This Week in the ECAC: Dec. 5, 2002

Before you do that double-take, relax. Nothing has happened to the esteemed Jayson Moy and Becky Blaeser. In the holiday spirit, USCHO’s dynamic duo of the ECAC has graciously allowed me to take a shot at running down the rumblings and grumblings of our favorite college hockey conference. Besides, they have shopping to do.

Return to Normalcy?

The Mark Morris story at Clarkson will not go away.

After American Hockey Coaches Association President, Hockey East Commissioner, and contributor Joe Bertagna complained about Morris’ sacking in the [nl]Potsdam-Massena Daily Courier-Observer, Clarkson President Denny [nl]Brown finally cleared the air as to the results of the university’s investigation:

In a written response, Brown said, “Mr. Morris hit the player in the face and neck with the stick, lifted off the player’s helmet with the stick, and hooked his stick in the player’s genital area, pulling the player towards him, all the while shouting obscenities.”

While the university still struggles with the aftermath of firing the most successful men’s hockey coach in its history, the team itself has moved on. From afar, it appears to be business as usual in [nl]Potsdam, N.Y. Since Fred Parker took over as interim coach, the Golden Knights have gone 4-3-1, including wins over Brown and a 4-0 shutout of Providence this past Friday.

“We’re doing just fine,” Parker said. “Everyone here just wants to play hockey and that is what we are doing.”

Anchoring Clarkson’s success has been the play of senior goaltender Mike Walsh. Against the Friars, Walsh made 23 saves and he followed that by surrendering just two third-period goals to Northeastern in a 3-1 loss on Saturday. Both goals came on five-on-three power plays. For his efforts, he was named the ECAC Goaltender of the Week.

“We have a great situation in goal,” Parker said. “Walsh is a leader on this team as he should be as a senior.”

The netminder from Downington, Pa., has elevated his game this season, when his teammates probably needed a rock in net more than ever. He has 1.59 goals against average and a very stingy .939 save percentage, good for fifth overall in the nation.

Should Walsh falter at all this year or need a rest, the Golden Knights have an understudy ready to slide between the pipes. Freshman Dustin Traylen has played admirably in his four games of work this year, with a respectable .903 save percentage.

“We have three good goalies on our roster,” Parker said. “I don’t care if you are 17 years old or 23 years old, the bottom line is whoever is playing has to be the goalie and stop the pucks. Walsh has been the goalie.”

Walsh will have his work cut out for him this weekend when his squad travels to the Whittemore Center to face No. 2 New Hampshire. The Wildcats’ speed, along with their Olympic-size ice surface and boisterous home crowd, will be a good test to gauge the development of the team. After New Hampshire, the Golden Knights head to the Mullins Center to face Massachusetts.

Parker was coy about his strategy for the weekend.

“We just need to play good sound hockey for 60 minutes,” he said. “If we vary from what we are about as a hockey team, than we’ll run into trouble. We obviously have to prepare for the big surface, but we should be good.

“Our confidence is there. We have been in every game we’ve played this year. We’re fine.”

Under Morris, Clarkson had a penchant for strong second halves of the season. Considering the circumstances, the Golden Knights have been pretty strong all along this year.

O Canada!

[nl]Potsdam, N.Y., is pretty close to the Canadian border and sometime in the offseason, officials at Clarkson — along with those at Colgate — decided to take a trip to the land where everything is paid for in Monopoly money.

More college players make the NHL every year and on December 14, Ottawa Senators fans at the Corel Center will have the opportunity to witness the real thing. Before the Senators and my beloved New Jersey Devils square off at 7 p.m., the Knights and Raiders will play a nonleague contest at 2 p.m..

“[The game] came about in collaboration with Colgate coach Don Vaughan,” Parker said. “We had the idea to show the people of Canada what N-C-2-A hockey is all about, seeing Clarkson-Colgate live.”

The Senators feature former Clarkson All-American Todd White. Meanwhile, college hockey fans will no doubt recognize all 5-7 of former Boston College star Brian Gionta speeding around for the Devils.

