This Week in the ECAC: March 4, 2004

Playoff time is here. This season there are no dominating teams and no “sure things,” but instead a postseason in which any of the 12 teams could make a significant run if things fall into place. Here’s a look at how the eight teams in action this weekend stack up in the first round of the ECAC tournament.

No. 12 Princeton (5-22-2, 5-15-2 ECAC) at No. 5 Rensselaer (19-13-2, 13-8-1)

This Season
RPI swept the series, winning 6-4 in New Jersey (12/6/03) and 5-1 at home last Friday.

Recent Playoff History:
2002 First Round at Rensselaer: RPI over Princeton 5-3, 6-0
1999 Consolation Game: RPI over Princeton 6-4

Top Five Scorers
RPI – Kevin Croxton, So., F, 16-21-37; Kirk MacDonald, So., F, 14-16-30; Nick Economakos, Jr., F, 7-16-23; Scott Basiuk, Sr., D, 9-13-22; Brad Farynuk, So., D, 5-16-21.
Princeton – Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, Fr., F, 5-13-18; Patrick Neundorfer, So., F, 7-5-12; Mike Patton, Jr., F, 4-8-12; Matt Maglione, Sr., D, 4-8-12; Steve Slaton, Sr., D, 3-9-12.

Between the Pipes
RPI – Nathan Marsters, Sr., 18-11-1, 2.06 GAA, .923 save percentage
Princeton – Eric Leroux, So., 5-20-0, 3.78, .885; B.J. Sklapsky, Fr., 0-2-2, 3.07, .908

An Inside Look
Each team improved on last season’s win totals, including the Engineers’ rise from 11th place a year ago into the fifth seed this weekend. The Tigers, meanwhile, find themselves as the 12th seed once again, but did add three more conference victories to their win total.

On paper, this is the biggest mismatch of the first round, especially when one considers Princeton’s inability to score (1.93 goals per game overall) or keep the puck out of its own net (3.93). RPI, meanwhile, leads conference teams in average scoring (3.09) and is fourth in goals against (2.21).

Is it a recipe for a Tigers disaster?

“It’s a new season for everyone,” said Princeton coach Len Quesnelle, “the regular season is in the past.”

“Obviously, they had a tough year,” Engineers bench boss Dan Fridgen said, “but last year they gave Brown two tough [playoff] games.

“We’ll have to play smart hockey and work hard as a team. We need to play well defensively and when we generate offensive opportunities, we need to capitalize on them.

“Offensively, our lines are starting to come together. Kevin Croxton, Ryan Shields and Oren Eizenman had a good weekend [against Princeton and Yale], but our most consistent line was Cody Wojdyla, C.J. Hanafin and Mikael Hammarstrom. They did a great job generating things offensively.”

Of course, in the postseason, teams will only go as far as defense and goaltending will take them. That said, RPI has the advantage in this category as well with the quietly consistent play of Nathan Marsters.

“He’s been real solid for us,” said Fridgen about his senior netminder. “Which is what you need at this time of year.”

The Tigers, meanwhile, will be focusing on defense more than anything else, especially since their already limited offense will be without defenseman Matt Maglione, who remains out for the season with an injury.

“We need to shore up our game defensively,” said Quesnelle. “Great team defense goes a long way, especially in the playoffs. It is a focus of ours. Offensively, we’ll need to get inside their coverage.”

Between the pipes, the Tigers have recently started alternating netminders. Sophomore Eric Leroux had been the No. 1 goalie, but rookie B.J. Sklapsky has stepped up and seen some action of late.

“Eric’s made some very big saves,” said Quesnelle. “He’s been very good for us. B.J. has come in and played well. He went in against Dartmouth and played well (38 saves in road 2-2 tie). He gave a great effort and deserved another opportunity.”

That opportunity resulted in a 3-2 overtime loss to Union on the regular season’s final night. Sklapsky made 34 stops, including 19 in the first period, and earned some additional points in Quesnelle’s book.

