This Week in the ECACHL: Jan. 6, 2005

Happy New Year to one and all! The flipping of the calendar means that the non-conference games are dwindling and the stretch drive is just a month away.

Yes, already.

Before we reached this point in the schedule, however, the majority of ECACHL clubs skated in tournaments during the final weeks of December. Others faced off in non-conference action and one league game was played. Here’s a quick look back at the games that were.

Holiday Season Recap

(Games since December 18)

Brown Bears: Won both games played — over Merrimack and Holy Cross — to capture the UConn Hockey Classic. The victories earned the Bears their first holiday tourney title since 1984. Brown’s offense combined for nine goals, including five (four on the special teams) against a Crusader sextet that allows just 2.66 goals per game. Senior Mike Meech posted five points in the two games, with classmate Les Haggett, sophomore Brian Ihnacak and rookie Jeff Prough each adding three of their own. Defensively, the Bears killed off all nine shorthanded situations and have now held opponents under three goals eight times in 13 contests. Oh, yes, and there’s that rookie, Adam D’Alba, who made a combined 39 saves. The freshman netminder, this week’s ECACHL Goaltender of the Week, leads the nation in both goals against average (1.39, an impressive 0.31 lower than the next-closest goalie) and save percentage (.956).

Clarkson Golden Knights: Split its games at the Badger Showdown, dropping the opener to Ferris State and beating Yale in the consolation. After posting an impressive win and tie over nationally-ranked Ohio State, the Knights fell flat against FSU (which, to its credit, beat Wisconsin for the tourney title). Clarkson was down 2-0 after 20 minutes and, after pulling to within a goal after two periods, allowed two more in the third — an all too familiar trend. The Knights have been outscored 23-12 in third periods overall. The next night couldn’t have been more opposite as they routed the Elis, 8-1. Impressive, yes, but it was against a club that, to date, has allowed more than five goals per game while scoring just less than two per contest. In goal, junior Dustin Traylen allowed four goals for the fifth time this season in the loss to FSU. Against Yale, sophomore Kyle McNulty posted his first win of the season making 30 saves.

Colgate Raiders: Aside from a 7-1 exhibition game win over Ottawa (no, the NHL’s Senators didn’t suit a replacement club … we’re talking Canadian colleges here), the Raiders went nearly a month without playing a game that counted toward their record. After defeating Yale on December 4, Colgate next played a regular game on January 1 — losing to Northeastern on opening night at the Denver Cup. It was the Huskies’ second win in as many games against the Raiders this season. They defeated Colgate in overtime, 4-3, in Hamilton in October. It’s a tough pair of losses against an under-.500 non-conference opponent … much like the tie and loss to Northeastern that haunted the Raiders last season. Colgate bounced back to defeat Air Force in the consolation game, but needed more than 40 minutes before it scored the first of its three goals.

Cornell Big Red: Like the two teams that precede Cornell in the alphabet, the Big Red split their tournament games. They opened the Florida Hockey Classic with a 4-2 loss to then-No. 5 Boston College in which the Eagles scored twice in the third period. It was also a penalty-filled affair that led to a combined 21 power plays and three 5-on-3 tallies. BC went 3-9 with the man-advantage, Cornell was 1-12. Game. Set. Match. The next day, the Big Red turned the tables on No. 15 Maine with a 4-3 victory that included 14 power plays. This time, Cornell went 3-4, holding the Black Bears to 1-10. If nothing else, the Big Red have had ample opportunity to practice special teams. Cornell has now allowed three goals or more in three straight games, something it had not done all season.

Dartmouth Big Green: Dartmouth opened the holiday stretch with a 5-1 loss to Vermont in Hanover — a game in which a late second period tally deflated the Big Green. But life changed in a hurry after Christmas. One of two ECACHL teams to win a holiday tournament, the Big Green captured their own Ledyard National Bank Classic by toppling Bowling Green (in a shootout) and the Catamounts (6-3). On opening night, the Big Green fired a whopping 51 shots on goal against the Falcons’ Jordan Sigalet, while sophomore Sean Samuel made 39 saves of his own for Dartmouth. After winning the shootout, it was off to a rematch against UVM. The Big Green made a statement by scoring four unanswered goals against rookie sensation Joe Fallon and five of the game’s first six tallies. Samuel made 35 stops en route to tournament MVP honors. Offensively, senior captain Lee Stempniak posted two goals and three points in the title victory — his first multi-point game in a season in which he’s registered only eight points in 13 contests.

