This Week in the ECACHL: Dec. 2, 2004

Back in early October, as people tried to brand the 2004-05 Brown season as a rebuilding year, Bears’ coach Roger Grillo begged to differ.

Yes, his club had lost key contributors, but Grillo told everyone who’d listen that the Bears were in much better shape than most realized. A talented recruiting class was a sign of promise. And the coach heralded his returning players, many of whom had never received much media attention outside of Providence.

Four games into the season, Brown’s record stood at 0-3-1, including an overtime loss to Colgate. The Bears did not score more than two goals in any of their first four games, while allowing 17 tallies. Then, with the season’s first win (5-2 over Yale), Brown’s fortunes began to turn.

Including the victory over the Elis, the Bears are on a 4-1-0 run and have won three straight. In that span, the Bears have scored at least four goals on three occasions, while holding opponents under three tallies in four of the five contests.

In the last two weeks, they’ve defeated nationally-ranked Minnesota-Duluth and swept Clarkson and St. Lawrence in the North Country. Brown’s win in Potsdam was the program’s first since 2002 and only the fourth-ever in the upstate New York town.

“We played pretty well,” Grillo said. “We’ve done some things well and there are some things we need to work on.”

As expected, the freshmen have made an impact.

“They have played well since the first day,” said Grillo, “especially in combination with the veterans.

“Sean Hurley, Paul Baier and David Robertson have played quite well for freshman defensemen, especially from an offensive standpoint.”

Hurley, especially, has been a key contributor to the increase in scoring. His eight points (1-7-8) are good enough for second on the Bears and he has points in six consecutive games. Of his seven helpers, the most talked about one came on classmate Jeff Prough’s game-winner with 0.1 seconds left in the game against Minnesota-Duluth.

“Prough and Brian McNary have been really solid,” Grillo added. “They’ve added punch to the offense.”

What the duo has also done is forced opponents to split their attention from just the Bears’ best players and to guarding multiple lines. The result has been evident of late.

Sophomore Brian Ihnacak leads the team with seven goals and 11 points. He scored four goals and added an assist in the North Country sweep and has registered seven points in his last four games. Senior Les Haggett has seven points in the last five games and classmate Mike Meech (2-4-6) and sophomore Sean Dersch (3-2-5) have helped balance the offense.

“You could feel it and see it at times,” said Grillo of his club’s reversal. “We’re still trying to figure out what makes us good. We jumped right into our league schedule, so we didn’t have the opportunity to work on things early on.”

Between the pipes, another rookie, Adam D’Alba, waited patiently for his chance to make an impact.

“We wanted to give the older guys opportunities,” explained Grillo about his decision to play senior Scott Rowan and junior Kevin Kliman before D’Alba. “We also wanted Adam to get his feet wet a bit.”

D’Alba has quickly shown that he is ready to play a major role, starting three straight games and posting a 3-0-0 record with a 1.29 goals against average and a stellar .965 save percentage. In those games, he’s stopped more than 40 shots twice and made a combined 108 saves.

“He’s really stepped up the last three games and given us a chance to win,” said Grillo. “He comes out to compete and the best thing he did was give confidence to our young club.”

The Bears return home this weekend after four straight road games and six contests away from Providence since the beginning of November. They’ll play host to RPI and first-place Union.

“The games are critical,” Grillo said. “These are the last two games before we break for exams, so the games are important as we need to improve. It is important to continue down the path of getting better and being the team we’re meant to be.”

Burlington Buzz

Sport can be such great theater. Sometimes, when a team is on one of those runs, you just know that they can overcome any obstacle. They have that look and you can’t wait to see what last-minute miracle they’ll pull off next.

Well, if you’re dying for this type of drama, then make your way up to Burlington or be sure to catch the No. 11 Vermont Catamounts (8-4-3, 4-0-2 ECACHL) when they come to your town.

Forget “Desperate Housewives,” Catamount hockey is the hottest show in the nation.

Sporting the longest unbeaten streak in the country (7-0-3), UVM posted a tremendous come-from-behind victory over then-No. 6 New Hampshire last Saturday. Down a goal with time running out, the Cats didn’t merely tie the game with 58 seconds left, they won it on rookie Torrey Mitchell’s hat trick goal at 19:59 of the final frame.

“Our top line of Mitchell, [Scott] Mifsud and [Jeff] Corey was the difference in the game,” explained head coach Kevin Sneddon about the trio that combined for all five tallies and 11 points in the victory.

“They were a threat every time they were on the ice. They played to win the entire night, as was evident on the game-tying goal [by Corey], and the beautiful game-winning goal set up by Scott Mifsud and finished by Torrey Mitchell.

“I’ve never heard a crowd that loud!”

That raucous ovation was the result of a thrilling win in front of a packed Gutterson Fieldhouse. With the victory, the Cats improved to 6-3-1 at home — in a rink that gives them a decided home-ice advantage — and 5-1-1 when the Gut is sold out.

But when asked about the magnitude of the streak and being undefeated in league play, Sneddon became a little less talkative.

“We play to win the next shift and nothing else.”

Fair enough. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to jinx anything either.

But, since we reporters are always ready with follow-up questions, what about some extra motivation? Could the fact that this is Vermont’s final season in the ECACHL have anything to do with this year’s results? Are the Catamounts motivated by wanting to go out in style?

“No,” Sneddon responded. “Again, the reason we are having some success right now is that our players are focused on the process. They are playing in the present; concerned with winning the next faceoff, the next one-on-one battle in the corner, or the next foot race to a loose puck.