“He proved he deserved to be in the game.”

So, coach, does that mean you’ve made the decision on who will be in net Friday?

“Yes, I have decided,” Quesnelle responded, followed by silence and what was surely a wry smile on the other end of the phone.

Would you like to share what that decision is?

“Nope, but I give you credit for asking,” he said with a laugh.

Our pick: RPI in two games.

No. 11 Vermont (9-20-4, 7-14-1) at No. 6 Harvard (12-14-3, 10-10-2)

This Season
The teams split the series with each club picking up 6-4 road wins, including Vermont’s victory last Friday.

Recent Playoff History
2003 Quarterfinals at Harvard: The Crimson over UVM 4-2, 5-1

Top Five Scorers
Harvard – Tom Cavanagh, Jr., F, 13-14-27; Tim Pettit, Sr., F, 8-19-27; Tyler Kolarik, Sr., F, 9-16-25; Brendan Bernakevitch, Jr., F, 6-13-19; Dennis Packard, Sr., F, 8-10-18.
UVM – Brady Leisenring, Jr., F, 15-21-36; Jeff Miles, Sr., F, 13-22-35; Scott Mifsud, Jr., F, 10-13-23; Tim Plant, Jr., F, 7-10-17; Jaime Sifers, So., D, 3-14-17.

Between the Pipes
Harvard – Dov Grumet-Morris, Jr., 10-13-3, 2.43, .912
UVM – Travis Russell, So., 9-14-4, 3.15, .900

An Inside Look
This is another series of teams that met last Friday. The Catamounts and Crimson played an exciting game that had a little bit of everything — power-play goals, a shorthander, injuries, hard hits and a fair share of scrums. It should make for an exciting playoff series, even though each club has admitted that they didn’t play well a week ago.

“It is somewhat unique that we just played them,” said first-year UVM coach and one-time Harvard captain Kevin Sneddon. “I’m sure that [Crimson coach Mark] Mazzoleni will make adjustments and we will too.

“It will be a pretty good series. We are familiar with their players as they are with ours.”

What we look forward to is seeing which teams will emerge from their respect locker rooms in less than 24 hours. Harvard has been a mystery all season long and while it looks to be gaining some late-season momentum, the Crimson could come out flat and ineffective just as easily as it could dominate UVM.

The Cats, meanwhile, lost their regular-season finale after winning five straight and establishing themselves as a dangerous team to play in the postseason. They had started to distance themselves from the club that struggled mightily all season, but then laid an egg at Brown on Saturday.

“We were emotionally and physically drained against Brown,” said Sneddon. “Brown played with desperation because they were playing for the bye. Everything that could go wrong for us did.

“But it was a wake-up call that we aren’t very good unless we do certain things right. We now know that when we play well, we can compete with anyone in the league.”

Offensively, Harvard may have the higher-profile skaters, but a quick look at the stats sheet shows that Vermont may have a slight edge among its top lines. The Catamounts have two 30-plus point players, the Crimson have none. Both teams have three 20-plus point getters, while nine Harvard players have 10 or more points to Vermont’s eight. From the blueline, Noah Welch’s contributions have been inconsistent, but Vermont’s Jaime Sifers has stepped up in a big way of late.

The “X” factor will likely be special teams and the Crimson’s ability (or not) to not put themselves behind the eight ball. When the clubs met on Friday, Vermont notched three power-play goals (as it did in the teams’ first meeting) and a shorthanded tally — its first of the season.

“We need to do a better job with our decisions with the puck,” said Mazzoleni, “and we need more self-discipline and to stay out of the box. But you control that ability.

“We’ve been getting real good production from a lot of people of late. Friday was the first time all season that we’ve been completely healthy. I like what we have and our potential. We have a good tempo and consistency now, and have been playing pretty well over the last month.”

As for what it will take to emerge victorious, Mazzoleni said, “We’ve been through this before. We know what we have to do to win.”

