With six games remaining in the regular season, the annual ECAC fight to the finish is in full force.
Brown leads the way with 25 points, three ahead of second place Colgate and six ahead of Rensselaer, Cornell and Dartmouth, who are in a three-way tie for third. The top four finishers receive first-round byes while the other eight clubs battle each other for the right to face the well-rested quartet in the second round.
Typically, the dozen ECAC squads exchange places in the standings about as often as you and I change clothes. Such is life in this conference.
That said, some teams have shown consistency of late. The Raiders saw their six-game winning streak come to an end last weekend with a pair of road ties, but still have not lost since January 10 and have been defeated just twice since December 6. The Bears are on a roll, as well, having emerged victorious in five straight.
The other club currently on a winning streak of three games or better may come as a bit of a surprise, though.
After a debilitating nine-game losing streak and a painful 0-10-2 run from mid-November through mid-January, the Union Dutchmen have caught lightning in a bottle. Winners of four of their last five and three in a row, the Dutchmen are again seeing the kind of results that launched them to a school-best 7-2-2 start to the season.
“We’re scoring goals now,” said first-year head coach Nate Leaman, “that’s probably the biggest thing. We’re shooting the puck with confidence and shooting to score. For one reason or another they went in against Dartmouth, which generated more confidence.”
Leaman was referring to Union’s surprising 7-0 whitewash of the Big Green two weeks ago in Hanover — a game in which the Dutchmen connected for five power-play goals in ten opportunities.
The club has scored 13 goals over the last three games and 18 in its last five. On the other end of the ice, Union has allowed just three tallies in as many games and nine in the last five contests.
But, as Leaman has repeatedly pointed out, the difference between the Dutchmen of today and the Dutchmen of a month ago is slim.
“During that stretch,” he said, “we were playing really well but weren’t finishing and not shooting with much confidence. We were fading away from our shots instead of leaning into them. And we didn’t follow the puck to the net. We were getting pushed off the net and into the corners when the puck was still in front.
“To be honest, when we were winning games early we made the same mistakes as when we were losing, but back then we were scoring a lot of goals and our goaltender was saving our butt each night.”
Then the losing began and continued for what seemed like an eternity.
With such a young squad — 15 freshmen and sophomores — was Leaman ever worried about the potential damage to the psyche of his players?
“I wasn’t really worried about the youth of our team,” he said, “although we were skating only one senior for a while there. I was more worried about the process. I was more uptight in practice than during the games because of the process.
“We teach our young guys how to work through tough times, but, honestly, all of us as coaches sometimes forget how young these guys are.”
The team made it through its struggles, though, and now the scoring is back up and the defense and netminding have gotten stingier. Oh, and the Dutchmen are having fun again — an element not to be overlooked.
“Hockey is a game that has to be fun,” explained Leaman. “Yes, there were days when we had to pick each other up, but we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. No one else was going to feel bad for us.
“There were times when it wasn’t fun and it was tough to come to the rink. But we let everyone know that the only way out was to work hard. I have to give credit to the team. They could have packed their bags and given up, but they stayed in it.
“They guys are finally able to have fun now and you can see it even in practice. As a first year head coach, the bus ride home from the Dartmouth game was great. It was so nice to see the team with smiles on their faces and it carried over into last weekend. Plus, Glenn’s return was a pickup too.”
“Glenn” is senior captain Glenn Sanders, who had his spleen removed in November after rupturing it in a game against Dartmouth. He was expected to miss the season and had already applied to the NCAA for redshirt status — which would have allowed him to return next season — but made a surprising return to the ice against Clarkson.
Following the model of their teammate the Dutchmen put together what Leaman considered a commanding performance.
“The Clarkson game was the hardest-working game we’ve played all year,” he said.
The next night, the Dutchmen fell behind 2-0 to St. Lawrence in the first period before tallying three unanswered goals, including the game-winner with 1:31 to go in the contest. They hope the roll continues through the next month.