Harvard Crimson: When players get sick — a cold, the flu, anything contagious — coaches cross their fingers that the germs don’t spread to too many other skaters. The Crimson weren’t so lucky. A full 18 players were on antibiotics by the time the Dodge Holiday Classic rolled around on December 22. That, combined with the unfamiliar large ice surface and a strong opening night performance by Northern Michigan netminder Tuomas Tarkki spelled doom for Harvard. The Crimson and Wildcats skated to a 0-0 tie, but NMU advanced by winning the shootout. The next night was just plain ugly. Harvard was down 6-2 to Merrimack with less than five minutes left in the consolation game before popping two quick tallies to make the score closer than the game really was. The Crimson and backup netminder Justin Tobe also allowed four power-play goals on just five chances.

Princeton Tigers: The Tigers didn’t participate in any tournaments, but did skate in two non-conference games. On December 29, Princeton ended a brutal six-game road swing with a 4-0 loss to Massachusetts. The Tigers lost all six games away from Hobey Baker Rink and, on that night, were outshot 36-19 and allowed two power-play goals and a shorthanded empty-netter. It was the second time the Tigers were shut out this season as the Minutemen held the nation’s fifth-best power play scoreless in six opportunities. This Tuesday, Princeton was back home and back in the “W” column. The Tigers threw 41 shots at American International’s Frank Novello en route to a 4-2 victory. Sophomore Darroll Powe scored twice to increase his season total to three. Eric Leroux made 28 stops for his first win since November 23.

Rensselaer Engineers: Like Princeton, the Engineers didn’t play in any tournaments. Instead, they traveled to non-conference foe Notre Dame on January 1 and 2 after not having played since December 11. Impressively, there were no signs of rust for RPI on the first night of the two-game series as it put together its most complete performance of the season. The Engineers threw 36 shots on goal before senior Vic Pereira snapped a 1-1 tie and vaulted RPI to a 3-1 victory. Rookie Jordan Alford made 30 saves for his third win in his last four starts. The next day, the Fighting Irish evened things up with a 2-1 victory on the back of the tie-breaking goal mid-way through the final stanza. Alford was again sharp, making 32 stops, but the Rensselaer offense could only muster 17 shots and a lone power play marker.

St. Lawrence Saints: Instead of skating in a tourney, Joe Marsh’s Saints wrapped up their non-conference slate by hosting a pair against Lake Superior State. St. Lawrence was up to the task, sweeping the Lakers by a combined 6-2 score. The first game against LSSU, played December 18 and just after exams, was knotted at one until senior defenseman Jim Hakewill scored with just over 10 minutes left. The Saints fired 39 shots on goal, including besting the Lakers 18-6 in the first period. The next night was a more wide-open affair with the teams combining for 76 shots; this time LSSU had the upper hand over the first 40 minutes with a 33-21 advantage. Even so, it was the Saints who capitalized on their chances, scoring twice on seven shots in the first period. Junior and leading scorer T.J. Trevelyan was a dominating force, notching a hat trick and an assist in the 4-1 win. Rookie netminder Justin Pesony made 39 saves for his first collegiate victory.

Union Dutchmen: Union has skated in only one game since December 11, a 4-0 victory on January 2 over Connecticut. The Dutchmen received goals from four different players, including team points leader Scott Seney — the senior’s first tally since his hat trick at Princeton on November 19. Classmate Joel Beal’s marker was his first since November 12 at RPI, while fellow senior Jordan Webb’s assist — which put him atop the Union’s all-time D-I scoring list — was his fourth point in the last three games. Between the pipes, junior Kris Mayotte notched his first victory since beating the Tigers in November. It was also the first time since October 29 — and only the second time this season — that Mayotte had allowed fewer than three goals.

