This Week in the ECAC: Oct. 31, 2002

So now it really begins. This weekend marks the first time that the Ivies will be hitting the ice for regular season contests, meaning that it’s the first chance to see all of the ECAC teams in action.

To date, the ECAC hasn’t been exactly taking the college hockey world by storm. Heading into this weekend’s action — which includes 12 nonconference and two conference games — the ECAC has a 9-14-6 record — 2-11-5 against the CCHA, Hockey East and CCHA. The ECAC is 2-2-1 against the CHA and a sparkling 5-1-0 against the MAAC.

But, when you look at the whole picture, against the “Big Four,” only one conference has a record over the .500 mark — Hockey East.

With that said, it is with great excitement that we look towards this weekend as we have the Ivies taking center stage, and big matchups against some of the top teams in the nation.

Two teams everyone will be watching will be Cornell and Harvard — the two that advanced to the NCAA Tournament just eight months ago and the only two ECAC teams currently nationally ranked.

The No. 8 Cornell Big Red are coming off a feisty 9-1 win over York last week and will face off against Ohio State on Saturday night. The testy team from Canada angered a few Big Red players and the status of freshman Matt Moulson, who suffered a sprained knee following a knee-to-knee hit, is still questionable. Regardless, Cornell appears focused on one goal right now — to maintain its high national ranking.

“It’s the cards we’ve been dealt, we’re at an Ivy League institution,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer about his team’s early-season schedule. “We’re two weeks behind and that’s what we have to deal with. But for us, we need to play well to maintain our [ranking].

“It’s unfortunate, it really puts us under the gun to go out there and have one game before our league starts to prove ourselves across the country with 10 practices under our belts. That’s a tall order. But I think you saw tonight, goaltending and special teams will be solid as we approach Ohio State.”

“The only [way] for our team to be successful is to take one game at a time,” said co-captain Doug Murray. “We have to stay focused on that, and every week is an important opponent. Especially Ohio state coming up now. We’ve got to look forward to our next opponent. It’s not like we were blowing out teams last year. It’s a lot of hard work in practice that helps us win those games.

“Every game is crucial for the NCAA bid. We know Ohio State; we’ve played them twice since I’ve been here. Everyone knows it’ll be a good game, and they have a good squad, so we’ll be ready to play.”

The 15th-ranked Harvard Crimson wastes no time in taking on league foe Brown on Saturday night in Providence. Thus far, Mark Mazzoleni’s team has been preparing for this season opener with a lot of practices and one informal scrimmage against Brown last weekend. Despite the lack of game experience heading into Saturday night, Mazzoleni feels that his team is prepared for this season more than ever before.

“When I took over this program, I wasn’t naïve about where we were at,” explains Mazzoleni. “I knew that it would take time and we have taken progressive steps. To be a better team you need to experience the highs of winning and the lows of defeat and then apply them to becoming a better team. We have had a variety of experiences that have prepared us for this year, but none were better than our run to the [NCAA Tournament] last year.”

The Bears, meanwhile, knocked off Western Ontario last weekend by a 4-1 score. Netminder Yann Danis will be the focal point of the team this season as will the returning upperclassmen. Realizing that experience may be the strength of his team this year, head coach Roger Grillo did not dress any of his six freshmen in the team’s exhibition game last week.

“With all the players we have returning, we have to just prepare for next weekend,” said Grillo. “Freshmen will see some time this year. If we had five exhibitions before Harvard it would be a different story.”

Grillo, and five others, are in that situation of starting later than everyone else, but points to the positives — especially when playoff time comes.

“It’s especially tough for the Ivy’s and with the new format it takes the pressure off of those that don’t get on the ice until later,” said Grillo. “It takes a little bit of pressure off the first half of the season to go right at it. If you lose a game in October, it won’t haunt you later on as much as it has in the past.”

While Brown and Harvard battle each other, Yale and Princeton will be tested by sixth-ranked North Dakota, which makes a swing through Princeton and New Haven this weekend, while Dartmouth will face off against Wayne State and Merrimack.

