This Week in the ECAC: Dec. 4, 2003

Snow. Wind. Bitter cold.

We’re still a few weeks away from the official start, but there is no denying winter has arrived. And while the hockey season is nearly at its midpoint, we are never more excited about the sport than when we’re trudging through the elements to a packed rink.

Hockey and winter go hand-in-hand and this weekend, and as we make our way through upstate New York, it’s also rivalry time again.

Fasten your seatbelts, ’cause it’s going to be a wild Saturday night in the Finger Lakes Region.



It’s time.

As Mark Mazzoleni and his staff have gone about their business of rebuilding the Crimson, the Big Red have flexed their muscles on an annual basis as one of the top teams in the nation.

Two seasons ago, the rivalry, which never fully died down, was re-energized with Harvard’s double-overtime ECAC Championship victory. It was the second overtime win of the season for the Crimson over Cornell and set the stage for the battles we’ve seen since then.

Last year, Cornell defeated Harvard three times, with each game taking on greater importance.

At Lynah, on November 22, 2002, the Big Red defeated an improved Harvard squad in a key game between ranked teams. But it was also early in the season and most involved couldn’t have predicted what was in store later in the year.

That night, Cornell netminder David LeNeveu told USCHO, “They didn’t expect the excitement, because they don’t consider us as big a rival as we consider them.”

He obviously never spent much time around the Harvard program.

In the months after the November contest, as both teams emerged as ECAC powers, anticipation grew for the February 15, 2003, rematch. In the days leading up to the game, it was the talk of the league and, as it turned out, a battle for first place.

Once again, Cornell came out on top. The Big Red, whose fans were so loud that it set in motion the controversial change in Harvard’s ticket policy, scored two power-play goals in the game’s first five minutes, added another before the contest was nine minutes old, and held on to win 4-3.

Citing his team’s penalty trouble, Mazzoleni said after the game that the Crimson didn’t deserve to win. Now-graduated captain Dominic Moore insisted that he and his teammates outplayed Cornell over the last 40 minutes, but it was too little too late.

Mazzoleni also made a prophetic statement that night.

“We’ll see Cornell again,” he said, “there’s no question about it.”

A month and one week later, in Albany, N.Y., they did. In another classic, the Big Red emerged victorious with the ECAC crown and a measure of revenge from a year ago.

“This team remembered what happened [in 2002] against Harvard,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said amid the celebration, “and we carried it with us all offseason … we carried that will and determination for 365 days.”

Since then, this Saturday’s game has been the talk of both campuses. Harvard jumped ahead of Cornell early on as the preseason ECAC favorites, but those losses of a year ago still sting.

Big Red fans, meanwhile, have been fuming since finding out that tickets to their team’s game in Massachusetts this year were included in a four-game pack. The fans insist that it was a dirty move by Harvard. The Crimson program says they did it for their fans. Even so, there was a small pocket of Cornell fans at the Harvard-Princeton game last month … a sign that at least some Cornell faithful bought the package. Now that’s devotion.

Harvard will get a large dose of it this weekend on the Lynah Rink ice in what, at best, can be termed hostile territory. It’ll be intense and it’ll be worth the price of admission.

“Cornell takes it to the next level there,” said Mazzoleni. “It has a lot to do with the crowd.”

The Crimson coach is also a fan of reminding all who ask that this is a great rivalry; one that is good for the ECAC. But going into this edition, both teams are struggling in key ways.

Harvard may be a winner of three of its last four, but the Crimson (4-3-0 overall, 3-3-1 ECAC), on paper the deepest and most talented squad in the league, are only a game over .500. They have already lost three home games — the Crimson lost two at the Bright Hockey Center in all of 2002-03 — and while they lost only four league contests last season, Harvard has dropped three thus far.

“It might be better for us to be on the road,” Mazzoleni said. “The strength of our league is that you have to play well each night. When you are picked number one, you’ll always get an even better effort from your opponents. You’ll get everyone’s ‘A’ game each night.”

The Crimson’s inconsistency has not been helped by ongoing struggles on the power play.

“We’ve had substantial chances,” said Mazzoleni. “If we go 0-6 on the power play (as Harvard did against Clarkson), we don’t deserve to win the hockey game. Whoever wins the special-teams battle is usually who wins the game.”