“Anything can happen in our league,” Leaman said. “It is a war every night. No matter who you play, it is the same two points for the win and every night is a new two points. We tell our players that all the time.
“Going into each season certain teams are picked at the top of the standings, but they are not always the ones that finish up there. Our league is a league that no one knows. When I was at Harvard, St. Lawrence won twice, then Cornell, now Brown is at the top.
“These last three weeks, everyone will be playing playoff hockey. The St. Lawrence team we played was one of the best teams we’ve seen this year and they are ninth. Anyone can win in this league.
“We’re going to see some wars in the last few games.”
He’s Seen It All
Congratulations to St. Lawrence sports information director Wally Johnson, who will cover his 919th Saints men’s game this Friday. Johnson has missed just two games since the 1985-86 season, one due to illness and the other because he was covering the Saints’ men’s soccer team in the 1999 national championship.
Overall, if one includes St. Lawrence women’s games on the radio and ECAC and NCAA tournament games as either an official scorer or host SID, Johnson has worked an amazing 1,011 college hockey games.
“What can you say about Wally?” said Jamie Weir, Harvard’s assistant director of athletic communications, who worked with Johnson in Canton prior to making the move to Cambridge.
“He’s a walking source of St. Lawrence sports knowledge,” she continued, “and he knows seemingly everyone in our business. Whenever people find out that I worked at SLU, undoubtedly the first thing people think of is Wally.
“You won’t find many hockey SIDs or reporters, past or present, who haven’t shared a story — or a beverage or two — with him on their trip to the North Country.”
In Case You Missed It
Fourteen Division I players were named semifinalists this week for the 52nd Walter Brown Award, presented annually by The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston to the best American-born college hockey player in New England. Three ECAC players are among the group: Yale sophomore Joe Zappala of Medford, Mass., Harvard junior Tom Cavanaugh of Warwick, R.I., and Dartmouth junior Lee Stempniak of West Seneca, N.Y.
The award will be presented at the New England Hockey Writers’ Dinner in April. For more information, visit the club’s Web site at www.gridclubofgreaterboston.com.
Brown’s road sweep of Yale and Princeton was the first of its kind by the Bears since the 1994-95 season and their first season sweep of the Elis since the 1995-96 campaign. In addition, Brown has earned its first season sweep of Harvard, Yale and the Tigers since 1964-65, when the Bears skated in the NCAA Frozen Four.
Bulldog sophomore netminder Josh Gardner allowed six goals against Harvard, but made a career-high 51 saves, including 23 in the Crimson’s five-goal third period.
Union rookie defenseman Olivier Bouchard, who was conspicuously absent from this week’s ECAC Honor Roll, had a hand in all three of his team’s goals in the win over Clarkson. The Quebec native scored twice and had the first assist on Scott Seney’s game-winner.
In a season in which ECAC teams have combined for a whopping 44 ties overall, Colgate posted its first deadlocks last weekend. Yale remains the lone league representative without a tie, having gone 3-0-0 in overtime.
All three of the Raiders’ goals last Friday against Vermont were on the power play, giving Colgate seven extra-man tallies versus the Cats this season. Also against UVM, in the recent 3-3 tie the Raiders allowed just one shot in the second period and two in the third — outshooting Vermont 25-3 over the last 40 minutes.
Brown is 10-0-1 when scoring three or more goals and 14-0-3 when holding opponents to two or fewer tallies.
Colgate’s eight-game unbeaten streak (6-0-2) is the second-longest in school history and matches the marks set in the 1999-2000 and 2001-02 seasons.
Cornell rookie netminder David McKee earned his fifth shutout of the season last weekend, tying him for first nationally and setting the school record for freshmen. The five goose eggs also rank him third all-time at Cornell.
The Big Red’s win over Dartmouth was Cornell’s first victory at Thompson Arena since November 1997. The next night against Vermont, the Big Red gave up just nine shots, tying a school record for fewest shots allowed in a game that dated back to 1969.