“No one in the locker room is thinking ahead to winning the league or going out in style, as you mentioned. We are just playing hard for each other and having some fun at the rink each day.”

It’s that fun, and the results that have come with it, that has attracted the attention of media outlets large and small, including the New York Times and the Boston Globe — each of which featured UVM recently.

Next up for the Catamounts is their third straight game against a Hockey East opponent, Northeastern, and a Tuesday night contest at Harvard.

“We are certainly faced with another tough task in playing against a very good Northeastern team. They are similar to us; had a tough first half last year, an improved second half, and some very good wins this season.

“[Husky coach] Bruce [Crowder] has done a great job with the team, so we will have to play our best in order to give ourselves a chance at winning that game. We will concentrate on Harvard immediately following the Northeastern game and not a second earlier. Teddy [Donato] has his guys playing very well right now.”

Early and Often

A season ago, Colgate (10-4-0, 3-1-0) took off down the stretch en route to the regular season crown. Before this year, the Raiders made it a point to set a strong start as one of the team’s goals. They’ve accomplished just that.

With 10 victories to date, Colgate is ahead of its pace from the 2003-04 season when it didn’t capture its 10th win until January 16. The 1989-90 club that made it to the NCAA championship game didn’t win its 10th until December 29.

“The goal was to get off to a good start,” said head coach Don Vaughan, “and have a good finish as well.

“We’ve found ways to win the last couple of games. Some games we’re fine, in others there are still things we need to work on.”

As Vaughan himself points out, that’s something that nearly all coaches can say at this point in the season.

With only four league games under their belts, the Raiders have been measuring themselves against non-conference opponents.

“We try to represent the program first and then the league,” Vaughan explained about his team’s games against other leagues. “We’re pleased with our results against the CCHA (4-0-0), but disappointed with the games against Hockey East (0-2-0).

“It’s hard not to look at some games and feel that we should have won. That’s human nature, but there are also other games we won that we could have lost. I guess it all evens out in the end.”

Even so, it was that slight margin that, arguably, cost the Raiders an NCAA bid last season.

In the meantime, Vaughan isn’t letting his club get too far ahead of itself. Colgate understands that 18 conference matchups still await and that at any moment the Raiders could get tripped up. Which is why Vaughan and his staff continue to work on the system.

“We seem to be getting more chances [than last year],” he said about his offense, which is averaging 3.00 goals per game. “We’ve had opportunities, but they just haven’t gone in. If we were not getting many chances, then I’d be worried.

“We’re not giving up many goals either (2.14 per contest). As the saying goes, if you’re not going to score many, you better not give up too many.”

And while his squad works on shoring up some areas in practice, Vaughan is aware of the fine line that exists.

“The risk you run is that players will tend to over-think things,” he explained. “Call it paralysis by analysis … or over-analysis. You can see them freeze out there. We want them to play more on instinct, so they don’t have to think too much [on the ice].”

Colgate’s next test will come this weekend when it returns to league play by hosting Princeton and Yale.

“They are going to be tight, close battles,” Vaughan said. “I’ve been watching both teams on tape. Princeton looks to be playing with a lot of enthusiasm and they are quick.

“As for Yale, I predicted it a few weeks ago. I knew they’d break out just before coming up here. I have a lot of respect for [coach] Tim [Taylor]. I just wish it would have been two weeks later.”

In Case You Missed It …

• Brown’s win over the Golden Knights was just the fourth-ever victory for Brown at Cheel Arena.

• Clarkson’s freshman class accounted for eight of the Knights’ 10 points over the weekend, including Steve Zalewski’s three-game goal scoring streak.

• Colgate rookie Mark Dekanich recorded his first collegiate victory on Saturday with a 20-save effort against Mercyhurst.

• Cornell sophomore David McKee’s shutout of Canisius was his second blanking of the season and seventh in his short time in Ithaca.

• The Big Red rank first in the country in team defense (1.22 goals per game) and second in penalty killing (90.4).

• Dartmouth’s 0-0 tie against Maine was the first for the Big Green since December 14, 1997, the first in Thompson Arena history and the first in Hanover since February 8, 1941 versus Yale.

• The Big Green are first in the nation in penalty killing (91.2 percent) and second in team defense (1.78).

• Harvard ranks third in the country in power-play effectiveness (25.9 percent).

• The Crimson’s Justin Tobe posted 27 saves to earn his first win of the season.

• Princeton continues to lead the nation on the power play (27.9 percent) and are a win away from matching last year’s season total (five).

• Princeton senior defenseman Luc Paquin registered four assists in the 6-3 win over Yale, his second such output in the last four contests. He leads the country in points per game by a blueliner (1.50).

• Of Rensselaer’s 54 goals this season, 27 have come on the power play.

• SLU’s Mike McKenna has now started 29 consecutive games over two seasons, matching the previous high posted by the Saints’ Les Kuntar. Over those games, McKenna is 13-13-3 with a 2.38 goals against average and .925 save percentage.

• The Saints’ T.J. Trevelyan and John Zeiler snapped three-game pointless streaks in the win over the Crimson. Amazingly, it was the longest drought for either player since his freshman campaign.

• Yale captured its first win of the season by routing Princeton, 7-1, on Saturday. The victory snapped a school-record 16-game losing streak dating back to February 14 of the 2003-04 season.

• The Elis’ six-goal margin of victory was their largest since defeating the Tigers by the same score in November 2002.