This Week in the ECAC: Jan. 30, 2003

The ECAC’s member teams are once again almost even in games played. After this weekend, it’s just Harvard and Union that have games in hand, meaning we can better judge what will happen over the next four weeks before the playoffs.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to steer clear of the regular format for a week, as there are many of you out there with questions. So let’s open up the mailbag and answer some.

Who’s going to win this thing, Cornell or Harvard?

It certainly looks like those teams will finish one-two in the ECAC this year unless something catastrophic happens — which we don’t expect. So who takes it?

Looking at the schedule, Cornell has to stay even with Harvard the rest of the way and not lose its two games in hand. Harvard has one chance to pin one of those losses on Cornell, but that won’t be enough. So by the numbers, Cornell should win the league.

But — and there’s always a but in the ECAC — Harvard has a golden opportunity this year. For the first time, the team will not have to play a full league weekend between Beanpot games, and the Crimson will be home for the majority of the second half. In fact, five of Harvard’s remaining eight ECAC games will be played at Bright Hockey Center. The loss to Princeton prior to exam break was the first loss at home for the Crimson this season, so home ice has apparently once again become a factor for Harvard. And Cornell has to play Dartmouth, the giant-killer.

We know that Cornell and Harvard will finish one-two, but who will finish in third and fourth? And then who gets home ice in the first round (positions five through eight)?

Wow, talk about tough questions. Unless Brown picks it up, it won’t be in that third position for very long. Yale needs more weekends like the beginning of the season, not like the last ECAC weekend it played. And Union, well, you never know, a good weekend might point the Dutchmen in the right direction. And don’t forget about Clarkson — always dangerous.

Right now, it’s all about hunches, so let’s say the four first-round byes will be Cornell, Harvard, Yale and Clarkson.

Who’s at home in the first round? Tough call, but we’ll go with Brown, Union, Dartmouth and Rensselaer, leaving Colgate, Vermont, St. Lawrence and Princeton on the road.

What’s been the biggest surprise in the ECAC this year?

This is always a tough question to answer, especially at this time of the year.

During the early stages, the strength of Yale turned heads. Everyone knew that Chris Higgins would be back to make a statement about his NHL potential, but few expected the supporting crew to make much noise. The fact that Evan Wax has come out of nowhere offensively and the team overall has shown a commitment to defense is surprising.

When Wax is on, Yale can be great; when Wax is off … who knows, Miyagi-san?

And the way Union is starting to play, the Dutchmen may be the surprise of the second half of the season, especially if they get through this weekend with more than two points in the North Country.

What’s been the biggest disappointment in the ECAC this year?

To be honest, some of the biggest surprises have been the lack of impact from big-time league players.

Why hasn’t Nick Boucher regained his early-career form in net for Dartmouth? Why isn’t Dom Moore putting up Hobey like numbers for Harvard? Why are people questioning the skill of Cornell’s Doug Murray? Perhaps the biggest disappointment, however, was the Mark Morris situation. No matter what side you fall on, it’s never good for the league to have stories like that overshadow what happens on the ice.

Who will Trista and Evan choose? Other thoughts?

After rumors spread last year that ABC encouraged the first Bachelor to pick the “underdog” contestant, you never what to expect. However, once Trista called Charlie “the one,” you knew that it was pretty much game, set, match for that show.

As for Evan, he made a great choice in deleting MoJo, especially after seeing that million-dollar check. We can’t help but think there will be another twist in this show, say, that Evan is really a millionaire and this is all just a lie that he makes $19,000 a year. If that’s the case, the most level-headed non-catty one that you have to love is Zora. If he really is a construction worker, we hope that the awful Melissa gets stuck with him.

We’re also having a hard time following 24 this year. Just what is happening? It’s not coming together as quickly as we’d like, though we know that there are still some twists out there. And will someone tell Kim to get a brain?

And with the possibility of both Buffy and Angel ending after this season, add in the return of Faith and a common Big Bad on both shows, how can one possibly wait for these two series to pan out over the next few months? Especially when it looks like they’ll cross over networks to tell the story. On the edge of our seats we are.

Hey, ABC! Dump Jimmy Kimmel: Snoop Dogg needs his own talk show. Fischnizzle, bizzle. We’ve already got a few favorites on American Idol, how about you? You go, Frenchie!

And when they said it was a “new beginning” on Alias, they sure meant it, didn’t they? But, with Syd and Vaughan kissing, will that kill the show? Speaking of kissing, when are Harm and Mac of JAG ever going to get together? Enough already, just do it! And is anyone else relieved that this is the last season of Dawson’s Creek? They should make the last few episodes a murder-mystery as to who killed Jen.

