Wow. What a week it’s been in the ECAC.
Yale has a quartet of players sitting out Friday’s game against Cornell. Among them is Chris Higgins, who was perceived as going after Matt Jones of North Dakota. That precipitated a melee at the Yale Whale and wound up getting eight players game disqualifications.
Then in the North Country Clarkson head coach Mark Morris is on administrative leave pending a university investigation. No one knows what really happened at the moment, but we think it’s safe to say that it’s not good.
But there are games this weekend — the first full weekend of ECAC action as all 12 teams match up against one another.
Clarkson and travel partner St. Lawrence head down to the Capital District to take on Rensselaer and Union. The Golden Knights are in a state of flux, considering losses in their first three games of the season and the cloud surrounding the team and Morris.
Nevertheless, the Knights are always a dangerous team and it will be a matter of how this team comes out this weekend. That will be the key to what happens to the Golden Knights.
The Saints are flying high after their win over Clarkson last Saturday to open up ECAC play. Kevin Ackley made 36 saves in the 2-1 win, including stopping a penalty shot on Clarkson’s Jay Latulippe.
“I think your No. 1 star has got to be Ackley,” said Saints head coach Joe Marsh. “He played a fabulous game. He had some pretty good games last year, but that’s certainly a big one. This is a good, solid effort from him [Friday].
“I can’t think of a better way (to start the league season), and it was against a good team. That’s important that we play hard against a team of that caliber.”
The Saints will continue to look for consistency, something that hasn’t been there in the previous six games of the season.
The Dutchmen of Union had a great weekend at Bemidji State and faced Mass.-Lowell and Holy Cross hoping to capitalize on the momentum they had gained. Instead, the Dutchmen dropped two and momentum heading into the first ECAC weekend has shifted.
“I’m disappointed but now the boys understand that there are points on the line,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “If we can’t get up and excited to play against the North Country teams, well then we don’t have a lot of hockey players in that locker room.
“The job of the coaching staff is to pull as many positives as we can from the weekend. [Friday] we played good hockey. It’s indicative of a young team that we’re inconsistent right now, and it’s our job to shake that out of them.”
The Engineers went west for the second time in four weeks and the result was the same — a split. The Engineers defeated St. Cloud on Saturday night after getting shut out on Friday night. Things didn’t look that good after the Friday-night 3-0 loss, but the Engineers pulled out a good win on Saturday, 3-1.
“Sometimes when you throw out a challenge to your team you see what kind of character they have in their response,” said head coach Dan Fridgen. “We made some adjustments on our power play and penalty kill, but we challenged them and they responded favorably.”
Out to the left of the Capital District, Cornell and Colgate play host to Yale and Princeton.
The Big Red started out strong with a win at Ohio State.
“It was a great win for us,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “I’m really proud of my guys. We’ve had 12 practices. We knew we had to win ugly, and that’s what we did tonight. We kept things pretty simple … and ground out a defensive win.
“This victory was huge for us. I think Ohio State is going to be a top-15 team in the country, and we haven’t played a game but we’re ranked seventh. That’s a coach’s worst nightmare. So we knew that people around the country were going to look at this game and judge us on this game … so we knew we had to come and try to play solid.
“We didn’t play perfect, but we did play solid.”
The Big Red may still be a little shorthanded, but the first regular-season game at Lynah provides a huge boost.
The Raiders of Colgate hammered out a tough win over Findlay on Friday night, then lost to Ohio State Sunday to continue their streak of inconsistency.
Another team looking to reverse a streak is Princeton, coming off season-opening losses to Providence and North Dakota. Taking on two nationally-ranked teams was quite a chore for a Tiger team that is going to face growing pains after graduating several top players last season.
Sophomore Neil Stevenson-Moore gave Princeton its only lead of the weekend just 1:20 into the game against North Dakota on Friday night, but that was about the only highlight offensively. The team was outscored 13-3 overall.
“It showed us right now where we are on the learning curve as a team,” said head coach Len Quesnelle. “Heading into league play, we better have a much better idea on Friday night of what the little things are and what we need to do to execute.”
Considering that three of its first four opponents this season have been ranked in the top 10, the Tigers are getting a good temperature read as to where they stand against the best.
One team trying desperately to figure out where it is heading into league play is Yale. The Bulldogs showed progress and cohesion during exhibition contests — against two very different types of teams — and then came North Dakota.
After nearly two periods of play, Yale trailed the fifth-ranked Fighting Sioux only 2-1 and looked strong. With less than three minutes remaining in the period, the well-documented fight broke out which led to the disqualification of four Yale players, including Chris Higgins, whose initial hit against the boards led to the melee.