Cornell (3-2-4, 3-0-1), meanwhile, has yet to win at Lynah this season (0-2-3), despite going undefeated at home a year ago. It has also allowed a whopping — for Cornell — 16 goals in five games in Ithaca. To the Big Red’s credit, however, they are undefeated in ECAC play, allowing just five goals in their four conference road games and are tied for third (with Harvard and Clarkson) — having played three fewer league contests.

“We’re playing pretty well,” said Schafer. “The guys aren’t being rewarded a lot. We’re getting chances, but just not capitalizing on them. Then, the puck is in our net and it breaks our momentum.

“We’re getting better each week and we’ll be a much different team in January and February. We’re hanging in there right now — undefeated in the league.”

As for this weekend’s games against first-place (and No. 12) Brown (6-1-1, 6-1-0) and the Crimson, Schafer knows the Big Red will be playing two very difficult opponents.

“Roger Grillo really has Brown firing on all cylinders right now,” he said. “Their power play and penalty killing are both nationally ranked and their goaltender is one of the best in the country … probably the best.

“With the Harvard-Cornell rivalry, you throw the records and streaks out the window. There are great expectations on both teams.

“The rivalry started because the programs have had success over time in the ECAC and nationally, and that’s the case again now. We’ve had a lot of great games with them over the last five, six, seven years. It continues to generate expectations and enthusiasm.

“It’s a great sporting event, but nothing more. It’s a big game, but emotion and excitement can only go so far. There isn’t much more you can throw into the pot to make it anything more. The players and programs change each year. That’s what makes college hockey so great; everything changes each year.”

Help On The Way?

Still struggling, but taking baby steps of progress, the Yale Bulldogs (3-8-0, 3-5-0) are starting to find sources of offense one year after Chris Higgins led the team’s scoring brigade.

At 2-2-0 in their last four, the Elis have scored 13 goals over that span (including being shut out once). They scored 14 goals in going 1-6-0 prior to the current run.

Despite a 7-2 loss at Boston University last Sunday, head coach Tim Taylor is starting to see production from senior Ryan Steeves and sophomore Jeff Hristovski. Classmates Joe Zappala (7-3-10) and Christian Jensen (3-7-10) lead the team in scoring.

“Steeves has been snakebitten,” said Taylor to USCHO’s Scott Weighart Sunday, “and this was his best game by far. We need him — he’s our returning point leader — to have the puck more, to be confident with it. With Chris Higgins leaving, he’s our heir apparent as our first-line center. I moved him, actually, to the wing to loosen him up a little bit — just anything to get him going.

“I told the guys that Hristovski had a couple of goals, and Jensen’s had a couple of goals, now Steeves has had a couple of goals, so we’re getting bits and pieces of the complete picture of what these guys are capable of doing.

“When we get them all firing on all cylinders, and as our young defensemen get more experienced, and our goaltending settles down, hopefully we’ll be a much more competitive team in the second half of the year.”

Defense has been a major issue thus far for the Bulldogs. They’ve allowed 62 goals in just 11 games, including 38 on the road in going 0-6-0. In net, all three netminders have seen action, but rookie Matt Modelski, a future star in goal for Yale, has had the best results. He stands at 2-3-0 with a 4.44 goals against average (GAA) and .872 save percentage.

A Secret Weapon Loses His Secrecy

Once No. 13 Dartmouth (4-1-4, 3-0-3) head coach Bob Gaudet started Dan Yacey in goal in last season’s finale — the ECAC third-place game — he couldn’t stop raving. The netminder made 26 saves en route to a 4-2 win in only his fifth game of the season.

Gaudet praised Yacey for his commitment and performance in net, despite not seeing much action in his first two campaigns.

Going into this season, Gaudet knew there were question marks in goal. Sure, Yacey had played well, but he’d logged time in only nine games while at Dartmouth — certainly not a large enough sample size to assess future success or failure. Even so, as practice and early-season games went along, Gaudet stuck with Yacey.

Now, after doubling his career total of games played, the Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, native has emerged as one of the ECAC’s top netminders with a 1.93 GAA and .933 save percentage overall.

“I just leave him alone,” said Gaudet, asked whether he gives his goaltender advice. “I have a vision of a game, but I try not to talk to him at all during the game. I pat him on the back at the end of the period, and then say, ‘Hey, go do it again.’

“That’s the way I was [as a goalie], and that’s the way Dan is; he doesn’t want to be dealt with. I don’t even bring him into the locker room. He was in the other room between periods [of the BU game] with a towel over his head. He just sits there and focuses. I was the same way, so I understand it a little bit. Goalies are different.”