But it’s not like the Iron Columnists watch these shows or anything …

Is there anything new on the Clarkson coaching front? What about Joe Bertagna — did he have a response to [Clarkson president] Denny Brown? Did he apologize?

Wow, lots of questions. First off, there’s nothing new on the Clarkson front and we don’t expect anything until the offseason. Clarkson has made public its search for a head coach — heck, there’s a job listing on its website. As for who may get the job, it’s tough to tell.

Depending on what happens the rest of the way you can’t count out current head coach Fred Parker. Asked about his intention to apply, Parker said that he didn’t want to commit either way in fear of placing too much pressure on the players. He felt that if he answered in the affirmative, the players would feel as if they would have to play for his job. If the answer was “no”, playing for a lame duck could just as easily have a negative effect on the team’s.

Other names in the rumor mill include Jim Roque, Ron Rolston, Buddy Powers, George Roll and Jeff Jackson, to name a few.

As for the Bertagna situation, there has been no apology, but Bertagna did write this in the December 2002-January 2003 issue of the AHCA newsletter.

“While I stand by the message of my correspondence, I might have chosen a less public vehicle for expressing it. I could also have used less inflammatory language. The Officers and Governors [of the AHCA] did not see the correspondence in advance, and that was a mistake on my part. While they have supported my message, many of them have also questioned the public nature of the correspondence. In short, your officers have done a terrific job behind the scenes in this matter, keeping all interests at heart.

“In every version of the incident in question, Mark’s response was inappropriate and all agree he should have been punished. The severity of the punishment is what the AHCA, through my correspondence, was questioning. We also felt that the University could have addressed the actions of the student-athlete whose actions initiated the incident. Again, the AHCA and the University relied on different accounts of that action.”

So, no apology and no direct response — at least not in public.

How long do you believe it will take Clarkson to recover and become the force it used to be?

It won’t be long. Clarkson has always been strong, even during its leaner years. After all, the Golden Knights did become the fastest Division I team to compile 1,000 wins and has an all-time winning percentage of .633. Why is that?

Well, the school supports its team financially with a healthy scholarship program; hockey is the name of the game in Potsdam, the team plays in a nice, new facility and the program has a reputation for developing professional talent (Todd White of Ottawa, Willie Mitchell of Minnesota, Craig Conroy in Calgary, Erik Cole at Carolina, etc.).

Even this year, with the head coach being publicly ousted early on, the team has been able to collect 13 points and be in decent position for a good playoff berth. The big question for Clarkson has never been whether it will be strong, it’s whether it can take that huge step and be a national contender come tournament time. Taking the lead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a new head coach may be exactly what the program needs to get over that obstacle.

How far can Cornell and Harvard go in the NCAA Tournament?

We don’t think it’s out of the question that Cornell has the talent and experience to go all the way. Last year the Big Red were half a period away from moving on to the Frozen Four. This year with more experience and a determination, it is possible that Cornell moves on to Buffalo, with a great shot at the national championship.

As for Harvard, the upcoming Beanpot will say a lot for the Crimson, who have been unsuccessful in nonconference action thus far, losing to Boston University, Maine and Northern Michigan and tying Boston College. If the Crimson can win the Beanpot, it will say a lot about its chances in the NCAA tournament — if they make the tournament. We say that because the Crimson, with two losses in the Beanpot, could be on the bubble without winning the ECAC tournament.

What are the keys for each team down the stretch? Who’s got to step it up?

Here’s a quick list:

Cornell — Just keep playing the way the Big Red have been. And perhaps more scoring than just Stephen Baby.

Harvard — Beat Cornell and hope for something else to happen along the way to get to the top. Dov Grumet-Morris has to continue to play huge in net and Dom Moore needs to assert himself as the offensive leader of the team.

Brown — More consistency and the old Yann Danis. And get some offense.

Yale — Stability in net and someone for other teams to worry about other than Higgins. Could it be Wax?

Union — Kris Mayotte is in the stretch run as a freshman, but he has to take the reins.

Clarkson — Consistency and scoring. Mike Walsh and Dustin Traylen, whomever is in net has to be big.

Dartmouth — Winning on the road. Everyone stepping up and Boucher to come on strong.

Vermont — Consistent scoring and a consistent Shawn Conschafter.

Colgate — Offense and David Cann to be huge.

St. Lawrence — Offense from the forwards needs to accomplished.

Rensselaer — Offense. From anyone. And then Marsters and Kurk have to be there as well.

Princeton — More efforts like those against Rensselaer and Harvard.

How come the two of you don’t have your picture on your column like everyone else?

Are you kidding us? Have you seen the other pictures on the columns? Especially Hendrickson’s?

All right, that was pretty exhausting and the mailbag is still not empty. More of the mailbag next week. In the meantime, enjoy this weekend’s games.