Ten of the 12 teams in the league enter the weekend having each played 18 ECACHL games. Harvard and Brown have skated in 17 conference contests, but will pull even with the rest of the crowd after their Tuesday night affair.
Not surprisingly, there are some interesting battles for positioning going down to the wire, from the fight for the final first-round bye to the last home-ice slot. As a result, there’s a good chance that tiebreakers will come into play — they always do in this conference.
Before we jump into that breakdown, however, there an odd layout in the standings that is worth pointing out. Aside from the Crimson and the Bears, all other travel partners are back-to-back in the standings. Cornell-Colgate are 1-2, Dartmouth-Vermont are tied for fourth, Clarkson-St. Lawrence are tied for seventh, Union-RPI are 9-10 and Princeton-Yale are 11-12.
Ok, on to the tiebreakers, as presented to us by the fine folks at the league office.
If a tie exists between two or more teams in the final-regular season standings, the following tiebreaking method kicks in:
1. Comparison of results of league games between tied teams (“head-to-head”).
2. Comparison of results of league games played against the top four teams.
3. Comparison of results of league games against the top eight teams.
4. Goal differential in league head-to-head competition.
5. Goal differential in games against top four teams.
6. Goal differential in games against top eight teams.
In the case of ties among three or more schools, the criteria will be used — in order — until a team or teams is/are separated from the pack. At that point, the process begins anew to break the “new” tie. In other words, when a four-way tie becomes a three-way tie, the three-way tie is treated as a “new” tie and the process begins with the first criterion.
Going into the final few games, here’s what we know about possible finishes — with tiebreakers taken into account:
• Cornell can finish as high as first, but no lower than third. It has clinched a first-round bye.
• Colgate can finish as high as first, but no lower than sixth. It has clinched home ice in its first playoff series.
• Harvard can finish as high as first, but no lower than sixth. It has clinched home ice in its first playoff series.
• Dartmouth and Vermont can finish no higher than second and no lower than eighth. They have clinched home-ice in their first playoff series.*
• Brown can finish as high as second, but no lower than 10th.
• St. Lawrence can finish as high as fourth or as low as 12th.
• Clarkson can finish as high as fourth or as low as 11th.
• Union and Rensselaer can finish as high as sixth or as low as 12th.
• Princeton can finish as high as seventh or as low as 12th.
• Yale can finish as high as eighth or as low as 12th.
* Dartmouth and Vermont both win all tiebreakers with Union and therefore have clinched home ice. They both lose all tiebreakers with Cornell and can still tie for first in the standings, but cannot get the No. 1 seed.
That leads us into this weekend’s action, which is sure to shake up the standings a bit more.
RPI (13-17-2, 5-12-1) at No. 4 Cornell (18-4-3, 14-2-2 ECACHL): The Big Red leads the all-time series 48-29-3, including a 5-0 win in Troy a little over a month ago. In that game, Cornell outshot the Engineers 28-14 and posted two power-play goals, while holding RPI 0-for-10 with the man-advantage. The Big Red has won nine of the last 10 and 11 of the last 13 games against RPI.
Union (11-18-1, 7-11-0) at No. 12 Colgate (20-8-2, 12-4-2): The Raiders hold a 28-11-1 advantage all-time against the Dutchmen in the head-to-head matchup. On January 15, Colgate edged Union, 1-0, at Achilles Center, to boost its current streak to four straight wins over the Dutchmen.
Clarkson (11-17-2, 7-10-1) at No. 9 Harvard (15-7-2, 12-4-1): The Crimson leads the all-time series 42-41-9 after winning 3-2 in the North Country on November 27. In that contest, Harvard’s Tom Cavanaugh, who began his team’s comeback in the 2004 ECAC championship game against the Knights, responded to Clarkson’s two-goal third period with the winner. Backup Justin Tobe backstopped Harvard to its third in a row over the Knights.
SLU (13-15-2, 7-10-1) at Brown (13-8-3, 8-7-2): The Saints lead the all-time series over the Bears, 31-19-6, but lost 4-1 in Canton in late November. Brown sophomores Sean Dersch and Brian Ihnacak each had a pair of goals, while rookie Adam D’Alba posted 42 saves in that contest. The Bears are 6-3-2 in their last 11 games against St. Lawrence, which seeks its first win at Meehan Auditorium since February 2001.
Dartmouth (14-9-2, 11-7-0) at Princeton (6-17-2, 4-13-1): The Big Green leads the all-time series, 87-75-12, but were shut out (3-0) at home in November by Princeton. In that game, Eric Leroux made 37 saves, including 19 in the second period, and Dartmouth’s Hugh Jessiman went down with a severe ankle injury. The Tigers, however, are 0-7-1 in their last eight league contests, while the Big Green is 7-2-0 in its last nine ECACHL games.