Junior Lee Stempniak had a four-point weekend against Colgate and Cornell, putting him just two away from a place in Dartmouth’s 100-point club.
The Big Green’s tie against Colgate gave it seven on the season, tying the team with the 1991-92 Bulldogs for the most in ECAC history.
Harvard’s seven-goal outburst against the Elis surpassed the Crimson’s output in the previous three games combined. Harvard managed just one goal in its next game, a 3-1 Beanpot consolation loss to Northeastern.
Crimson rookie defenseman Dylan Reese returned to action on Friday after missing the previous 16 contests with a pinched nerve in his back.
Rensselaer sophomore Kevin Croxton leads the nation in power play goals with 10. Meanwhile, the Engineers rank sixth in the country on the penalty kill (87.5%) and tenth in scoring defense at 2.39 goals against per game.
The Catamounts are averaging 3,853 fans per game at home this season, and have now drawn more than 50,000 fans to Gutterson Fieldhouse on the year. UVM is 4-7-3 in Burlington, but 0-11-1 on the road
Only three current Princeton players have recorded points against Cornell in their careers — junior Neil Stevenson-Moore, sophomore Seamus Young and senior Matt Maglione.
What’s On Tap
In New England this weekend, No. 11 Brown (14-5-4, 12-3-1 ECAC) and seventh-place Harvard (9-12-2, 7-8-1) host tenth-place Union (12-12-4, 5-9-2) and third-place Rensselaer (15-11-2, 9-6-1).
The first-place Bears leads the all-time series against the Dutchmen 14-7-5, including two straight wins. Versus the Engineers, Brown trails in the series 17-40-4. The Crimson return home for the first time since January 10 when they play RPI, against which they hold a 38-29-2 all-time edge. Harvard has dominated the series versus Union to the tune of a 20-3-2 advantage, including a five-game winning streak.
No. 15 Colgate (15-8-5, 10-4-2) and third-place Cornell (10-7-6, 8-5-3) entertain sixth-place Yale (11-12-0, 9-7-0) and 11th-place Princeton (5-17-1, 5-10-1) in Upstate New York.
The Raiders lead the all-time series with the Elis by a 40-33-2 margin, including a 21-11-1 mark in Hamilton. Colgate also leads the series against the Tigers 41-34-6 and has posted a 21-10-2 mark at home.
Princeton, which trails in the series against the Big Red 40-70-7, is Cornell’s oldest opponent. The Big Red have won nine of the last 10 match-ups versus the Tigers. Against Yale, the Big Red lead the series 71-48-2 and is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games with their Ivy rivals.
Eighth-place Clarkson (11-12-5, 6-8-2) and ninth-place St. Lawrence (10-16-4, 6-9-1) host last-place Vermont (4-19-4, 2-13-1) and third-place Dartmouth (9-7-7, 7-4-5).
The Golden Knights lead the Catamounts 51-23-1 in their all-time series, but UVM has won six of the last 10 games between the rivals. Clarkson holds a 58-16-5 advantage in the series against the Big Green and, remarkably, Dartmouth is still searching for its first win at Cheel Arena (0-10-1).
The Saints lead the Big Green in their series as well, 46-20-1, including only one loss to Dartmouth in Appleton Arena over the last 21 games between the clubs. SLU has the upper hand in its all-time matchups with Vermont as well, by a 41-30-3 mark.
ECAC Championship Ticket Information
The 43rd annual ECAC Hockey Championship will take place March 19-20 at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y. The schedule of games will feature No. 4 vs. No. 1 on March 19 at 3:30 p.m., followed by No. 3 vs. No. 2 at 7 p.m. On March 20, the third-place game begins at 3:30 p.m., with the championship at 7 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now in the following combinations: Adult All-Sessions (Four Games) – $52; Adult Single-Session (Two Games) – $30; Student All-Sessions (Four Games) – $45; Student Single-Session (Two Games) – $25. The prices include a commemorative championship program.