go for a little more offense, but our guys stayed pretty much to the game plan again, and we got ahead.
“Sometimes the game plan works, and sometimes it doesn’t – not that it didn’t work Friday night. We just didn’t get enough goals to win that game.”
Then there is the deja vu weekend in the Green and White Mountains as Rensselaer and Union go to Dartmouth and Vermont to replay this past weekend. The Big Green came back both nights this past weekend to take three points, while Vermont came home with nothing. The Dutchmen took three points as well and the Engineers were left stunned after a three goal outburst by Dartmouth that took away points from them and left them out of the playoff picture at the moment.
Vermont and head coach Mike Gilligan were pretty much left speechless after a 6-0 loss to Rensselaer and a 5-2 loss to Union, which sent the Catamounts to the bottom of the ECAC.
But the Big Green were the opposite, as a tie against Union and an eruption against Rensselaer in the last five minutes gave the Big Green third place in the ECAC.
“We played with a lot of maturity tonight. It was a really good team effort, we got all four lines and six defensemen involved,” said Gaudet after that game. “It’s a credit to our guys that stuck with the game plan.
“We needed a break and then we had to earn it.”
Meanwhile Union also picked up three points and is currently sitting in sixth place in the ECAC, on the cusp of a home playoff berth, but the Dutchmen know it will be a tough battle.
“This league is very tight,” Union head coach Kevin Sneddon said to the Schenectady Gazette. “Every night is a dogfight.”
The Dutchmen also landed a prize recruit this week, Under-18 goaltender Tim Roth.
And there are the Engineers, who many did not think would be on the outside looking in at this point in the season. They head to the place where their season ended last year on Friday.
“This is a bitter pill to swallow, and hopefully we’re mentally tough enough that we’ll rebound and hopefully get redemption,” said head coach Dan Fridgen after Saturday’s loss to Dartmouth.
Quite the undercard this weekend in the ECAC.
Well, at the beginning of the year, we challenged you to pick the ECAC and see who was better at the predicting end of the ECAC. Well, if you remember, here were the picks:
Challenge Range Becky and Jayson
1. Clarkson (8) 1-4 1. Cornell
2. Harvard (14) 1-7 2. Dartmouth
3. Cornell (6) 1-6 3. Harvard
4. Dartmouth (4) 1-6 4. Clarkson
5. St. Lawrence 2-7 5. St. Lawrence
6. Rensselaer 2-10 6. Vermont
7. Vermont 5-10 7. Rensselaer
8. Union 8-11 8. Union
9. Colgate 7-12 9. Colgate
10. Yale 6-12 10. Yale
11. Princeton 7-12 11. Princeton
12. Brown 9-12 12. Brown
So how are we doing? If you give one point for every place off that the teams are placed at here, whomever has the least amount of points is currently leading. So who is it?
Let’s take the standings — percentage-wise.
Here are the standings as of today:
— St. Lawrence
We’ll apply the appropriate tiebreakers as the ECAC does to break ties for the playoffs.
The Union-Yale tiebreaker goes to Yale, since the Bulldogs beat Union in December.
The Brown-Princeton-St. Lawrence tiebreaker goes to Brown, who is 2-0 against the other two, then St. Lawrence, at 1-1, and then Princeton.
So the standings for our purposes:
9. St. Lawrence
Now let’s do our comparisons with the points in parentheses.
1. Cornell – Fans (2)/Becky and Jayson (0)
2. Harvard – Fans (0)/Becky and Jayson (1)
3. Clarkson – Fans (2)/Becky and Jayson (1)
4. Dartmouth – Fans (0)/Becky and Jayson (2)
5. Yale – Fans (5)/Becky and Jayson (5)
6. Union – Fans (2)/Becky and Jayson (2)
7. Colgate – Fans (2)/Becky and Jayson (2)
8. Brown – Fans (4)/Becky and Jayson (4)
9. St. Lawrence – Fans (5)/Becky and Jayson (5)
10. Princeton – Fans (1)/Becky and Jayson (1)
11. Rensselaer – Fans (5)/Becky and Jayson (4)
12. Vermont – Fans (5)/Becky and Jayson (6)
Guess what? We’re even in points fans. 33 points each. Not bad folks, let’s see where we go from here.
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
The Iron Columnists are back! It’s time to take on the best once again. While we appreciate the emails, please do not send us your picks at the beginning of the week, it gives us an unfair advantage (not that we need it or anything)!
The competition thus far:
Vic Brzozowksi t. The Iron Columnists – 7-2-1
The Iron Columnists d. Vic Brzozowksi – 8-3-1 to 7-4-1
Ben Flickinger d. The Iron Columnists – 11-4-2 to 10-5-2
The Iron Columnists d. Ben Flickinger – 5-1-4 to 4-2-4
John Beaber and Lisa McGill t. The Iron Columnists – 6-7-0
The Iron Columnists d. John Beaber and Lisa McGill – 7-5-3 to 6-6-3
This week, we have a brand new challenger. So, Mike Johnson take your best shot at the Iron Columnists! Who’s picks will reign supreme?
Friday, Feb. 1
Brown at Colgate
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Colgate 5, Brown 1
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Brown 4, Colgate 2
Harvard at Cornell
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Cornell 4, Harvard 2
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Cornell 2, Harvard 1
Union at Vermont
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Union 3, Vermont 1
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Union 5, Vermont 1
Rensselaer at Dartmouth
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Dartmouth 5, Rensselaer 2
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Dartmouth 5, Rensselaer 2
St. Lawrence at Princeton
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Princeton 3, St. Lawrence 2
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – St. Lawrence 5, Princeton 1
Clarkson at Yale
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Clarkson 3, Yale 2
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Yale 4, Clarkson 2
Saturday, Feb. 2
Brown at Cornell
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Cornell 4, Brown 2
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Brown 3, Cornell 2
Harvard at Colgate
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Harvard 6, Colgate 3
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Colgate 5, Harvard 4
Union at Dartmouth
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Dartmouth 4, Union 3
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Union 6, Dartmouth 3
Rensselaer at Vermont
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Rensselaer 5, Vermont 3
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Vermont 3, Rensselaer 2
St. Lawrence at Yale
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Yale 4, St. Lawrence 2
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – St. Lawrence 4, Yale 2
Clarkson at Princeton
Mike’s Pick – Go Pats! Clarkson 5, Princeton 1
Becky and Jayson’s Pick – Clarkson 2, Princeton 1
Monday, Feb. 4
Tuesday, Feb. 5
And remember that if you are interested in putting your money where your mouth is, drop us an email to be eligible when Mike bites the dust!
Thanks to Paula C. Weston, Jim Connelly and Dan Fisher.