Vermont (16-11-3, 10-6-2) at Yale (4-19-2, 3-14-1): The Bulldogs lead the all-time series 26-23-4. The Catamounts have won two in a row over the Elis, including a 7-1 whitewashing with five power-play goals on November 6. Yale, however, is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games against Vermont.
RPI at Colgate: The Engineers lead the all-time series over the Raiders, 50-42-2, but lost to Colgate, 4-2, on January 14. Rookie Tyler Burton scored twice in the second period, including the game-winner, to pace the Raiders, who have won six straight over RPI.
Union at Cornell: The Big Red leads the all-time series against the Dutchmen, 20-9-4, which includes a 2-1 overtime victory in Schenectady last month when Mike Iggulden popped the winner. Cornell has won five of the last seven meetings with Union, including five straight victories at Lynah Rink in the head-to-head series.
Clarkson at Brown: The Knights lead the all-time series 48-11-6, but lost 4-2 at home to the Bears in November. In that contest, Brown scored the game’s final three goals, including Mike Meech’s game-winner. The teams are 2-2-1 in their last five head-to-head match-ups.
SLU at Harvard: The Crimson lead 37-31-4 all-time over the Saints, but SLU got the best of Harvard, 4-2, in November at Appleton Arena. The Saints, however, have not won at Bright Hockey Center since the 1999-2000 season, including back-to-back shutouts.
Dartmouth at Yale: The Elis lead the Big Green, 94-81-13, all-time, but lost 5-2 in Hanover in early November. In that game, the Bulldogs’ Josh Gartner made 50 saves in a losing effort, while Dartmouth tallied three power play goals. Yale has lost five straight to the Big Green.
Vermont at Princeton: The Catamounts lead the all-time series over the Tigers, 36-14-2, including November’s 2-0 win in Burlington. UVM has won two in a row and four of the last five games against Princeton, but the Tigers have captured four of the last five against Vermont at Baker Rink.
There’s something about a particular Saturday in February that brings out the best in the Rensselaer Engineers (13-17-2, 5-12-1 ECACHL). It’s called the Big Red Freakout! and RPI simply doesn’t lose.
In the last 15 Freakout! games, the Engineers are 11-0-4. This season was more of the same, with dramatic flair.
Last Saturday, RPI trailed Brown 2-1 going into the third period only to score twice, including junior Kirk MacDonald’s game-winner with 8.3 seconds to go. It was the team’s second victory in the last three contests, but its first league win since January 22.
What’s the reason for the Rensselaer magic? We went to the source.
“First of all,” explained MacDonald, “the atmosphere is incomparable to anywhere in the country on Freakout night. And with all the alumni back for the weekend, none of the guys ever want to disappoint them.
“We always have a breakfast with [the alumni] the day of the game and they have so much pride and respect for the program that it just makes you realize how lucky you are to be at RPI.”
A little of that mystique worked in MacDonald’s favor on the winning tally as well.
“It was a good play on transition by [defenseman Jake] Luthi to get me the puck at full speed,” said the Engineers’ leading scorer, “and I was able to catch the defense sitting back with a bad gap. They gave me a lot of room and I was able to use the d-man as a screen and I don’t think the goalie really saw it.”
It was a critical win for RPI as it battles for playoff positioning. Overall, however, it has been a tough season for a club that is a year removed a 22-win campaign.
“I think we got off to a pretty good start,” said MacDonald, “but once we hit the league schedule, we kind of lost a few real close games and we were having trouble putting a full 60 minutes together.”
In one stretch, from early December through mid-January, the Engineers lost five straight ECACHL matchups.
“But since the trip to the North Country,” MacDonald said of that weekend sweep, “we’ve started to get some of our confidence back and have played a lot better as a team, which really showed this weekend.
“We had a real good performance against Harvard, we just didn’t get the bounces and Saturday night, we really stuck with it after being down going into the third period and pulled out a real important win.”
MacDonald and his teammates now turn their attention to the final four games of the regular season, beginning with a tough road trip to face the league’s top two clubs.
“This weekend is huge for us,” he said. “We know going into Cornell is a huge task for anyone, and we just have to play a simple game and be patient and wait for our opportunities. And Colgate is gonna be a battle as well. Both are great teams and we are going to be at our best to beat them.
“If we can come away with some good results this weekend, I think we can really build on that and get on a little roll going into the playoffs.”
Eventually, Harvard will win its first Beanpot title since 1993. This season was not that time.
What’s worse for Harvard is that, as last Monday came and went with a convincing 4-1 loss to Boston College, the Crimson’s senior class wrapped up its four-year Beanpot experience with just one victory — a consolation win in 2003.