Vermont Catamounts: Like travel partner Dartmouth, the Catamounts skated in three games over the “break.” As noted, UVM routed the Big Green on December 19, scoring four unanswered goals to snap a 1-1 tie late in the second period — including the back-breaker with less than a second left on the clock. In all, the Cats popped three power-play goals in that matchup. In the Ledyard National Bank Classic, Vermont downed future league-mate Providence, 3-1, on the strength of junior Jeff Corey’s first collegiate hat trick and classmate Travis Russell’s first start since November. Despite three goals in less than 10 minutes in the third period of the championship game, the Catamounts couldn’t contain Dartmouth. Leading scorer Scott Mifsud notched a goal and two assists in defeat.

Yale Bulldogs: For the Bulldogs, the lone action was at the Badger Showdown with a New Year’s Eve tussle with then-No. 4 Wisconsin. In what many expected to be a blowout, the Elis played their best game of the season, skating to a 1-1 tie with the Badgers before losing in a shootout that needed a second round to complete. Last season’s goal leader, junior Joe Zappala, scored Yale’s lone regulation goal and sophomore Matt Modelski made 26 saves. It was a performance the Bulldogs sorely needed and that coach Tim Taylor hoped would serve as a tremendous building block. Unfortunately for the Elis, they couldn’t have had a worse follow-up — losing to Clarkson, 8-1, in the consolation game. The numbers weren’t pretty no matter how one tried to slice them. Yale allowed 48 shots on goal — they were outshot 21-5 in the first period — coughed up five goals in the first 20 minutes and allowed three power play tallies. In all, the Knights scored eight times before junior Jeff Hristovski allowed his club to avoid a shutout.

Making an Impression

Numerous ECACHL players were named to All-Tournament Teams for their efforts over the holidays. Brown dominated the accolades in the UConn Hockey Classic. In addition to D’Alba’s MVP and all-tournament selections, defensemen senior Gerry Burke and rookie Paul Baier and senior forwards Meech and Haggett were named to the all-tourney squad.

Cornell rookie defenseman Sasha Pokulok was named to the Florida College Classic’s All-Tournament Team, while Clarkson’s sophomore blueliner Michael Grenzy was named to the Badger Showdown’s all-tourney team. In Hanover, Vermont juniors, forward Jeff Corey and defenseman Jaime Sifers, joined Dartmouth sophomore forward Tanner Glass on the Ledyard National Bank Tournament’s all-tourney team. Big Green sophomore netminder Sean Samuel was named MVP.

In the Spotlight

Why ease your way back into league play when you can have a set of games like the ones taking place in New England this weekend?

Three of the four nationally-ranked ECACHL teams will be skating in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in what will surely be an exciting four games. It all begins Friday night when No. 12 Harvard plays host to No. 13 Colgate and No. 9 Cornell visits red-hot Brown.

The Crimson and Bears have one loss at home this season between the two of them and Harvard is 7-0-0 at Bright Hockey Center. Meanwhile, the Big Red and Raiders are a combined 5-6-2 on the road, including Cornell’s 1-3-2 mark. Sounds like a fairly one-sided proposition, doesn’t it?

Not so fast.

Let’s remember that we’re talking about the defending ECAC Regular Season champions (Colgate) and a Big Red club that has a remarkable .735 winning percentage since October 2001. Should make for an intriguing weekend of hockey.

The Harvard-Colgate matchup is an interesting one. The Raiders finally beat the Crimson earlier this year (4-1 in Hamilton) to snap a five-game losing streak against Harvard that dated back to February 2, 2002. What’s more, Colgate has beaten the Crimson just twice since 1999 and is 7-21-2 at Bright all-time.

After the Raiders’ fifth straight defeat at the hands of Harvard, last season’s interim head coach Stan Moore was at a loss to explain the one-sidedness.

“It’s the matchup,” he said at the time. “Every once in a while, the matchup of one team over the other plays a factor.

“Maybe there’s something Harvard has about playing Colgate, and the respect factor they have … they’ve been very confident they were going to beat us, and they have.”

Until this season, that is.

The Raiders, determined not to repeat last year’s weak first half that cost them an at-large bid to the NCAAs, ended 2004 with a 12-4-0 mark. En route to its impressive first-half record, Colgate scored three or more goals in a game and allowed two or fewer tallies on 11 occasions. Senior netminder Steve Silverthorn is also posting solid numbers with a 2.11 GAA and .909 save percentage.

