What a week.
No sooner had we returned from a weekend road trip of hockey that we found ourselves back at the rink two days later as Harvard and Boston University squared off. Back on the road the next day, it was time for Thanksgiving. This year, it included friends, family and more food than we’ve seen since … well … last Thanksgiving.
Now, as we launch into our holiday-shortened weekly column, we are about seven hours away from hopping back in the car and returning to New England for two more hockey games.
And as we wait and see if the holiday tryptophan will have any long-lasting effects on the ice (or in the press box), the state of the ECAC has changed dramatically in the week that was, as has the league’s role in the national landscape.
We love weeks like this.
Dartmouth (4-1-3, 3-0-3 ECAC) suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday at No. 2 Boston College, but maintains its undefeated, first-place position in the league standings and entered the national polls this week at No. 11. One point behind the Big Green is No. 15 Brown (4-1-1, 4-1-0), which continues to show it will be challenging for the top spot well into March. The only other team undefeated in league play, No. 13 Cornell (3-2-3, 3-0-1) follows in third place with surprising Princeton (3-6-0, 3-4-0) in fourth, and then a pair of four-way ties.
We’ll get to Princeton’s success in a second, but first …
Rensselaer (6-3-2, 2-1-1), in a tie for fifth, made some major noise last weekend when it swept No. 5 St. Cloud State at home in a pair of one-goal games. The surprising victories boosted the Engineers’ current steak of success to 3-0-1 in the last four games and 6-1-2 in their last nine. What’s more, in Troy, Rensselaer is now 4-0-2, outscoring opponents by a whopping 23-9.
All this from a team not expected to challenge for home ice in the ECAC. Again, one of the tantalizing 12-league squads is proving critics wrong. Stop us if you’ve seen this script before.
“You’re only as good as the leadership in your locker room,” explained head coach Dan Fridgen about the Engineers’ driving force — its senior class. “We didn’t get much respect from the college community in the beginning of the year and they’re out to rectify that.”
Sounds like they’ve made it a central point of motivation.
“I’m not sure that it is motivation,” said Fridgen in disagreement. “They have a lot of pride. It’s more important what we think of ourselves and not what others think of us. But, they want to make sure their senior year is a good one. They have a tremendous work ethic and are very committed to each other.”
After starting the season with two losses, the Engineers have been on a quiet roll until alerting the nation to their recent success with the wins over the Huskies.
“St. Cloud is a very good team with good speed,” said Fridgen. “They received good goaltending on both nights, but we played equally as well.”
Especially between the pipes, where senior Nathan Marsters, winner of back-to-back ECAC Goaltender of the Week awards, has been phenomenal of late. He’s currently 6-1-1 and 3-0-1 in his last four outings with a 1.22 goals against average (GAA) and .960 save percentage over that span.
“He’s been really steady for us,” Fridgen said about his netminder. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence and doing what he needs to do.”
In addition to Marsters, the coach points to the effectiveness of his defensive unit as one of the keys to the turnaround.
“The experience is helping. We’re a year older. The defense as a whole has been real consistent. They are clearing rebounds and the forwards are coming back and playing solid defensively. They guys are also getting more offensive. There’s good chemistry.”
Up front, the Engineers are getting a strong effort from sophomore Kevin Croxton, who leads the team with eight assists and 12 points. Senior Ben Barr is tied with his classmate, defenseman Scott Basiuk, with eight points each.
According to Fridgen, senior Conrad Barnes (2-4-6) has been a central key to the Engineers’ recent success, despite not registering as often on the scoreboard.
“He’s playing real well for us,” said Fridgen. “He’s done a great job on both sides of the puck, but he’s just not receiving the numbers that reflect the opportunities he’s had.”
Despite Rensselaer’s performance and their 4-0-0 mark in one-goal games, the team’s head coach knows that there’s one area in particular that needs improvement.
“We’ve been inconsistent on special teams,” explained Fridgen. “Some weekends it is good and at one point we were doing a fine job on the penalty kill. But it is cyclical. You never really know what you are going to get.
“We react to how other teams are playing. Some teams are more aggressive on the kill and some move the puck very well on the power play.”
Rensselaer will be put to the test again this weekend with games against streaking Massachusetts-Lowell (6-4-3, 4-3-1 Hockey East) and No. 4 New Hampshire (8-3-1, 5-2-1 HEA), which was just upset by Lowell.
An Orange and Black Surprise
With the Tigers’ win over Yale (2-7-0, 2-5-0) on Tuesday, Princeton jumped into fourth place in the ECAC and announced to the league that wins will not come easy for opponents. The victory this week was the third of the season in league play for the Tigers, surpassing their win total of all of last season.
Led by Len Quesnelle, Princeton has played its opponents tough in nearly every contest thus far. They are making more of an impact this season in large part because of the emergence of netminder Eric Leroux, who began the year with stellar performances in St. Cloud. Thus far, Leroux has a 3-6-0 mark with a 3.22 GAA and .906 save percentage overall.
Offensively, the Tigers haven’t exactly scored in bunches, with senior defenseman Steve Slaton leading the team with two goals and five points. While Princeton is getting a balanced contribution from all lines, including juniors Mike Patton (2-2-4) and Neil Stevenson-Moore (1- 3-4), it is sure to improve offensively when senior Chris Owen rediscovers his magic touch. A sniper on left wing, he scored a team-high 17 goals last season, but has yet to register a point in the 2003-04 campaign.
