This Week in the ECAC: Jan. 16, 2003

It’s another short week in the ECAC, with only one full set of travel-partner exchanges, and two games between travel partners.

One thing not missing, despite the limited schedule: classic rivalry games.

Shades of Red

The Capital District will see a lot of shades of red this weekend when Colgate and Cornell take on Union and Rensselaer. Both Colgate and Cornell had last weekend off, but Cornell swept the North Country two weekends ago while Colgate gained one point in a tie with St. Lawrence.

“Now we have another two weeks off here,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “We have to get our act together and get back to some basics and refine things for the stretch drive.”

The Big Red came back from Florida with two losses, but a sweep in the North Country and some rest and practice should make Big Red fans happy and their team the force it was in the first half of the ECAC season.

“I think after that long break it’s taken us a little time to get back at it, and hopefully with two weeks of straight practice now, we can get back in the pattern of where we were rolling over teams and dominating,” said captain Stephen Baby.

Colgate is in the midst of a five-game winless streak, with four losses before the tie against St. Lawrence. It’s been a tough go for the Raiders.

“We have dressed upwards of 12 first- and second-year players every night,” said head coach Don Vaughan. “It has been a baptism by fire for these players, but it is only going to help us in the long run. These young guys have had to play in all situations.

“Most people will judge the team by our win-loss record, but it is important for our staff to focus on developing and judging our younger players by their individual progress each night. Overall we have been very pleased with the way our underclassmen have improved. In programs like ours we must be patient and really work with our young players as they find their way. We don’t reload, we rebuild.”

Union and Rensselaer got together last Friday and played to a 3-3 tie. For the first time since 1998 the Engineers took more than two points against the Dutchmen.

“I would have liked to have seen us capitalize on a couple of more opportunities, but we took three of four points from them, so I’m satisfied,” said Engineer coach Dan Fridgen. “You played a two-game series and this tie means three of four points, so I consider that a good tie. If you had dropped the first one and then got a tie, then it would be damaging.”

“I take pride in that our guys played as hard as they did, and a little disappointed in that we had a chance to take two points and we didn’t,” said Dutchmen coach Kevin Sneddon. “We have to realize that we’re in a building process and what I’ve seen over the last few games is the way we have to play. It was like a playoff game in the locker room; we have to play that way every week and they’re starting to learn.”

The Dutchmen also carry a five-game winless streak, with four losses before the tie. But Sneddon is anxious for the next seven weeks of competition.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “The way we played [against RPI], the way we played against Harvard, they can’t wait to strap on the jersey and go to battle every night. That’s what you need, that confidence and desire to play every night. Now that they’ve shown what they’re capable of doing, we just keep demanding it as coaches.”

The Engineers are also in a streak of one win in their last six games, two in the last nine and three in the last 12.

North Country, Part Deux

This past weekend was what a North Country trip for the opposition was supposed to be like if you’re Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Two teams come in and leave with two points or fewer.

Clarkson took down Dartmouth and Vermont, 7-5 and 1-0, and boosted itself right back into the ECAC picture. The Golden Knights sit in fifth place, three points behind Yale with three games in hand. The Knights also have four games in hand over Brown to overcome a deficit of four points, as well as five games in hand over Harvard despite a sizable 11-point gap.

“This was a real good team weekend for us,” said head coach Fred Parker. “We needed to prove to ourselves that we could take four points on the weekend and we did it with two different styles of play. We showed that we can play on both levels this weekend. Against Dartmouth we showed that we can do good things offensively and played at a high, up-tempo level. Against Vermont we realized that we needed to give a full 60-minute effort against a team that was looking to try and outwork us. We have been in so many close games this season that I think we were mentally prepared to win a tight game.”

St. Lawrence dropped a 4-1 decision to Vermont, but then rebounded with a come-from-behind 7-3 win over Dartmouth the next night.

“We haven’t had that many three-goal games this season so a three-goal period was a real plus for us,” said Saint head coach Joe Marsh. “We didn’t play that badly in the first period, but Dartmouth scored on a couple of rockets. I think Jack O’Brien’s goal was a huge one in that it kept us in it mentally.

“From a confidence standpoint this was a big one for us. The guys worked hard and showed a lot of resiliency and we got goals from both the veterans and the kids.”

The two will meet up in Potsdam on Saturday in the second half of the rivalry. Earlier on in the season the Saints defeated the Knights, 2-1, on Adam Hogg’s goal with under five minutes to play in the game.

The Saints will be out to complete a sweep of the regular-season series between the two rivals for the first time since the 1991-92 season, when the Saints won 4-3 in Potsdam in the first meeting and 5-0 in Canton in the rematch. SLU did take three of a possible four points in the 1999-2000 season with a 1-1 tie in Potsdam and a 7-3 win in Canton.

“St. Lawrence is coming off a huge win in which they buried Dartmouth,” said Parker. “They will certainly be up for us and we will have to be ready for a team that can score quickly and that has also played better defensively recently.”

The Green and White Mountains, Part Deux

The second half of the road partner battle between Vermont and Dartmouth will take place on Saturday night in Hanover. This always contentious matchup pits one team desperately yearning to get back to winning and another looking to continue a recent string of good play.

The Big Green returns home this weekend, and there’s probably no better place on Earth for Bob Gaudet’s team at this stage of the season.

Thus far, Dartmouth has posted an impressive and unmatched 8-0 record at Thompson Arena, including high-profile victories against then top-ranked Boston College and more recently Cornell. The problem for the Big Green, however, is that the squad can’t seem to find a way to win outside its own barn as it holds a 1-6-1 away record.

Most recently, Dartmouth dropped games at St. Lawrence and Clarkson and then salvaged a tie at No. 5 New Hampshire on Wednesday night.

“We know that we can play and we have great leadership,” said Gaudet following the 1-1 tie to the Wildcats. “What we’re gonna work on is the consistency.”

The good news, you ask? Well, the only away victory for this team came against Vermont back on January 4 when the Big Green pulled out the 3-2 win.

Much of Dartmouth’s away success has come due to Lee Stempniak, who continued his solid play against Vermont when he scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season. Stempniak has already surpassed his point total from last season. Although the unpredictable nature of Nick Boucher continues to confuse some followers, the senior netminder did reach an interesting milestone in his career. With his 41st career win last Friday night, Boucher passes Gaudet in the record books for most career wins.

The game at Dartmouth this Saturday will be Gilligan’s 800th as a collegiate head coach. After next weekend’s home games with Rensselaer and Union, the Cats will be on the road for three of the final five weekends.

On the road last weekend the Cats took two points and could have had four had it been for a little more offense and if not for Dustin Traylen of Clarkson in net. The Cats took a 4-1 win over St. Lawrence on the strength of a hat trick from Tim Plant and then fell 1-0 to Clarkson.

Shawn Conschafter has been stellar in net, allowing only the two goals on the weekend and five in the last three.

“[Conschafter] has put together three good games in a row now. It’s too bad we couldn’t get any goals for him [Saturday],” said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan. “[Saturday’s] game [against Clarkson] was really competitive, with both goaltenders playing really well. Clarkson has bigger forwards and boxed us out pretty well. I felt it was a clean game, it was just unfortunate we couldn’t put one in.”

There’s a lot on the line this weekend. Dartmouth is trying to get back to where it was, while Vermont can pull within two points of Dartmouth and contend for a bye or home ice in the first round.