This Week in the ECACHL: Feb. 10, 2005

Another Beanpot, another round of disappointment.

This was supposed to be the year the No. 10 Harvard Crimson (14-6-2, 11-4-1 ECACHL) snapped the jinx of the first two Mondays in February.

But after suffering a heart-breaking 2-1 double-overtime loss to Northeastern in the opening round of the 53rd annual Beanpot, the Crimson will once again have to settle for the consolation prize. This year, that “prize” comes in the form of No. 1 Boston College.

“I’m proud of our guys,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato minutes after the loss. “It was a battle. Give Northeastern a lot of credit.

“As players, we used to regret it if in a game like that we didn’t give it our all. That’s wasn’t the case with this team. They could barely stand at the end. I’m very proud.”

Despite sophomore Kevin Du’s goal less than a minute into the game, the Crimson didn’t come out of the gates with the same kind of intensity it has most of the season. It was a troubling sign for the club, especially when the Huskies responded with a series of good shifts after the goal. Harvard fans knew then that their team was in for a fight.

“Lately, we’d been scoring a lot more goals,” said Donato. “The offense has been doing a lot of good things.

“Having said that, we watched Northeastern on film and [last] Thursday and we knew that they don’t give up much. At times, they counterpunch. Part of me felt that if we could capitalize on our power plays, we would help our effort. They don’t take many penalties or make many mistakes.”

Even so, the Crimson had three man-advantages in overtime, including one that spilled over from the end of the third period. Unfortunately for Donato’s squad, at times the Huskies were able to hold Harvard shot-less with the extra attacker.

All the while, Northeastern was also starting to generate more offense and you could feel the tide starting to flow in its direction.

Then, seconds after junior defenseman Tom Walsh’s slapshot from the right point bounced off the back of classmate Dan Murphy and sailed through the crease — inches from the goal line — the Huskies ended Harvard’s dream.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said senior captain Noah Welch. “Playing in four consolation games is not what I planned when I got here. I expected four Beanpot championships.”

“I am disappointed for our guys,” added Donato. “I have great feelings, especially for our senior class. When you’re a senior, you start to see things as the end of your college career. I was hoping they would experience a Beanpot final.”

But it was not to be this season. Instead, the Crimson will look to break the hex next year, still searching for its first title since 1993.

And while Welch and his teammates are disappointed, the captain knows that his role is to keep the club focused on the tasks that remain.

“We have bigger things to play for,” he said. “We have a national championship to play for.”

Extending Its Lead

The games were as tight as could be expected.

On Friday night, No. 5 Cornell (16-4-3, 12-2-2) and No. 12 Colgate (19-8-1, 11-4-1) were each 0-3 on the power play. Shots on goal were tied at five apiece after the first period; 17 each after 40 minutes. And for the first 58:26 of the game, the contest was scoreless. When the Big Red’s Mike Iggulden scored at 18:27, he capitalized on one of just four shots in the period for his team. It was the difference between a tie and extending Cornell’s lead in the ECACHL.

One night later, the Big Red’s victory proved even more important in the standings as the Raiders received a goal from rookie Tyler Burton to post a tie in Lynah Rink. All four tallies in the contest came on the power play.

“It was a pretty solid weekend,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “It was good preparation for the playoffs. They were tight games … as expected.”

It was also a three-point weekend for the Big Red, which could not have come at a better time, or against a more important opponent.

“They have good goaltending and are committed to their system,” said Schafer of the Raiders. “We have played a lot of top-10 teams throughout the season and they are a top 10 team.

“The games will do nothing but help us.”

Schafer was pleased with the play of his team, especially some of the usual suspects.

“[Goaltender David] McKee stood out and the defense played well,” said the coach, “especially the second night when we were without [freshman Sasha] Pokulok after the first shift.

“The team will adjust to not having the full lineup. Many other teams are dealing with it too.”

Pokulok’s setback could serve as an opportunity to enhance Cornell’s depth by getting more players in the lineup as the postseason approaches.

“Depth is only good,” explained Schafer, “if players can step in and play well.”

The Big Red look to tighten their grip on first place in the conference as Cornell moves on to its final six games. All but one of their remaining opponents (St. Lawrence) is currently under .500.

Schafer, however, is taking nothing for granted.

“We’re only as good as we play,” said the coach.

Bulldog of an Effort

On paper, it shouldn’t have happened. When St. Lawrence’s Josh Anderson scored to give his Saints a 2-1 third-period lead, the deck was officially stacked against the Yale Bulldogs (4-18-1, 3-13-0 ECACHL) in their attempt at earning a win in the North Country.

The Elis had been outshot 21-8 in the first period alone and had allowed a pair of power-play goals. Did we mention that Yale had not won a game on the road all season?