“There is no place for that kind of stuff in college hockey — or any hockey,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor following the game. “I do not think Higgins’ initial hit was illegal, there was no penalty for that; it is a shame that what followed had to happen.”
As a result, Yale will take on Cornell and Colgate without the services of Higgins, Evan Wax, Stacey Bauman and Nick Deschenes, who were all disqualified as a result of the fight. This leaves Yale without three of its top forwards and one of its top defensemen for the weekend, leaving Taylor with the unenviable task of revamping his lineup.
“It’s a hard game to evaluate,” said Taylor. “There was a pretty rough stretch there. Situations came up that were not typical.”
Heading into this weekend Brown can already boast a league victory. The confident Bears scored an impressive, and somewhat shocking win — a 4-0 blanking — over highly-touted Harvard in Providence on Saturday night. According to head coach Roger Grillo, memories of the loss to Harvard last year in the ECAC quarterfinals were a major motivational factor.
“We had a bitter end to our season, and that carried over in our guys’ minds this past summer and motivated them to work that much harder for tonight,” said Grillo.
The team was propelled by four different goal-scorers and a strong performance by goaltender Yann Danis. Danis, who is being heralded by the Brown crew as one of the best netminders in the country, collected 30 saves on the night and also tied the school record for career shutouts
“We obviously have one of the best defenses in the country,” Danis said. “They did a good job [Saturday night] clearing the puck after saves. Most of Harvard’s shots were from the outside, and we didn’t give up too many good chances.”
A lackluster performance by Harvard that night did not provide a boost with the weekly poll voters; the Crimson fell out of the Top 15.
“We were running around in our zone like we had our heads cut off,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni after the loss. “They had two goals that came because of blown coverages by our wings on the points. Those guys just walked in uncontested and buried it.”
The Crimson, which entered the Brown game with only one informal scrimmage under its belt, will look to rebound this weekend with its home opener at Bright Hockey Center. And while the Bears are enjoying a refurbished Meehan Auditorium this year, Harvard has also made some cosmetic changes to its rink which will provide a new look and feel to players and fans.
Harvard and Brown will be hosting two teams in the midst of modest winning streaks — Vermont and Dartmouth. After a rocky start, Vermont finally got back on track with wins over Fairfield and Wayne State. Junior Jeff Miles has been the impact player for head coach Mike Gilligan thus far, posting seven goals in six games. His recent three-goal, one-assist performance against Wayne State earned him ECAC Player of the Week honors.
Meanwhile, the Big Green is coming off a 4-3 loss to Merrimack last Saturday night. This close contest capped off a weekend in which its special teams unit registered six power-play goals. Four of those extra-man tallies came on Friday in a 5-3 win over visiting Wayne State. The Big Green special teams — not usually known for their offensive proliferation — unleashed two additional goals the next night at Merrimack.
“You can’t expect to score six power-play goals in back-to-back nights,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “But if you work hard and draw penalties, something that we’re doing and I like, you can cash in on those power plays.”
The good news for Dartmouth fans is that Nick Boucher played in both games and posted 47 saves on net.
“It’s the rules that we play with,” said Gaudet when asked about the lack of early-season games. “You try to prepare the guys a little in practice but there’s nothing like playing in competition. I wish we had a few more games under our belt.”
The Big Green was hit the hardest of any ECAC team by graduation, so those two games were much needed in terms of preparing the squad for its road trip to Providence and Cambridge.
The last time we checked, noisemakers were still prohibited by the NCAA. So what were ThunderStix doing at the Harvard-Brown game at Meehan Auditorium last weekend?
A Quick Word
It’s been a turbulent week in Potsdam. The only official word is coming from the University Public Relations office, meaning that rumors are running rampant — some sane and some bordering on the outrageous.
The only thing that we know for certain is that Mark Morris is on administrative leave and that there is an investigation underway.
We, like everyone else, are waiting to hear exactly what happened in Potsdam. Let’s hope that for everyone involved it comes to a conclusion quickly and that things are settled so that everyone, not just with Clarkson, can get back to this great game.
The Best and Worst
We’re back with another edition of the best and the worst.
The Best — The Men Between The Pipes
There was some stellar goaltending this weekend. Kevin Ackley with 36 saves against Clarkson, Yann Danis with 30 in a shutout of Harvard and Nathan Marsters with 40 against St. Cloud. The ECAC has long been the home of great goaltending and last weekend proved it.
The Worst — Turmoil
Mark Morris controversy, Yale disqualifications, no one likes to see this stuff.
Thanks to Nick Clark, Paula C. Weston, Jim Connelly, Katie Baker and Elijah Alper for their contributions this week.