On the Vermont side, Sneddon knows what his team needs to do to be successful against Harvard.

“We need to keep the game 5-on-5,” he said. “We cannot get into a special teams game against them. They are so skilled. We can’t give them extra opportunities on the power play.

“They did a very good job cycling the puck and getting second and third opportunities. We got away with a lot. We just need to play sound defensive hockey and capitalize on our chances.”

Look for the Bright crowd to be decidedly split again. Last Friday, the UVM fans were vocal and plenty. With these games meaning even more and with the school’s basketball team in town already for the America East playoffs, the Cats will likely get an added “seventh man” boost.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by our fans’ support,” said Sneddon. “There aren’t too many teams that have as little success as we had early on and still have a big turnout and all those sellouts. The crowd does energize the players and we want to win for them.”

Our pick: Harvard in three games.

No. 10 St. Lawrence (11-19-6, 7-12-3) at No. 7 Yale (12-17-0, 10-12-0)

This Season
Yale swept the series winning 4-3 (ot) at home (1/10/04) and 5-4 in Canton (1/30/04).

Recent Playoff History
1997-98 ECAC Quarterfinals at Yale: The Bulldogs won the series 3-3, 3-3, 4-1.

Top Five Scorers
Yale – Joe Zappala, So., F, 18-12-30; Jeff Hristovski, So., F, 12-16-28; Christian Jensen, So., F, 10-17-27; Ryan Steeves, Sr., F, 9-16-25; Joe Callahan, Jr., D, 6-11-17.
SLU – T.J. Trevelyan, So., W, 22-15-37; Rich Peverley, Sr., F, 14-23-37; John Zeiler, So., F, 8-24-32; Ryan Glenn, Sr., D, 7-19-26; Kyle Rank, F, So., 7-10-17.

Between the Pipes
Yale – Josh Gartner, So., 10-10-0, 3.86, .895
SLU – Mike McKenna, Jr., 6-8-3, 2.60, .910

An Inside Look
Another series that could go either way, Yale enters the postseason in a major slump — five straight losses and one win since Jan. 31. A .500 team at home (6-6-0), the Bulldogs will host a club that has struggled mightily on the road. The Saints are 2-12-2 away from Appleton Arena this season, having been outscored 58-31.

History hasn’t been kind to St. Lawrence either. In the 14 previous ECAC tournaments that the Saints have opened on the road, SLU has advanced just once and has only two wins in 23 road games. At Ingalls Rink, the Saints are 0-3-2 in the playoffs.

“Friday starts a whole new season for us,” said Saints coach Joe Marsh after his team wrapped up the season with a loss at Colgate.

“Obviously we have to figure out ways to generate more offense on the road. The guys worked hard [last] weekend, but you need more than a couple of goals to be successful.”

That said, Marsh knows that his club has an opportunity to make others forget about its regular season struggles.

“The playoffs are a whole new game,” he said, “and a chance to make something special happen. You just have to step up and grab the opportunity.”

One player who did that down the stretch and is expected to continue his excellent play this weekend is junior netminder Mike McKenna. While the goalie has been victimized by defensive lapses, he’s been one of main reasons the Saints have a strong chance of advancing.

Offensively, SLU remains a club that’s carried by its top line of Rich Peverley, T.J. Trevelyan and John Zeiler, whose goal against Cornell last Friday was his first since Dec. 13. They’ll need sophomore Kyle Rank — three points in his last four games — to continue his improvement and for talented defensemen Drew Bagnall and Ryan Glenn (seven points in last six games) to remain the offensive forces they’ve been all season.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will need sophomore netminder Josh Gartner to be at the top of his game since the defense has been very shaky, at best. The Elis have allowed an obscene four goals per league game this season and have limited opponents to fewer than three tallies just six times in 29 contests.

Yale can be impressive on offense at times, as evidenced by its six shorthanded ECAC goals and 2.95 goals per game in league play. The Bulldogs, however, have suffered a power outage since early February. After blowing a 5-2 lead in under 20 minutes in a 7-5 loss to Harvard, the Elis have scored just 11 times in seven (1-6-0) contests, including notching fewer than two tallies in four of those games.

At a time of year when defense and goaltending win series, Yale will need a complete turnaround from what they’ve done most of this season to avoid losing to the Saints. And while St. Lawrence must shore up its defensive zone and get a second line to click offensively, it just may be able to get through this series with the Peverley-Trevelyan-Zeiler trio carrying the load.

Our pick: St. Lawrence in three games.

No. 9 Clarkson (13-16-5, 8-12-2) at No. 8 Union (14-15-5, 8-11-3)

This Season
The teams split the series with each club emerging victorious on home ice: Clarkson 4-1 (11/8/03), Union 3-1 (2/6/04).

Recent Playoff History
First Meeting

Top Five Scorers
Union – Jordan Webb, Jr., F, 12-14-26; Joel Beal, Jr., F, 8-18-26; Jonathan Poirier, So., F, 7-16-23; Scott Seney, So., F, 13-8-21; Olivier Bouchard, Fr., F, 7-10-17.
Clarkson – Mac Faulkner, Jr., LW, 11-22-33; Chris Blight, Jr., RW, 14-16-30; Jay Latulippe, Jr., LW, 11-14-25; Rob McFeeters, Sr., RW, 5-15-20; John Sullivan, So., C, 7-10-17.

Between the Pipes
Union – Kris Mayotte, So., 11-14-5, 2.51, .912
Clarkson – Dustin Traylen, So., 10-13-5, 2.53, .922

An Inside Look
Clarkson heads to the road to start the postseason for the first time since 1988 and it has itself to kick for that. A late-season six-game losing streak cost the club valuable points and home ice, but Union coach Nate Leaman has no sympathy for the North Country squad.

“We lost nine in a row [earlier],” he said this week. “We wanted to get home ice and would do whatever it took to get it.”

He wasn’t kidding. The Dutchmen pulled their netminder in overtime on the last night of the regular season. Although, as Leaman points out, the winning goal was scored with goalie Kris Mayotte still on his way to the bench.

What prompted the rarely seen strategy?

“We had our trainer calling our sports information director in the press box to get the Clarkson-Cornell score,” Leaman explained. “When we went into overtime, Clarkson was losing in the third period. That’s when we made the decision to pull the goalie.”

It worked, but it could have backfired to the point of losing home ice completely. Follow along, if you can. With Clarkson and St. Lawrence on their way to losses, all the Dutchmen needed was a tie to earn the eighth seed. With no guarantee that the other clubs were actually going to lose, Leaman took a chance. By pulling its netminder, Union risked losing the game, which would have placed them on the road to Potsdam, regardless of the outcome of the Clarkson contest.

Why the confusion? Turns out the information the bench received in overtime wasn’t quite up to date.

By the time the last call to the press box was made by the trainer, the Knights and Saints had both already lost. That meant a tie would have been sufficient for Union to capture home ice. Oops!

With luck already smiling on them, the Dutchmen enter their first home playoff series ever on a 7-3-1 streak. Clarkson, meanwhile, saw their modest two-game winning streak snapped by Cornell.

“We expect very good goaltending from them,” said Leaman about his team’s first round opponents. “The league has about five or six really good goaltenders: Yann Danis, Steve Silverthorn, Dustin Traylen, Mayottte and David McKee are all in there.

“It’s going to take a couple of shots to beat Traylen. It’s going to be a little bit of a battle between Traylen and Mayotte.”

The Knights’ netminder has been on a hot streak of late after stumbling through the middle of the schedule. He’s allowed more than two goals in a game just once since Feb. 13 and more than three tallies twice since Jan. 24.

Mayotte, meanwhile, has been stellar, allowing just four goals in his last four games and compiling a 1.40 GAA in the last 10. He’s allowed more than two goals in a contest only once since Jan. 30 and over three markers just one time since January 9.

As Leaman sees it, in addition to Traylen, Clarkson presents another challenge for Union.

“They are pretty deep,” he explained. “Just about everyone on their top three lines can score for them. Their defense is a little young, but they’ve held up well.”

The Dutchmen will have their offensive weapons ready as well, especially the one-two punch of juniors Jordan Webb and Joel Beal, who, for the second straight season, finished the year tied for the team lead in points.

“They really like playing together,” said Leaman, “and are pretty skilled guys.

“Webb is an extremely intelligent player who picks things up right away. He also adjusts his game for the situation. You can put him on the ice when there’s 30 seconds left and you are down a goal or when there are 30 seconds left and you are up a goal. Beal is crafty and likes to get his feet moving. He also has a very good shot.”

All in all, Leaman knows what’s ahead.

“This will be an extremely tight series and we’ll really need our fans. We have an edge here and we need them to be loud.

“This is as tight and as open as the league has ever been. It’s remarkable. This series will be so close that the littlest thing can cost you the series just as easily as the littlest thing can win you the series.”

In that case, it is important to note that the Dutchmen finished the regular season 2-0-5 in overtime. The Knights were 3-2-5.

Our pick: Clarkson in three games.

Comcast, Not CSTV, to Televise Playoffs

After yet another season without a television contract, the ECAC made the expected announcement today that they have agreed to a deal with CN8, the Comcast network, to air a select amount of league playoff games.

College Sports Television (CSTV) was thought to have the upper hand on broadcast rights and was rumored to have had a verbal agreement with the ECAC. And despite the fact that the CSTV Web site continues to lists the March 20 ECAC Championship Game in its broadcast schedule, the first-year network appears to have been left at the altar.

Comcast’s CN8 will air one ECAC Quarterfinal game, to be announced, on Friday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. and both Semifinal games in Albany on Friday, March 19, beginning at 4:30 p.m. CN8 will also air the Championship game, Saturday, March 20 at 8 p.m. Play-by-play man Gregg Madden and color analyst Bob Norton will call the action.

The Envelope Please …

The 2004 All-Ivy Team was announced this week with Brown dominating the squad as well as the individual accolades. Among those conspicuously absent are two of the league’s most solid blueliners, Dartmouth’s Brian Van Abel and Harvard’s Ryan Lannon. Here’s the full list of honorees.

2004 All-Ivy First Team: F-Matt Moulson, Cornell, So. F-Ryan Vesce, Cornell, Sr. F-Lee Stempniak, Dartmouth, Jr. D-Scott Ford, Brown, Sr. D-Grant Lewis, Dartmouth, Fr. G-Yann Danis, Brown, Sr.

2004 All-Ivy Second Team: F-Brent Robinson, Brown, Sr. F-Les Haggett, Brown, Jr. F-Hugh Jessiman, Dartmouth, So. D-Charlie Cook, Cornell, Jr. D-Noah Welch, Harvard, Jr. G-David McKee, Cornell, Fr.

Honorable Mention: Tim Pettit, Harvard Sr., F; Tom Cavanagh, Harvard, Jr., F; Vince Macri, Brown, Sr., D; Matt Maglione, Princeton, Sr., D; Jeff Dwyer, Yale, Sr., D

Player of the Year: Yann Danis, Brown, Sr., G

Rookie of the Year: Brian Ihnacak, Brown, Fr., F

In Case You Missed It

• Brown and Cornell finished tied for the 2003-04 Ivy League — there is no tiebreaker. For the Bears, it was their first Ivy title since 1995.

• The Bears’ win over Vermont gave Brown three consecutive series sweeps over the Catamounts.

• With his 43rd career win, senior Yann Danis tied the Brown record for wins in a career.

• With wins over Brown and Colgate over the last two weeks, Clarkson posted back-to-back victories over an ECAC opponent for the first time all year.

• With the Golden Knights’ blanking of the Raiders, they extended their shutout streak in Hamilton to 188 minutes.

• Colgate assistant coach Andrew Dickson (’93) has now been a part of both of the Raiders’ regular-season titles; he was a freshman on the 1990 team.

• It is the first time since 1999-2000 that the Raiders finished above .500 overall and had the most ECAC wins (14) since that same season.

• Last weekend, RPI’s Nathan Marsters became the school’s all-time leader in games played by a goaltender (110), minutes played (6347:03) and career saves (2,979).

• Cornell sophomore defenseman Jon Gleed scored his third goal of the year against SLU. It was also his second game-winner of the season.

• Dartmouth’s blanking of Brown was its first shutout of the season and the first of junior goaltender Dan Yacey’s career.

• In the game against Harvard, the Big Green were penalized only three times, marking the first time all season that they’ve had less than five penalties.

• Vermont’s shorthanded goal against Harvard on Friday was the first allowed by the Crimson since January 2002.

• Harvard’s shutout over Dartmouth was the first by the Crimson since the 1988-89 campaign. Harvard has also won its last four home regular season finales, including the last three via the shutout.

• RPI is one game shy of posting its fourth 20-win season in the last six years.

• The Engineers have outscored their opponent in every period (105-75), including a 42-28 advantage in the third period.

• Forty-seven of RPI’s 105 goals this season have come on the specialty teams, including 42 on the power play.

• Princeton has not won an overtime game since November 2001. Since then, the Tigers are 0-6-7.

• SLU netminder Mike McKenna’s 2.60 goals against average is the best for a season by a Saints goaltender since Derek Gustafson posted a 2.07 GAA for the 1999-2000 campaign.

• The Saints established a new record for ties in a season with six, one more than last season’s total.

• Vermont freshman Art Femenella, a 6-foot-7, 248-pound presence, suffered a cut to his forearm in the regular-season finale and had surgery that night. He is likely out for the season.

What’s on Tap

No. 12 Princeton at No. 5 Rensselaer: This is the second time in three seasons that the teams have met in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. The Engineers are 52-25-8 all-time against the Tigers with a 33-11-3 mark in Troy. Over the last three seasons, RPI holds a 5-3-1 advantage head-to-head. The Engineers won both meetings this season after going 0-2-1 in 2002- 03 versus the Tigers. Princeton and RPI have met in the playoffs seven times and Rensselaer has won all seven of those games.

No. 11 Vermont at No. 6 Harvard: These two teams meet for the second time in as many years in the postseason, with the Catamounts having been swept in last season’s ECAC Quarterfinals. The Crimson enter the playoffs riding a home unbeaten streak in the playoffs of three straight series (6-0-0). Head coach Mark Mazzoleni is 10-4-0 in ECAC playoff games with an overtime title victory in 2002. Harvard is 4-1-0 all-time against UVM in postseason action, with the lone loss coming in the 1989 ECAC Semifinals. The Crimson are 14-10-1 all-time at home against the Cats, including 2-0-0 in the postseason. Vermont is 5-6-0 in its last 11 games at Harvard.

No. 10 St. Lawrence at No. 7 Yale: The Saints lead the all-time series 46-21-7, but Yale has won the last two games. Historically, the Saints are 2-18-3 in ECAC road playoff games and snapped a 19-game winless streak when they beat Colgate in the first game of last season’s first round. The only other win was over Army in the 1964 semifinals. This will be the first opening-round series for the Elis since the 2001-02 campaign. They earned a bye last year, but lost to Brown in the quarterfinals at Ingalls Rink.

No. 9 Clarkson at No. 8 Union: Clarkson leads the all-time series against Union 18-6-4 and snapped a three-game winless stretch with its victory early in the season. The Dutchmen, however, are 2-1-2 against the Knights over the last five games. Clarkson, which owns an 8-2-3 record at Achilles Center, is winless in its last three games (0-1-2) in Schenectady. Union has not lost at home to the Knights since January 2001.