So, of course, Yale responded to Anderson’s marker with four unanswered goals in the game’s final 12 minutes to earn a 5-2 victory.

“Obviously,” said Yale coach Tim Taylor, “it was a thrill to get a win, any win, these days. It was sweeter because it was on the road and on a trip with a long bus ride home.

“We managed to weather the storm, so to speak.”

If anyone would have told you that the Bulldogs were going to score as many goals in a span of 11:20 as they had in their previous two games combined, well, they would have to have been lying.

Anyone, that is, who wasn’t sitting on the Yale bench.

“It’s been a tough year for us,” said a candid Taylor. “Teams with lesser character would have folded up their tents. But these players hung in there. They’ve kept things that come with losing out of their performance and their psyche.”

And, just like that, you begin to see why such a turnaround was possible on Saturday.

“I thought we played one of our best offensive games,” said Taylor about a team that has scored more than three goals in a game on only four occasions this season. “We had good looks on the power play and five-on-five.

“It’s nice to score some goals.”

On the other side of the blueline, Taylor is happy with the progress of his young defensemen.

“The defense corps is more confident,” he said. “Roles within our seven-man rotation have been established and the pairings are more comfortable.”

Of the seven defensemen, Taylor has paired up sophomore Matt Cohen and junior Mike Grobe, sophomores Shawn Mole and Bill LeClerc and junior Matthew Craig and rookie Robert Page. Junior Chris Brooks rotates in and out of the lineup.

“They seem to have worked out pretty well,” said Taylor of his blueline tandems. “We’re not where we have to be, though. We have defensemen that play the same style so we have to remind them to be physically strong.

“We’ve become extremely solid five-on-five and we’re not giving up many five-on-five goals.”

In fact, in five games since losing 8-2 to New Hampshire on January 15, Yale has allowed just three goals at even strength. Unfortunately, the other 13 have come while the Elis were shorthanded.

Special-teams issues aside, the win over the Saints gave the Elis a critical pair of league points, allowing them to move to within three of 10th-place Rensselaer and Princeton. It doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but every bit helps.

“We may not be the best team,” said Taylor, “but we feel we can be competitive with any team. We’ll see where the chips fall when the playoffs start.”

Sighs of Relief

Those weren’t wind gusts coming out of New York’s Capital Region this weekend; they were sighs of relief from Rensselaer and Union after each club defeated Holy Cross to snap losing streaks.

For the Engineers (12-16-2, 4-11-1), it was a two-game slide that resulted in an eruption of offense aimed at the Crusaders. The eight goals by RPI were the most it has put up since 2000. The offense was led by senior Nick Economakos’ first collegiate hat trick, the first for the Engineers since Matt Murley turned the trick against Union on January 16, 2002.

Rensselaer also posted four power-play tallies and a shorthanded marker.

What made Economakos’s performance even more noteworthy was that he — along with senior defensemen Matt McNeely and Blake Pickett — was playing his first game in two weeks after being suspended for drinking on the team bus following RPI’s North Country sweep. He now has five goals in his last three games.

In Schenectady one night earlier, where the Dutchmen (11-17-1, 7-10-0) snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over Holy Cross, the sighs were more pronounced.

“We played really well,” said Union bench boss Nate Leaman. “I thought we were a little tentative at first, but we were a lot better as the game went on. It was a good sign that the shots were 30-10 over the last two periods. I was glad about that.

“We gained confidence. It was good to make things go our way.”

The win also halted Union’s freefall through the ECACHL standings — each of the seven losses came in a league contest, all but nullifying the team’s 6-0-0 start in conference play.

“It was important for us to go out and get a win,” Leaman added.

That was a little tougher to say in January. The slide eventually bottomed out on February 1 when the Dutchmen lost at home to Harvard, 8-1.

“Harvard is an incredible team,” said Leaman, who helped recruit most of the players on the Crimson during his days as an assistant to Mark Mazzoleni. “We made some mistakes early and then three pucks were in the back of our net. The shots were 5-4 us, but we were losing 3-0.”

Despite the Harvard game, Union’s issues during its losing streak were not defensive in nature. Instead, the Dutchmen’s offense turned to dust — getting shut out twice and scoring just one goal in four of the other five losses.

Junior Scott Seney scored twice on Friday after having gone goal-less since January 2. In addition, he had only one tally over the previous 17 contests. Not surprisingly, Union was 4-12-1 in that span. Classmate Joel Beal also popped the team’s first power-play goal in the last four games — a 0-22 slump.

“Our offense was struggling,” said Leaman. “We realize how hard it was to score goals. Then, the team felt, collectively, that it couldn’t make mistakes. When you go out there trying not to make mistakes, you make more mistakes.