The Game, Hockey Style

No. 12 Harvard travels to Princeton and Yale this weekend (more on Princeton below) and the traditional lead-in for a Crimson trip to the Whale goes like this: “During its championship season, Harvard lost just three games. One of them was at Ingalls Rink. This weekend, the Crimson returns to [insert New Haven joke here] where it has rarely emerged with a victory.”

All kidding aside, the renewal of the ancient rivalry should prove a good litmus test for both teams. The Crimson, while it has steadily climbed in the polls, has yet to make a statement game to dispel the quiet feeling that last season’s trip to the NCAA tournament was a little fluky considering the number of overtime contests it had to win (although nobody ever mentions that Harvard took finalist Maine to sudden death as well in the first round, coming the closest to eliminating the Black Bears until Minnesota did it in the finals — in OT). Harvard has lost its two games against top teams this year, falling at No. 13 Boston University and No. 7 Cornell.

Harvard and Yale both play a fast-paced, good skating style, each with its own star players. The Crimson has a little more size and aggressiveness — although the Bulldogs have been surly at times this year. When the two teams square off there is always the possibility for some electricity. Just two years ago, Bulldog forward Lee Jelenic was benched by coach Tim Taylor for taunting former Dryden Award winner Oli Jonas, and the Harvard-Yale playoff series that year featured a brawl in the stands at Bright Hockey Center.

That’s the past and most players involved in that have since graduated. The player to watch is Yale sophomore Chris Higgins. The ECAC Rookie of the Year last year was off to a bit of a slow start, but broke out for a five-point weekend against Princeton, notching three goals and two assists.

Even with Higgins not cranking out the offense, the Bulldogs have displayed plenty of firepower with Evan Wax, Ryan Steeves, Christian Jensen and Vin Hellmeyer.

In terms of depth of offensive talent, no team in the ECAC can match Harvard. The Crimson put ten goals in the net last weekend, including seven against Union. But then again, Harvard teams don’t win at the Whale. If the Crimson do prevail, it would be a statement game simply because of history [Insert Ancient Eight joke here].

At the Bottom

The other third of Harvard-Yale-Princeton is doing, well, not as good. While the Crimson and the Elis are programs on the rise, the Tigers have floundered with only one victory. With just nine upperclassmen on the roster (and not that many start), Princeton is squarely in rebuilding mode as third-year coach Len Quesnelle struggles to mold the team in his image.

Ever the optimist, Quesnelle sees strides the team has made even if a casual glance at the league standings don’t reveal any.

“The progress is definitely there,” he said. “We have young guys throughout the lineup and they are getting power play time and penalty kill time and developing.”

The rookies are making the biggest impact.

Look at [freshman forwards] Doug Sproat, Patrick Neundorfer, and Sebastian Borza,” Quesnelle said. “Borza scored two goals this past weekend in his third and fourth college games ever. That’s pretty good.”

In addition to the freshman class, Princeton does have a handful of promising sophomores including forward Neil Stevenson-Moore, Mike Patton, and Chris Owen. Nobody on the team has more than six points, but each has shown glimpses of potential.

In its lone win of the season, Stevenson-Moore had two goals, including the game winner.

“Stevenson-Moore has the opportunity to be a big-time goal scorer for us,” Quesnelle said early this year. “He has a very deceptive shot and the goal he scored [then] was a result of him working hard.”

Still, Princeton has a long way to go, including deciding upon a number-one goaltender. Quesnelle has implemented a three-man platoon and neither Trevor Clay, Eric Leroux, or Nate Nomeland has distinguished himself enough to grab the mantle.

“No one has emerged yet; they are three capable goalies,” Quesnelle said before defending the fact that holding an open audition with three goalies limits the playing time of each. “I don’t think playing three goalies is much of a problem.”

While Leroux leads the team in goals against average at 4.40, in fairness, each netminder has been shelled this season. Princeton allowed 105 shots on net over its past three games.

“We have to even up the scoring chances,” Quesnelle said. “I don’t mind giving up 30 shots a night as long as we are getting 30 shots at the other end, but some nights we are getting out-chanced two-to-one.”

With Harvard and Brown coming into Hobey Baker Rink, this would be a good opportunity for Princeton to develop in a hurry and ease some of the sting of its early defeats. The Tigers had a mediocre year last season, but put a very pleasant cap on it by shutting out Harvard on the last regular-season game.

