It’s starting to heat up. It’s the time of year when the disparity in games begin to compact, and key games are in hand for eight ECAC teams this weekend. We’re getting started on our way to the playoffs.
Central N.Y. Battle
Clarkson and St. Lawrence hit the road after meeting each other this past weekend. The Saints took the 3-2 win over the Golden Knights to sweep the season series for the first time in 10 years.
“We had to weather the storm to start the game and we did a pretty good job of it,” said Saints coach Joe Marsh. “Clarkson did spend a lot of time in our end in the first period, but we did a better job defensively after the first five or six minutes and then came back with the big power play goal to tie it.
“It was a solid, hard-working effort by everyone, and we knew we were going to need that kind of night going in.”
For Clarkson, it was another frustration after sweeping the previous weekend and seeming poised to get on a roll. The loss dropped the Golden Knights to 5-4-1 in the league.
“That was a disappointing effort from all of us, from the coaching staff and down through the lineup,” said Golden Knights coach Fred Parker. “This is the biggest rivalry for Clarkson hockey and we did not give the effort we needed to in order to win. St. Lawrence outworked us for about 50 minutes. When you only play hard for 10 minutes you won’t win any games.”
The teams will head to central New York to take on Cornell and Colgate.
“We will face two hungry teams for different reasons this weekend and we will have to give an effort at least four times better than we did this past Saturday if we are going to have a chance at winning,” said Parker. “We need our best players to play at their top level. We will definitely have our work cut out for us.”
Clarkson had gone 4-1 in the five previous games before St. Lawrence, with the only loss in that stretch coming at home to Cornell. In that game, the Golden Knights played perhaps their best game of the season in the loss, losing on a flukey third-period goal by Cornell forward Stephen Baby.
“I expect Cornell to come out and play like the fourth-ranked team in the country. They are extremely talented, big and strong and I am sure they will be ready to show their home fans how good they are after having played on the road for so long,” said Parker.
“Colgate should come out with an extremely hard effort against us. When we played them at our place a couple of weeks ago [a 6-0 Clarkson win] they were injured and sick and we took advantage of that. After two losses to us this year I am sure they will be fired up and ready to go when they play us at their arena.”
Cornell will finally get back to Lynah Rink and don’t think that the team, the fans and head coach Mike Schafer aren’t pumped up.
“Oh, two months on the road, I told our guys afterwards that it seems like it’s been forever since we’ve played at home,” said Schafer. “We’re real excited to get back to Lynah and with five of the next six at home after eight on the road, it’s real nice.”
If we had to pick the Jeckyll and Hyde team of the week, the honors would have to go to Colgate. After what hasn’t been an exactly memorable season for the Raiders thus far, the team entered the road trip against RPI and Union last week with high hopes. Following Friday night, things were looking very good.
The Raiders pulled out a huge win by knocking off the Engineers on the road. The team also accomplished a feat that hasn’t been a common occurrence this year — it scored first. Prior to the RPI game, the last time that Colgate struck first in a game was against Holy Cross back in the early days of December.
“We haven’t scored first much this year and getting that first one really gave us a boost,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan about the RPI game, which marked the first league road win for his team this year. “I don’t think we gave up a lot of quality shots in the third period and that’s all you can ask. And we preached about throwing the thing on the net and that’s how they went in tonight.”
Granted it took the Raiders until the third period to score, but Joey Mormina’s tally proved to be the turning point as the team ended up with the 3-0 victory.
“It’s a big win,” said Vaughan immediately following the game. “I don’t know if you can measure it right now, but any win on the road in this league is huge. We certainly needed it and we’re hoping to carry it into tomorrow night.”
That positive momentum was cut short the following night when the Raiders were stopped by a Union team that was seeking redemption for a touch 6-0 loss to Cornell the night before. Although some claim that having a strong road partner will distract teams from preparing properly for the seemingly weaker squad, it sometimes has the opposite effect. In this case, it was a combination of Union feeling strong and Colgate failing to string together two straight solid performances.
“That had more to do with us than it did with them,” Vaughan said. “Although they played well, we didn’t seem to have the jump in our legs to be successful at this level.”
With the season quickly winding down, this weekend’s action becomes that much more important for Colgate. On Friday night, the Raiders will take on St. Lawrence, a team currently tied with Colgate for ninth place in the league standings. Earlier this season, the Raiders had to rally from a two-goal deficit in order to salvage a point against the Saints. That game may be especially important considering Colgate’s recent history against Clarkson. An albatross around the team’s neck, the Golden Knights are unbeaten in the last seven games against the Raiders.
Up Or Down
Was it Vermont’s most inspired hockey of the season? Perhaps.
The Catamounts went on the road for what appeared to be a very daunting challenge. The team was facing a Dartmouth team that was, at that point, unbeaten in its own barn. Nationally-ranked powers such as Boston College and Cornell had fallen victim to the mystique of Thompson Arena, but the same fate was not to befall the Catamounts.