That they are, but the one thing the good ones have in common is the ability to lead their clubs with a steady, confident presence in net — even in big games. Last week, the Big Green had a pair of statement games, and Yacey made a combined 80 saves in a tie and loss against Boston University and Boston College, respectively.

“Both their rinks and both teams are legendary,” said the goalie. “Those are the teams that you hear about back home playing juniors growing up; always great programs nationally. We’re trying to prove we’re in the same caliber as them.”

Thanks to Yacey, this young Dartmouth squad is converting believers with each game.

In Case You Missed It

Clarkson sophomore defenseman Dale Good has left the University and signed a major junior contract with [nl]St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League. He played in six of the first 13 games this season, but was pointless. Last year, he played in 31 contests posting two goals and three assists.

Another former ECAC player has popped up in the NHL. Following former Crimson Dominic Moore’s debut with the New York Rangers’ last month, former Yale standout Jeff Hamilton has been called up to the New York Islanders. The Isles signed the 26-year old in August 2002 after a year in Finland.

“I think it’s time,” said Islanders’ coach Steve Stirling, “to give him a chance to show us what he can do at the NHL level.”

He led the American Hockey League with 17 goals and had 23 points in 20 games before getting the call from his Bridgeport (CT) team to the Island. In addition, Hamilton had a goal in each of his last six minor-league games, with five game-winners and 11 power play markers this season.

What’s On Tap

Harvard and Brown travel to upstate New York for games at Colgate (5-5-2, 2-2-0) and Cornell. Friday night, the Crimson and Raiders square off with Harvard holding a 37-14-4 advantage all-time. The Crimson won all three games last season by a combined 22-2 score. Meanwhile, Brown visits Ithaca looking to defeat the Big Red for the first time since 1998 overall and since 1995 in Lynah. Cornell leads the all-time series 56-37-4.

The next night, Brown travels to Hamilton, where the Bears have not won since 1993. The teams split two games last season, each winning at home. Overall, the Raiders lead the series 38-16-1. In Ithaca, the rivalry is renewed when Harvard looks to defeat Cornell for the first time since the 2001 ECAC title game. The Big Red own a 58-50-7 all-time record against the Crimson.

Rensselaer (7-4-2, 2-1-1) returns to league play after four non-conference games as it hosts Yale and Princeton (3-7-0, 3-5-0). Friday, the Elis skate into Troy having won both matchups against the Engineers last season. Rensselaer, however, owns a 44-30-5 all-time record against the Bulldogs. The Engineers were 0-2-1 against the Tigers a year ago, but lead the all-time series 53-22-8.

Union (7-4-3, 2-1-1) returns to action after a weekend off, hosting Princeton on Friday. The Tigers have a 16-10-3 series lead over the Dutchmen, but were swept last season in their two meetings. Union trails in the all-time series to the Elis, 7-15-2, with Yale having won three of its last four games against the Dutchmen — including both contests last season.

The North Country duo of Clarkson (6-4-3, 3-3-1) and St. Lawrence (3-10-3, 2-5-0) host Hockey East foes No. 5 New Hampshire (9-3-1, 5-2-1) and Mass-Lowell (6-5-3, 4-3-1). The Golden Knights and Wildcats square off Friday with UNH having won six of the last eight meetings. The all-time series is knotted at 21-21-2. Clarkson holds an 11-6-0 series lead over the River Hawks, but has lost three of its last four against UML.

St. Lawrence, meanwhile, owns an 8-7-1 all-time lead against the River Hawks, but has lost four of the last five against UML. The Saints trail in the all-times series versus UNH, 12-28-0, but they are coming off a 4-2 win in Durham last year, the first SLU victory over the Wildcats in New Hampshire since 1980. The Saints’ last home win over coach Joe Marsh’s alma mater was in the 1992 season opener.

Vermont (0-10-2, 0-6-0) goes back to work after a weekend off. The Catamounts will be looking to capture their first victory of the season when they travel to Northeastern (0-9-2, 0-7-1). It would seem that something’s got to give between these two winless teams, but they did skate to a 3-3 tie last season. UVM leads the all-time series 12-10-1.

Harvard is back in action on Wednesday when it heads to Chestnut Hill for a crucial non-conference game against No. 2 Boston College (9-2-3, 5-0-2). The teams skated to a 2-2 tie at Bright Hockey Center last season when Dov Grumet-Morris made 38 saves for the Crimson. The Eagles lead the all-time series 59-41-5.

Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions.