This Week in the ECAC: Feb. 20, 2003

With two weeks left to go in the season, we thought that this week we’d briefly run down some of the possibilities for the ECAC teams. But first, we’ll hand out our hardware — our choices for the ECAC honors this season.

ECAC All-Rookie Team

It’s been a good year for the freshmen in the ECAC, so narrowing it down meant some tough choices. Here they are:

F Kevin Croxton, Rensselaer
F Christian Jensen, Yale
F Hugh Jessiman, Dartmouth
D Jamie Sifers, Vermont
D Seamus Young, Princeton
G Kris Mayotte, Union

All-ECAC Team

More tough choices here, but when it came down to it, we think we made the right ones.

F Stephen Baby, Cornell
F Chris Higgins, Yale
F Dominic Moore, Harvard
D Trevor Byrne, Dartmouth
D Doug Murray, Cornell
G David LeNeveu, Cornell

Rookie of the Year

We touted him a few weeks ago and there’s no backing down now.

Hugh Jessiman, Dartmouth

Defensive Defenseman of the Year

A Hobey Baker candidate who leads with great toughness and defense from the blue line.

Doug Murray, Cornell

Defensive Forward of the Year

There is no bigger presence up front than this guy.

Stephen Baby, Cornell

Dryden Award

He’s been absolutely tough and absolutely spectacular.

David LeNeveu, Cornell

Coach of the Year

Mike Schafer has done a great job leading his Big Red to the No. 2 ranking in the land, but this coach has taken his team to the brink of its first-ever home-ice playoff series, and possible a first-round bye after being picked 11th in the preseason poll.

Kevin Sneddon, Union

Player of the Year

His defense is great, his offense is great. There is no more influential player in this league right now than this guy. He leads by example.

Stephen Baby, Cornell

You may agree or disagree, but let us tell you, the choices were tough.

Next week we’ll run down where each team can finish, who you want to root for as a fan of a particular team and some possible outcomes along with some wild playoffs.

Cornell

The Big Red are in the driver’s seat for the Cleary Cup after last weekend’s tie with Brown and victory over second-place Harvard. The win over Harvard was in essence a four-point victory.

“I thought that it was a great hockey game between two great teams,” coach Mike Schafer said. “I thought we carried the momentum early on and they carried the momentum in the later part of the hockey game.

“We knew what was on the line — it was first place and it was a great contested game.”

And now, a combination of five points won by Cornell or lost by Harvard gives the Big Red the Cleary Cup.

Possible Finish — first to third

Harvard

With 28 points to its credit thus far, the Crimson has already clinched a first-round bye and still has a shot at catching Cornell for the top spot. Harvard had an opportunity to take over first place last weekend, when the Big Red stormed into Bright Hockey Center on Saturday night. The Crimson let up three goals in the first 10 minutes of play, however, and was never able to recover.

“The tone of the game was set at the beginning when we spotted them two power-play goals,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “You do that you don’t deserve to win the hockey game and we didn’t deserve to win it.”

What looked like a possible rout for Cornell in the first 10 minutes turned into an even hockey game, with Harvard dominating play for the final two-thirds of the game. While eyes were focused on LeNeveu, who was forced to make impressive saves down the stretch, Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris was making a quiet statement of his own.

Often overshadowed by his team’s offense, Grumet-Morris has posted a .926 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average — both second in the conference behind LeNeveu.

In the end, it was the same old tired storyline for the Crimson against Cornell. Like it did against Maine and even Boston University in the first round of the Beanpot, the team came out flat and was never able to recover from the early-game lapses.

“We’ll see them again,” said Harvard senior Dominic Moore, who captured ECAC Player of the Week honors after posting five goals and four assists in three games. “We learned our lesson about coming out at the start and having poise, and next time we take the fact that we won the game 3-1 from the second period on, when we did play our game.”

Although these two teams believe that they will meet again, Harvard has a tough weekend ahead of it as it faces off against Dartmouth and Vermont. On Friday night, the Crimson meets up with a Dartmouth team that has regained its home-ice invincibility after a rare weekend sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The following night, the team heads to Burlington to take on Vermont — another team that had its way with the North Country foes.

The Dartmouth game has a particular significance for Harvard. After all, the Big Green is one of three teams that could catch the Crimson and knock them all the way down to fifth place.

Possible Finish — first to fourth

Yale

Heading into last weekend, Yale head coach Tim Taylor said that his team was focusing on four games at a time. Facing two straight road trips, the veteran coach was hoping for at least six points: he got four in the first weekend alone.

“Now we have third to ourselves and four points above fourth; it was a productive weekend,” said Taylor. “We gained ground [two weeks ago] and we gained ground [last weekend]. There’s eight points still out there and we’ve got a four-point lead, but who knows what’s going to happen?”