“Then, our goaltending struggled too because they felt they had to stop everything. It just snowballed and we made more mistakes.

“This is a game of mistakes. It is how you recover from a mistake that’s important.”

Usually, when a team hits such hard times, practice is a place where it can turn to address some of these issues. Unfortunately, the schedule didn’t favor the Dutchmen either.

“What really hurt us in that rut,” Leaman said, “was the amount of games and midterms. It was hard to regroup. There was not much time at all; we were just looking forward to playing.”

With only one game last weekend and exams over, the coach feels things are looking up.

“We’ve had a good practice this week,” he said, “and everything is positive. We’re on the right track.”

Time is on the Dutchmen’s side this weekend as they play just once — a Friday-night tilt against Brown (12-7-3, 7-6-2). RPI, meanwhile, hosts Harvard and the Bears.

Sweeping the Clouds Away

At this time last season, the Clarkson Golden Knights (10-16-2, 6-9-1) were mired in a losing streak, but about to make an improbable playoff run in the best example of how all teams start anew in the postseason.

The question now going through the minds of many a Clarkson fan is whether that scenario is likely to repeat itself. Only time will tell, especially since the Knights face the league’s top six teams in their remaining games, but head coach George Roll is happy with the effort he’s getting of late.

“We’ve played real well the last two weekends,” he said. “We have a lot more defensive intensity and we’re creating more offensive chances than in previous weeks.”

Clarkson has now won three in a row — its first regular-season winning streak of that length since capturing the first four games of January 2002. In addition, the Knights’ home sweep of Princeton and Yale last weekend marked the first such feat in conference play for Clarkson since January 2003.

“The team has finally reached the point in the season where we’re all on the same page,” explained Roll. “We know we have to compete to play our best game. In order to win hockey games, we need to be physical.”

Clarkson enters this weekend’s action at Vermont (15-10-3, 9-5-2) and Dartmouth (12-9-2, 9-7-0) six games under .500, but has played much better in 2005. The Knights sport a 6-4-0 mark in the calendar year, which tells you all you need to know about how trying the first half of their season was.

Over the next three weeks, however, Clarkson will be facing its toughest challenge — trying to make up points and jump positions in the standings against the best the ECACHL has to offer.

“Every night is going to be a challenge for us,” admitted Roll. “The chances of catching any of them will be difficult. We need to get momentum heading into the playoffs. It would be naïve to think that we’re going to win all of these games.

“We’ll be tested and it will help us in the playoffs.”

The Knights have gotten a boost in performance from some key players of late and the spotlight will remain on them to continue their production.

“Jay Latulippe has played extremely well creating opportunities for himself and others,” said Roll. “[Goaltender] Dustin [Traylen] (four wins in last five starts) has stepped up and is back to his form and the freshman defenseman [Grant] Clitsome has elevated his play.”

Latulippe, a senior and the team’s leading goal and point producer, has 12 points in his last 10 games, while Clitsome has six over that span. Traylen, a junior, has won four of five and has allowed just one goal in each of the last three games.

In Case You Missed It …

• Brown’s victory over UVM was its seventh straight over the Catamounts, while its loss to Dartmouth was its fifth in a row to the Big Green.

• Clarkson’s win over Princeton marked the first time all season that the Knights won when trailing after the first period and just the second occasion in which they were victorious after an opponent scored first.

• Colgate’s loss to Cornell was the first time the Raiders had been shut out all season and marked the team’s first back-to-back losses since November 2003.

• Raiders’ senior Adam Mitchell reached the 100-point plateau for his college career. He’s the first Colgate player to reach the mark since Cory Murphy did it in 2001.

• With its blanking of the Raiders, Cornell posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since December 2003 and the first consecutive 1-0 wins in school history.

• With its loss on Friday, Dartmouth has not beaten Harvard in its last 10 meetings.

• The Big Green recorded a season-high (for a period) of 21 shots on goal in the opening stanza versus Brown.

• Harvard has allowed just seven goals in its last six games.

• Princeton senior defenseman Luc Paquin is the only player with 20 or more points in conference play.

• Rensselaer’s eight goals against Holy Cross were the Engineers’ most since a nine-tally outburst on November 18, 2000, versus Massachusetts.

• RPI has scored three shorthanded goals in its last four games.

• With his next appearance, SLU’s Mike McKenna will eclipse the school mark for career games (85), set by Bill Sloan (1952-56).

• Union junior Scott Seney snapped a 10-game goal drought with a pair against Holy Cross.

• Vermont senior Scott Mifsud’s next point will give him 38 this year, the most since Martin St. Louis’ 60 in 1996-97.

• Sophomore netminder Matt Modelski’s 20 saves in the opening frame in the win over SLU was a season high for Yale in a period.