Princeton has won three of its last five games as it heads on a four-game road trip, including a stretch of six of seven away from Hobey Baker Rink. The Tigers are 1-3-0 on the road thus far.
In Case You Missed It
The injury bug continues to plague St. Lawrence (3-8-3, 2-3-0). Defenseman Matt Macdonald returned against Clarkson for the first time since Nov. 7, but fellow blueliners Jim Hakewill and Simon Watson remain out of the lineup.
Hakewill’s injury came two weeks ago against Cornell, while Watson went down in practice prior to the Clarkson game. To make matters worse, redshirt sophomore John Wires left the team after the Colgate-Cornell weekend. As a result, the Saints skate into New England without three defensemen and will likely go with just five in each game, as they did in Potsdam.
Princeton freshman Colin Koch, a native of Vermont, made his collegiate debut last weekend against the Catamounts (0-10-2, 0-6-0). Originally a member of the Tigers’ Class of 2006, he deferred a year to complete rehabilitation on an injury.
In his debut, Koch scored on his first shot in his first shift at the college level. Not too shabby. Oh, and his father, Randy, not only played for UVM, but is a member of the Vermont Athletics Hall of Fame.
Now that’s kismet.
Providence was looking to capture its third straight Mayor’s Cup. Brown was hoping to bring the trophy back to its side of the city. Fate — there she goes again — had something else in mind.
The teams skated to a 1-1 tie on Tuesday, leaving city bragging rights on hold for another year. It was just the second tie in the history of the yearly battle. The two clubs first played in 1927, when the Bears beat the Friars 3-1.
Since the annual game became known as the Mayor’s Cup in 1986, Providence holds 10-6-2 lead in the series. In 1987, the game was canceled when the Brown Zamboni stalled between periods and melted a hole in the ice.
This year’s game was even more special for Bears sophomore Joe Bauer, who played against his father’s alma mater for the first time in his collegiate career.
What’s On Tap
Brown plays host to Clarkson on Friday, the Knights’ first road game since mid-October, trailing in the all-time series 9-47-6. Clarkson (5-3-3, 2-2-1) has not won in Providence since 2001. The Bears trail St. Lawrence all-time 17-30-6, but coach Roger Grillo has a 7-3-2 record over the Saints in his Brown career.
The Bears lead the nation in team defense, allowing only one goal against per game, while boasting the second largest scoring margin in the country (2.40). The penalty killing leads the nation at 94.4% and the power play is clicking at a 28.6% rate, second-best in the country. New weapon, rookie Brian Ihnacak, leads the nation in points per game among all freshmen at 1.40.
The North Country duo also pay a visit to Harvard (3-2-1, 2-2-1), with the Saints skating into the Bright Hockey Center on Black Friday. The Crimson lead the all-time series 37-30-4, including a current five-game unbeaten streak, but are only 3-3-1 against St. Lawrence in their last seven match-ups at home.
Against Clarkson, Harvard trails the all-time series 39-40-8, but holds a 2-0-1 edge over the Knights in recent games. Clarkson has a six-game unbeaten streak at the Bright Center. The Knights’ Mac Faulkner is tied for the ECAC lead with 15 overall points, equaling his season total from a year ago.
Princeton and Yale go at it again, four days after the Tigers’ 3-0 over the Elis, in the only other league contest this weekend. The Bulldogs, who host Princeton, lead the series 113-94-9, but saw their three-game winning streak over the Tigers snapped on Tuesday. The odd fact of the night reveals that Princeton is 0-4-0 on Saturdays, allowing 5.25 goals per game. Yale, meanwhile, has allowed 37.4 shots per game, while only registering 23.9 per contest. The sophomore class for the Elis leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 12 assists.
Rensselaer travels to Lowell for Friday’s match-up with an 8-8-1 all-time record in the series. Mass-Lowell defeated the Engineers 8-4 last season in Troy and are 2-6-8 in their last eight games against the River Hawks. Rensselaer trails the all-time series against UNH 19-22-0, but posted a 6-0 victory in the Engineers’ last trip to New Hampshire in 1999.
Colgate (4-4-2, 2-2-0) travels out to Western Michigan (6-7-2, 3-5-1) for a two-game set against the Broncos. WMU leads the series 5-2-0 and is 2-0-0 at home against the Raiders. Colgate, however, was victorious in the teams’ last meeting in 1996. The Raiders’ Jon Smyth has seven points in his last three games and leads the team with seven goals. Colgate is 4-1-0 when scoring first.
Cornell hits the ice just once in a Saturday affair in Lynah Rink against Mercyhurst (5-4-0, 3-2-0 Atlantic Hockey). It is the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Sophomore Matt Moulson is tied for the team lead with 15 points and tied for second in the ECAC in overall scoring. He also leads the nation with a 1.88 points per game average. Senior captain Ryan Vesce is second in the ECAC with four power play goals. The Big Red, who lead the ECAC in goals per game (3.50), are 3-0-0 when leading after the first period.
Dartmouth’s lone game this weekend is a Saturday visit to Walter Brown Arena to faceoff against Boston University (3-4-3, 2-3-2 Hockey East). The Terriers lead the all-time series 42-29-1 with the last Big Green win coming on Jan. 6, 1982 in Hanover. Dartmouth’s Dan Yacey had allowed only six goals on the season until allowing seven last weekend. Offensively, after scoring just three power play goals this season, the Big Green went an unimaginable 8-for-10 with the man-advantage against Princeton and Yale.