Quesnelle is not so concerned about rivalry this year.

“We have got to put our own house in order before we get ready to face Harvard or Brown,” he said. “We have to pay better attention to detail, and just go shift-by-shift.”

Visions of Sugar Plums

With Christmas fast approaching, now is the time for a little holiday cheer, some shopping and cozying up next to a warm fire, with a cup of hot chocolate, a nice warm blanket and slowly drifting off into …

But no matter what you use for a down comforter, it’s hard to find anything as smothering as the Cornell defense.

One could write volumes on the best team defense in the nation both last year and this year, thus far, allowing a miniscule 1.33 goals per game. However, Boston University coach Jack Parker said it best after being swept by the Big Red, 5-1, 4-1 over the weekend:

“They just beat us to every puck, pounded us when they had to, they defended us in front of their own net better than we’ve seen teams do against us, and we didn’t do any of that stuff.”

Enough said. The seventh ranked-team in the country’s star should keep rising this weekend as Cornell travels to Western Michigan.

Coming Attractions

This is the last ECAC column until after the holidays, so here is a quick rundown of the holiday tournaments for all your favorite teams. First team listed is their first-round opponent. Comments may follow.

Brown — Northern Lights Ice Classic (Grand Forks, N.D.) North Dakota, Bemidji/Manitoba. Can Yann Danis upset North Dakota?

Clarkson — Denver Cup (Denver, CO) New Hampshire, Miami/Denver. Golden Knights get another crack at the Wildcats, this time on neutral turf

Colgate — Badger Showdown (Milwaukee, WI) Wisconsin, Harvard/Northern Michigan.

Cornell — Everblades College Classic (Estero, FL) Maine, Ohio State/UMA. Presumably slower southern ice surface should be even more advantageous to Big Red’s defensive style.

Dartmouth — Ledyard National Bank Auld Lang Syne Classic (Hanover, NH) Notre Dame, Mass-Lowell/Vermont. Always wondered how among the ECAC teams, Dartmouth is one of the squads that actually hosts a holiday tournament.

Harvard — Badger Showdown (Milwaukee, WI) Northern Michigan, Wisconsin/Colgate. Another chance for the Crimson to topple quality out-of-conference foes.

Princeton — Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Hockey Tournament (Troy, NY), Wayne State, RPI/ Merrimack.

Rensselaer — Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Hockey Tournament (Troy, NY) Merrimack, Wayne State/Princeton.

St. Lawrence — No holiday sojourn for the Saints; they break for Christmas with a weekend deuce versus Lake Superior State and then gear up for Cornell/Colgate in 2003.

Union — Two games at Minnesota-Duluth. A nice, cold location for the Skating Dutchmen to get focused after a rollercoaster start.

Vermont — Ledyard National Bank Auld Lang Syne Classic (Hanover, NH) Massachusetts-Lowell, Notre Dame/Dartmouth. Has anybody noticed Jeff Miles has 11 goals this season?

Yale — Dodge Holiday Classic (Minneapolis, MN) Minnesota, BC/Bowling Green. The Bulldogs test themselves against the defending champs on their pond, and after this tournament come back home to face UNH on Jan. 3

The Good

Cornell’s defense

Absolutely suffocated Boston University this weekend. As long as it scores goals, the Big Red are going to be awfully hard to beat.

The Bad

Union’s defense Friday night

Gave up 46 shots in a 7-4 loss to Harvard. Saved from “The Ugly” by virtue of the much more consistent play of …

The Ugly

Princeton defense.

Three games, 105 shots against. Ugh.

Happy Holidays

Finally, a very happy holidays to all of you loyal college hockey fans who keep coming back to Thanks for reading my first crack at the ECAC. Becky and Jayson will be back after Christmas.

Post Mortem

As you now prepare to study the predictions I made for December, you should probably be forewarned. My junior year of college I was so accurate predicting games that I got the score right almost every night … just the wrong team. You can ask my partner in crime that year, former USCHO arena reporter Jennie Sullivan.

Special thanks to Adam Wodon for contributing to this report.