Now, they enter a critical four-game road trip against three of the top four teams in the ECACHL, with an opportunity to jump into the top spot (they are three points behind first-place Harvard entering this weekend).

The one area the Raiders still need to improve is special teams, where they are connecting on only 15.5 percent of their power plays. Colgate has killed off 84.9 percent of shorthanded situations, but the team has run into serious problems in this area.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here,” admitted head coach Don Vaughan, “that guys are looking at me on the bench and saying ‘I can’t go.’ They are exhausted.

“Maybe that’s my fault. We use a lot of the same guys and you can see it, especially on the second night.”

Vaughan plans to go with three power-play units to offset overuse of his key players.

The Crimson, meanwhile, are living by the power play — as evidenced by their 23.1 percent effectiveness, which is good for third in the country. On the flip side, though, Harvard is killing off penalties at a low 79.7 percent clip, a surprising statistic for a team built from defense out.

Speaking of that blueline corps, the six NHL draft picks out there each night are the reason the Crimson have been able to score significant victories while waiting for their offense to fall into place 5-on-5.

After rattling off nine victories in 10 games, the Crimson hit a few speed bumps at the Dodge Holiday Classic, falling in a shootout to Northern Michigan (after a 0-0 tie) and losing to Merrimack, 6-4, in the consolation game.

“We’re rejuvenated now,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, “but we had about 18 guys on antibiotics [in Minnesota]. It’s a situation a lot of teams deal with. You hope that it’s not that many at one time.”

Another difficulty out West was the larger ice surface.

“The difference for us in the first game was the larger ice surface; the timing changes and the spacing changes. It caused trouble for us, especially on the PK. It reinforced the belief that we need to practice well.”

The challenge this weekend will not just be across the ice for Harvard, but also individually as the players will need to quickly get back in stride after not having played in two weeks.

In Providence, the Bears will look to avenge an early-season 7-2 loss to Cornell. That Brown team back in November, however, isn’t the same team the Big Red will see on Friday. Sure, the names on the backs of the jerseys have not changed, but who is playing a starring role has.

Brown is rolling along on a 6-0-1 streak and owns a 7-1-1 mark over its last nine games. The reasons are plenty, including the quick development of one of the better freshmen classes in the ECACHL and the contributions of key upperclassmen. The most critical ingredient, however, is rookie netminder Adam D’Alba, who leads the nation in GAA and save percentage.

He remains undefeated (6-0-1) and has allowed more than two goals in a game just once — a 3-3 tie against Rensselaer. D’Alba watched from the bench in that early game at Lynah Rink, but now he’ll get his first shot at the Big Red. Expect a typically tight defensive battle, with D’Alba and Cornell’s David McKee putting on goaltending clinics. (Of course, now that this is in print, the game will undoubtedly be a high-scoring affair.)

The Bears have a 1-0-1 streak going at home against Cornell, having defeated them last year in Providence and tied the Big Red in the 2002-03 campaign.

Cornell, meanwhile, enters the weekend leading the country in team defense (you’re shocked, I know), allowing a mere 1.77 goals per game. Offensively, the Big Red rank second in the nation with a 23.6 percent power play efficiency. On the road, half of Cornell’s goals have come with the man-advantage. Unfortunately, the Big Red has scored just 10 times in six games.

“Special teams play is such a huge factor,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, “especially this time of year.”

Such was the case in the Big Red’s split performance at the Florida College Classic, during which they allowed three power play goals to Boston College on opening night and then went 3-for-4 the next day against Maine.

“Special teams were the difference in our last two games,” said Schafer.

On Saturday, Cornell squares off against long-time rival Harvard looking to extend its winning streak against the Crimson to six games. The last time the Crimson took a game from the Big Red a sophomore name Tyler Kolarik gave Harvard the ECAC title with a double-overtime goal in Lake Placid.

Since that night, it’s been all Cornell. Earlier this year, the Big Red shutout the Crimson, 2-0, outshooting them 34-17, including 13-5 in both the first and second periods.

“Both teams have been playing well,” said Schafer. “It’s always a tough road trip and we’re catching them at a hot time.”