Led defensively by freshman goaltender Josh Gartner and offensively by Chris Higgins, the Bulldogs knocked off both RPI and Union. Gartner, who sports a 9-2 record and is second nationally in save percentage, stopped 45 of 49 shots to further bolster Yale’s confidence heading into this final stretch of the season.

And while Gartner has shored up the defensive side of the ice, the offense has come alive, showing more confidence with each passing game. The team — spearheaded by yet another five-point weekend by Higgins — posted 10 goals in two games. The Bulldogs are currently first in the league in total offense (averaging 4.78 goals per game) with Higgins (17) and Evan Wax (12) ranking first and third, respectively, in goals scored.

“We’ve got to go on the road to St. Lawrence and Clarkson and it’s a bear of a trip,” said Taylor. “Every weekend we gain confidence, we learn more about ourselves. We told ourselves that we want to be the best team we can in March and this is just part of the process. It looks like Cornell has locked up the first slot and Harvard is going to be real tough to catch.”

Ever since the Notre Dame weekend, Yale has been on a tear and with only two weekends of regular season play remaining finds itself in a position to finish as high as first place. Did many pundits call this scenario? Probably not.

Possible Finish — first to seventh

Brown

When Brown really needed Yann Danis, the preseason All-American favorite came through. Putting most goaltenders’ weekend statistics to shame, Danis backstopped 72 of 76 shots last weekend, enabling his team to capture three points against Colgate and Cornell. With the team’s playoff future in limbo and with home ice yet a real possibility, those points could not have come at a better time.

The first night against Cornell, Danis stood on his head, especially in the first period when he was forced to make 14 saves. His persistence in net allowed Brown to pick up its first league point against Cornell in nearly three years.

It’s no secret that when Danis is on his game, the Bears are a much bigger threat. With an offense that manages just under three goals per game, Danis’ presence is that much more critical.

Brent Robinson has shouldered the offensive burden this year as the team’s leading scorer with seven goals and 16 assists. Robinson collected five points last weekend, including two goals which came during the 2-2 tie against Cornell.

The Bears will need to continue that style of play this weekend when they head to Vermont and Dartmouth. Earlier this year, Brown knocked off both teams by a combined score of 9-2.

Possible Finish — second to 10th

Dartmouth

Following last weekend’s sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence, the sentiment around the league was, “They’re ba-ack.” Showing its home-ice dominance yet again, Dartmouth made its presence known in the playoff race with a much-needed weekend sweep at Thompson Arena. The team now boasts an incredible 11-2 record at home.

And if the huge early-season wins against such powerhouses as Boston College didn’t make you a Thompson believer, think about the fact that entering last weekend Dartmouth had never posted a weekend sweep over the North Country duo.

“We worked really hard and through hard work we had luck and some fortunate bounces that we took advantage of,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “I liked the way we started the games [against St. Lawrence on Friday night] and maintained our intensity. To get a lead at home and to start off our home stand in a positive way was a really positive thing for us.”

This weekend will perhaps be the biggest challenge for the Big Green as it hosts offensively-potent Harvard on Friday night and then Danis-backed Brown on Saturday.

“They are both excellent teams,” said Gaudet. “Harvard is very skilled, quick and strong in all positions and one of the top teams in the country. Brown is a team that was a really high touted team that has done quite a bit to live up to that too… they are a tough team year in and year out and this year they have a team that is made up of a lot of veterans. This team has been built for this year and they will come in and give us fits.”

And despite Nick Boucher’s unpredictability in net this season, the coach is standing by his veteran netminder as the team faces its final regular season games.

“Our job is to find a lineup each and every game and for that one game we need to find a lineup that will give us the best opportunity to win,” said Gaudet. “Nick Boucher has played in a number of games down the stretch and that is something that (backups Darren Gastrock and Dan Yacey) can’t really control.”

Possible Finish — second to 10th

Union

The Dutchmen right now sit in the fifth seed with the tiebreakers. The Dutchmen can make it up to third place with the right combinations, as they are only four points behind Yale.

The Dutchmen believe that they can get there, but if not, there’s still home ice in the first round, meaning a first would occur: a playoff series at Achilles.

“I like our team unity at the moment, they’re coming together,” said coach Kevin Sneddon. “We’ve faced adversity, you either become stronger or weaker. We’ve had that in the past where we’ve faced adversity and took a wrong turn.

“This year I attribute it to our leadership, guys like Nathan Gillies, Jason Kean, Brent Booth, Kris Goodjohn and even guys that don’t have letters. They’ve taken the young guys and set the path to follow. You either hop on board or you get left behind. They’re a great extension of the coaching staff and we believe in what they’re doing and how they’re getting it across to the younger guys. But we certainly have a long way to go, it will be a tough couple of weeks.”

A win over Colgate on Friday and the Dutchmen have done it — home ice.