Vermont pelted Nick Boucher with 40 shots on the night and scored five goals in less than five minutes to pull out a seemingly impossible 6-4 win over Dartmouth — its fourth league win of the year. The secret to Vermont’s wins are quite simple; when it puts the puck on the net, they win. In fact, the Catamount’s are now 5-1-1 when they outshoot their opponent.
A key factor in the Dartmouth contest was senior Shawn Conschafter, who came up with several key saves in the third period when his team was two men down.
“That team deserved to win the game,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “We were up 3-0, but I didn’t think we were playing particularly well, but we were up 3-0. To me it’s always the next shift, not the one before. And what happened is the next shift we didn’t play very well.”
As shocking as the loss was for the Big Green, the team will have to turn things around this weekend when it hosts RPI and Union. Following this weekend’s action, Dartmouth will enjoy only two home weekends of play.
“You have to play the guys that are going,” said Gaudet when asked about his game-time shift decisions. “We had to give ourselves an opportunity to win. We didn’t have enough guys going tonight with their ‘A’ game. It’s between a rock and a hard place.”
The Union Dutchmen went into last weekend trying to end a five-game unbeaten streak and things didn’t go their way in a 6-0 loss to Cornell. But the next night the Dutchmen broke the streak with a 4-1 win over Colgate.
“As a staff, we said, `Let’s throw the kitchen sink at them tonight,'” head coach Kevin Sneddon. “We pressed them all night long. We did the reverse of what Cornell did to us.
“We did an exceptional job forechecking and getting after loose pucks, and taking away time and space from their forwards. Obviously, to hold a team of that caliber to 16 shots is very impressive, from a defensive standpoint.”
With the win the Dutchmen are right back into the thick of home-ice battles, both for the bye and the first-round.
Engineering a Recovery
Meanwhile the Engineers dropped two, one to Colgate and then Cornell. The Engineers now have just one win in the last eight games and have fallen to 11th in the standings. Despite that, head coach Dan Fridgen is encouraged about what he’s seen for the start of the stretch run.
“I thought we came out real good, with intensity, moved our feet and got good shots [against Cornell],” said Fridgen. “You’re talking about the fourth-ranked team in the nation and I thought we elevated our play and it was good to see and we’ll continue to grow.”
Despite their struggles, there’s no question RPI has pieces in place to bounce back over the next few years. The Engineers have a couple gems in the sophomore class, such as Nick Economakos, and an outstanding freshman class, led by Kevin Croxton, a prime candidate for ECAC Rookie of the Year. It’s not exactly 1983 all over again, but the cupboard is not bare in Troy.
Don’t Forget Us
While their road partners battle exams for a second straight week, Yale and Brown will play their last non-conference games for the season. The Bulldogs apparently worked out some kinks last weekend with two straight wins over Notre Dame.
More than 5,900 fans packed Allstate Arena (formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon) on Saturday night. And before you start assuming that the majority of spectators thought they would be attending a football pep rally, the game represented the first collegiate hockey game at the Arena since 1996 when the University of Illinois-Chicago dropped its hockey program.
Despite the excitement over the home team’s return to Chicago, Yale managed to master play on both ends of the ice. The team scored seven goals and allowed only two throughout the two-game series.
“We gave up 12 goals last weekend,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “We talked about that a lot this week and were focusing on it.”
On both nights, Taylor received contributions from three different players. And while the forwards were getting things done in the offensive zone, the defense and netminder were taking care of matters on the other side of the ice sheet. The Bulldogs will take on in-state rival Connecticut on Saturday night before embarking on the last half of its league schedule.
Meanwhile, Brown will take on Merrimack in North Andover. If the Bears are victorious on Saturday night, it will mark the team’s third straight nonconference win. Over the past two weeks, Brown has mastered the MAAC by knocking off both Holy Cross and Iona.
Even without the services of netminder Yann Danis, Brown managed a shutout. Sophomore Scott Rowan made his first NCAA start and made 19 saves on the night. He was helped out by three Brown powerplay goals on the night.
“We’ve had a lot of success here and the idea is to keep it up so we can host a playoff weekend at home,” said head coach Roger Grillo.
Then There Were Two
In case anyone has forgotten, Princeton and Harvard are still in exam break. The Tigers are coming off their biggest win of the season — a 2-1 decision against Harvard — and will next face Dartmouth in Hanover on January 31.
The Crimson, still atop the ECAC in points, will host road partner Brown on Jan. 31 before taking on Boston University in the first game of the 51st Annual Beanpot Tournament.
Last season, Harvard came out of the break poorly, and didn’t recover until the ECAC tournament. This is the year it is looking to finally make some noise in the Beanpot, and the Crimson is assured that Cornell will be breathing down their necks, if not surpassed them, by the time the two teams hook up for a crucial game at Bright on Feb. 15.
There’s a lot for Harvard to think about — and look forward to — as the break continues.
A Look Ahead
You got questions, we may have answers. Check back next week, we’ll answer all those important ECAC questions, as there will be just five weeks left. So email us and we’ll answer the mailbag next week.
Thanks to Dan Weinberg, Ken Schott, and Sean Peden for their help this week.