The Best

Up north in the reaches of New York, the Route 11 rivalry renews itself as St. Lawrence and Clarkson go at it in Appleton Arena.

Clarkson opened its regular season with a trip to Ohio State and lost two close games.

“Despite dropping two games we saw a real competitive effort both nights,” said head coach Mark Morris. “Things didn’t go our way, but we worked extremely hard and made both games close. It is apparent that we are not blessed with an enormous amount of depth in the scoring department. So we are going to make every effort to play as much error free hockey as possible. It is imperative that we do a better job of working on our specialty teams to ensure that we capitalize when we have the opportunities.”

St. Lawrence was also in the Midwest facing Wayne State. The Saints dropped two as well.

“The first game was hard to get a read on last year, and I don’t think it will be any different this time around,” said Saint coach Joe Marsh. “We know we have a lot of things to work on and we are still trying to find our identity as a team. We did some good things at Wayne State, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We have to minimize our mistakes and try to generate more sustained offense.

“Wayne State is a veteran team with an excellent goaltender. They showed that they really know how to play with the lead and they capitalized on their opportunities. We had our chances both nights, but came up just short.”

Last year the two teams opened up the ECAC schedule at Cheel Arena and saw a wild affair as the Knights won the game in overtime, 7-6. Clarkson had gone up 3-0 in the first period, ending it up 4-1, but saw the Saints score three times in the second to tie the game at 4-4. Clarkson opened up with two goals in the third, but the Saints came back to tie it before Kerry Ellis-Toddington won the game in overtime.

“As is true with each passing year the St. Lawrence games are some of the more heated and emotional games that we play,” said Morris. “The action will be fast and furious. I had the opportunity to watch St. Lawrence a couple of times two weekends ago and I was very impressed with some of their young talent. They look to be a very creative and very fast skating team.”

It Gets Tougher

The Rensselaer Engineers head to St. Cloud to take on the No. 14 Huskies. These games will be different than the ones last weekend. No offense to Iona and Army, but St. Cloud is a better team, and getting two shutouts, as Kevin Kurk did last weekend, will be tough.

“We’re aware of that,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “The way we approach things is that a schedule is tough no matter who the opponent is. You could say you’re supposed to win, but you can say the Yankees were supposed to win the World Series too.”

More Action

Colgate will head to Ohio this weekend to take on Findlay and Ohio State. The Raiders swept Sacred Heart this weekend as Paul Kelley scored both game-winners. The weekend sweep was the Raiders first since the first weekend of February last year and the Raiders hope it gives them momentum.

“To get the win is obviously the most important thing,” said head coach Don Vaughan. “The guys have got to feel good about all the hard work they’ve been putting in, and it’s nice to come out on the other end of one of these one goal games.”

Union had a successful weekend as well with a win and a tie against Bemidji State. Jordan Webb was 3-1-4 on the weekend and earned the ECAC Player of the Week honor. The Dutchmen will host Holy Cross this weekend.

The Vermont Catamounts got in the win column after coming close a few times, though it took them overtime against Fairfield last Saturday. The Cats saw Joey Gasparini score with 38 seconds left in OT to earn the win and Rookie of the Week honors. The Cats host Wayne State and Trois-Riviere this weekend.

The Small Screen

Well, it looks like the ECAC has some sort of package on television once again. After not having one last season, the ECAC and NESN have paired up for a few games.

Here is the schedule:

January 24, 2003 Rensselaer at Vermont
January 31, 2003 Brown at Harvard
February 3, 2003 Beanpot
February 7, 2003 Clarkson at Princeton
February 22, 2003 Union at Cornell
February 28, 2003 Colgate at Yale
March 21, 2003 ECAC Semifinals
March 22, 2003 ECAC championship Game

The Best and Worst

We’re back with another edition.

The BestThe Record

The ECAC went 6-3-1 in nonconference play this weekend, the first winning nonconference weekend of the season for the league. OK, the record against the other “Big Four” conferences was 0-2, but we’ll take it.

The WorstUs

For making the column so short this week. Sorry folks, a better effort next week.

Thanks to Adam Wodon, Sean Peden and Alex Clark for their contributions this week.