Possible Finish — third to ninth

Clarkson

The Golden Knights come into this weekend with a lot of ups and downs. The Golden Knights seem to come close and then are knocked back down in the standings. The Knights can still get up to third, but can fall as low as tenth.

This weekend the Knights get Yale and Princeton for the second time in three weeks. Two weeks ago the Knights defeated Princeton and lost to Yale.

“Yale is a team built on team speed and with a lot of skill mixed in there. They are a great opponent to come into Cheel,” said coach Fred Parker. “I would imagine it is going to be an excellent hockey game for fans to watch. It’s a lot of skill and a lot of speed from the drop of the puck to the end of the game.

“Princeton is an altogether different style. They’ll be more [along] the lines of an in-your-face team; they will try to turn the game into a battle of wills and it will be an uglier style of hockey. But if you don’t come ready to compete against them you could be in trouble.”

The Golden Knights need to come up with some points if they want home ice, but even with all that going they may still be sweating it out next weekend.

Possible Finish — third to 10th

Vermont

With its alumnae back in town, the Catamounts did not disappoint. Vermont — much like its road partner Dartmouth — managed a unique weekend sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence. With the two victories, Vermont has now won three of its last five games. The victories improved Vermont’s playoff picture dramatically as the team can now finish as high as fourth.

After knocking off Clarkson by a score of 6-3 on Friday night — a game in which six different Catamounts scored — Vermont turned right around and delivered a dramatic 3-1 victory over St. Lawrence during a statewide televised game. Sophomore Tim Plant was the hero that game, notching the game winner late in the third period to seal his team’s weekend sweep.

“I thought we played six real good periods of hockey,” said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan. “In the end, they (St. Lawrence) made a good charge. I thought we had the edge in play most of the game.”

In its last home stand of the season, Vermont will host Brown and then Harvard — a tough challenge no doubt.

Possible Finish — fourth to 11th

Colgate

The Raiders are another team that continues to experience ups and downs. The Raiders are close, but have yet to close in on that consistency. Not only that but the Raiders have had trouble on the road in 2003, so going home to take on Union and Rensselaer could be the right medicine.

“The kicker for us is that we just don’t score a lot,” said coach Don Vaughan. “We were in a good position to win tonight. I thought our effort was there — it was just some of the little things we did wrong around our net that beat us.”

The Raiders need the points at home this weekend or else they’ll have some trouble on the road at Yale and Princeton next weekend.

Possible Finish — fourth to 11th

St. Lawrence

The Saints are also one of those teams with ups and downs. In fact that could be the motto of the entire league with the exception of Cornell and Harvard. The Saints’ ups and downs seem to happen with ups on Saturdays and downs on Fridays. Of course the Saints we’re swept this weekend.

“We played a pretty solid third period, but you have to go a full 60 minutes to be successful and we haven’t done that very often on Friday this season for some reason,” said coach Joe Marsh after Friday’s loss to Dartmouth.

Wins are necessary if the Saints want a shot at home ice. The bad news is that two losses and the Saints are done for home ice.

Possible Finish — 6th to 12th

Rensselaer

A disappointing season for the Engineers has one ray of light.

“There’s been a lot of games right now where we’re just so close, we’re knocking on the door,” said Engineer coach Dan Fridgen. “Winning is a process. You have to learn how to win and that takes experience, and I believe in the long run that it will make us stronger as a team.”

One Engineer loss or one Vermont win and the Engineers will finish lower than eighth for the first time since the 1991-92 season. But then again that year the Engineers upset Vermont and Harvard in the ECAC playoffs before almost upsetting St. Lawrence in the ECAC semifinals.

Possible Finish — 8th to 12th

Princeton

It’s not over till it’s over for Princeton. Last weekend, the Tigers met up with a friendly foe in RPI, but could not fool the Engineers three times in a season. The two teams settled on a 2-2 tie, which means that three of the five league points for Princeton have come courtesy of the Engineers. Despite the frustrating season for Len Quesnelle and his Tigers, the team still has a chance of catching RPI and St. Lawrence to finish as high as 10th place.

“The focus here is to get these guys to play fundamentally sound down the stretch with such a young group for everyone that’s in the lineup,” said Quesnelle. “So to get them to play fundamentally sound and get them to pick up a huge point on the road at this point in the year is a well-earned point. We’ll take the point.”

For a team that has been struggling to put points on the scoreboard, Chris Owen served as a bright spot by scoring his seventh goal in seven games in the loss against Union. He now leads the team with 14 total goals. Another bright spot of Princeton as of late has been its penalty kill, which has killed off 21 out of 23 penalties and has allowed only six extra-man tallies in its last 45 attempts.

With its playoff fate in its own hands this weekend, Princeton will come face-to-face with St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The Tigers dropped games against both teams earlier in the season.

Possible Finish — 10th to 12th


Thanks to Tyler Birnbaum and Juan Martinez for their contributions.

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