Cornell has been its impressive self again this season. Aside from an 0-2-2 stretch in November, the Big Red are 8-1-0.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position to make a run at things,” explained Schafer. “We have an opportunity to make a good run at a league championship, the NCAAs and everything else.

“Now, it’s a matter of executing.”

The Big Red, which, along with Colgate, have played the fewest league games (six), will see nothing but ECACHL opponents the rest of the way. To take advantage of those games, Schafer admits that a few adjustments need to be made.

“We need to refine things,” he said. “We need to do a better job of understanding how the game is going to be called. We need to make adjustments.

“The officials’ job is made very difficult with the diving that’s going on. They keep saying that they will call it but it hasn’t happened. It’s a tough job being an official right now.

“Our special teams better be ready to go.”

In Saturday’s other game of the set, Colgate will travel to Brown for a rematch of the Raiders’ 3-2 overtime victory at Starr Rink in November. Colgate has won the last three games against the Bears, including 11 of the last 12 contests. Indeed, the Raiders seem to hold the same spell over Brown as Harvard holds over Colgate and the Big Red hold over the Crimson.

But, as we’ve mentioned, this is a streaking Bears squad whose confidence is high and is getting the kind of goaltending and timely offense that makes it dangerous against all opponents. The Raiders will face two different styles this weekend and, unless Vaughan can avoid burning through his top players at Harvard, Brown may finally be able to turn the tables.

The Call of a Lifetime

As first reported by Matt Graves at the Albany Times-Union on Sunday, a phone call by Union coach Nate Leaman to one of his recruits ended in a Christmas miracle for one family.

On December 27, Leaman placed a call to the home of recruit Augie DiMarzo and his father, Augie Sr., in Connecticut to offer well-wishes during the holiday season. The DiMarzos were sleeping at the time of the call, but the father heard Leaman’s voice on the answering machine. Amazingly, just 15 minutes later an electrical problem caused the house to go up in flames.

“I’m a loud talker,” Leaman told Graves. “I guess it woke him up. They jumped out through a second-floor window and got to safety.”

Both of the DiMarzos were injured in the leap — the son cut his arms and the father broke an ankle and foot — but it clearly could have been much worse.

Graves’ full article can be found here.

In Case You Missed It …

• Colgate netminder Steve Silverthorn posted his first shutout of the season in the win against Air Force.

• Raider rookie Ben Camper notched his first collegiate tally in victory over the Falcons.

• Clarkson’s five-goal first period against Yale was its most productive period since February 7, 2003 when the Knights put up a five-spot against Princeton.

• Clarkson rookies Steve Zalewski and David Cayer each posted two goals and two assists in win over Yale.

• When Cornell allowed four goals in the loss to Boston College, it was the first time in 10 games that the Big Red had allowed more than two tallies. The streak is a school record.

• Big Red rookie blueliner Sasha Pokulok, who recorded three assists in the Florida Hockey Classic, has a four-game point streak.

• Dartmouth’s 51 shots against Bowling Green were its highest in the coach Bob Gaudet era.

• The Big Green own an 88.8 percent penalty kill, third-best nationally.

• Princeton’s victory over AIC was its first non-conference win since defeating Bowling Green, 4-2, on January 4, 2002.

• Harvard’s 0-0 result against Northern Michigan was the second scoreless tie in school history.

• RPI’s 17 shots on goal in its Sunday loss to Notre Dame marked the first time all season that the Engineers failed to register at least 20.

• RPI has killed off 24 straight shorthanded situations.

• St. Lawrence, which is 24-11-5 in January games since 1998-99, has not had a sub-.500 first-month to the year since 1998 (2-3-0).

• With its sweep of Lake Superior State, the Saints wrapped up its non-conference schedule at 6-5-1 — their best since the 1999-2000 Frozen Four squad.

• With its win over Providence, Vermont finished the regular season 4-2-0 against Hockey East opponents.

• Union’s victory over Connecticut to start 2005 was its first win to start a new year since defeating Yale on January 3, 1997.

• Dutchmen senior captain Jordan Webb’s assist against the Huskies gave him 105 career points, tops in Division I school history.

• Yale’s Matt Modelski made 26 saves in the Elis’ 1-1 tie against host Wisconsin at the Badger Showdown. It was Yale’s first tie since knotting Cornell on November 30, 2002.