And as Boston University and Northeastern prepared for what turned out to be a classic championship thriller with a familiar ending, Harvard coach Ted Donato sat alone in front of the media throng searching for answers.
“We understood that it was an important game,” he remarked in reference to the fact that it was matchup against the No. 2 team in the nation with NCAA implications.
“We knew BC would come out to play. We expected that, especially with us getting the better of them in the first game [a 3-1 win in November]. Unfortunately, we didn’t do a lot of things to make us better in this game.”
The Crimson had chances, much like in the opening night loss to Northeastern. And like that game against the Huskies, it was failed power-play attempts that cost Harvard.
While such a power failure in key non-conference games is a bad sign, it will be worse for Harvard if the trend continues over its final five contests.
“Our focus has to change now,” Donato said. “We have some big games coming up in the league.”
Sneddon Benches Himself
You don’t see coaches benching themselves very often, but Vermont’s Kevin Sneddon did just that last Saturday.
Call it a preemptive strike by the coach, especially since the league was undoubtedly going to dole out a suspension after Sneddon’s public rant about referee John Murphy following the team’s 3-2 loss to Clarkson on Friday.
In that contest, the Golden Knights scored twice in the third period only to see the Catamounts storm the net as the final seconds ticked off the clock. With :14 left in the game, UVM appeared to have tied the score. Murphy saw it otherwise, calling a crease violation that nullified the tally.
The referee, who because of travel delays was only able to officiate the game’s final 21:48, was right in Sneddon’s crosshairs during the second-year UVM coach’s postgame comments.
“I’m tired of it,” he said. “I’m just sick of it. He can’t have that much impact on a game coming in here late. He shouldn’t have been flying in anyway. I’m sick to my stomach right now for our kids because they battled hard.
“It’s inexcusable. [Murphy’s] been awful all year and he continues to be awful. That’s why he won’t be reffing in the future, but you know what? He shouldn’t be reffing this weekend, either. It’s inexcusable in my book that he’s in our building.”
The league frowns upon public criticism of its officials, so Sneddon was going to be disciplined. He took it upon himself, however, to dish out his own punishment the very next day.
“My comments showed a lack of respect for John Murphy, the ECACHL, and college hockey in general,” Sneddon said.
“I need to lead by example, and making public comments about officiating does not set a positive example for our student-athletes. I regret that my passion and competitiveness got the better of me during an emotional time. As someone who strongly believes in responsibility and accountability, I feel it is important to institute a self-imposed one-game suspension for my actions last night.”
Later in the day, Sneddon explained his decision to the Burlington Free Press‘ Ted Ryan.
“I wanted to be proactive,” explained the coach. “I felt, after time thinking about it, I had made a mistake … I let my emotions and competitiveness get away.
“I knew what I wanted to say. I had maybe a bit more passion instead of clearly thinking about what the ramifications would be.”
Sneddon also told Ryan that he had eventually seen the replay of the call.
“It’s real tough to see,” the coach said. “In the crease, yes. There was both contact with Torrey [Mitchell] with the goaltender (Dustin Traylen) and goaltender contact with Torrey.
“It’s a real tough call for me to make. Obviously, John felt 100 percent behind his call.”
The Catamounts were victorious without Sneddon at the helm the next evening, but it isn’t a practice they’d like to get used to.
As for the league, well, ECACHL Acting Commissioner Steve Hagwell made clear on Saturday that this is no longer an issue.
“The league considers the issue closed,” he said.
In Case You Missed It …
• Brown rookie netminder Adam D’Alba posted his third shutout of the season with a 3-0 win over Union.
• Clarkson is 22-3-2 since 2001-02 when senior Mac Faulkner scores a goal.
• With the win over Princeton, the Raiders reached the 20-win mark for the second season in a row, a first in school history.
• Cornell sophomore David McKee’s 5-0 shutout on Friday tied him with David LeNeveu for second on the school’s all-time list, two behind Ken Dryden.
• Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet’s win over St. Lawrence gave him 200 in his coaching career.
• Harvard’s double-overtime loss to Northeastern at the Beanpot was the longest game in the tournament’s history (82:01).
• Princeton’s lone goal last weekend came from junior Dustin Sproat, who leads the ECACHL in conference scoring (14-11-25).
• RPI senior Nick Economakos has six goals in his last five games.
• SLU senior Mike McKenna set a school record for career appearances by a goaltender (87 games) when he made a 13-second cameo on Friday.
• With a 3-0 shutout at the hands of Brown, Union has now been blanked six times this season, tying the school record.
• With its win over SLU, Vermont clinched home ice for a playoff round for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
• Yale’s 0-0 tie with Colgate was the first such occurrence for the Elis since 1941 (vs. Dartmouth) and the 100th tie in the program’s history.
Tyler Birnbaum contributed to this report.