This Week in the ECACHL: March 3, 2005

Playoff time is upon us and we have some good series on the docket for the ECACHL’s first round of action. Cornell, Harvard, Colgate and Vermont all have the weekend off after securing first-round byes. Each of them will have the chance to evaluate potential quarterfinal opponents and, of course, are hoping each series goes three games with multiple overtimes in each contest.

Teams can dream, can’t they?

Eight squads have their own dreams on the line this weekend as they look to capture two wins in three games to advance one step closer to a tournament title and the automatic trip to the NCAAs that comes with it.

Therefore, this week we focus on what’s in store beginning Friday night. (Note: The recent playoff history category only includes games since the ECAC split.)

No. 12 Yale (4-23-2, 3-18-1 ECACHL) at No. 5 Dartmouth (17-10-2, 14-8-0)

This Season
Dartmouth swept the season series, winning 5-2 at home (11/5/04) and 5-3 in New Haven (2/19/05).

Recent Playoff History
First meeting

Top Five Scorers
Brad Mills, So., F, 24 games played, 10-13-23, 4 PPG, 3 SHG
Jeff Hristovski, Jr., F, 28 GP, 7-14-21
Christian Jensen, Jr., F, 26 GP, 11-9-20, 4 PPG
Nate Jackson, Jr., F, 29 GP, 8-8-16, 4 PPG
Blair Yaworski, Fr., F, 29 GP, 5-9-14

Lee Stempniak, Sr., F, 29 GP, 10-24-34
Mike Ouellette, Jr., F, 29 GP, 12-19-31
Nick Johnson, Fr., F, 29 GP, 14-16-30, 5 PPG, 3 GWG
Eric Przepiorka, Jr., F, 26 GP, 11-14-25
Garrett Overlock, Jr., D, 29 GP, 9-13-22, 7 PPG, 3 GWG

Between the Pipes
Matt Modelski, So., 20 GP, 4-11-2, 3.54 GAA, .897 save percentage
Josh Gartner, Jr., 12 GP, 0-9-0, 5.47 GAA, .868.

Dan Yacey, Sr., 21 GP, 11-6-1, 1.99, .923
Sean Samuel, So., 12 GP, 5-4-1, 2.82, .896

An Inside Look
Most people point to this series as the one that will undoubtedly result in a sweep for the higher seed. On paper, it sure seems like a safe bet. After all, this is a match-up between one of the league’s hottest teams and a club that lost 23 games — its most since the 1995-96 campaign.

“Dartmouth’s stats on paper,” explained Yale coach Tim Taylor earlier this week, “are not the best of match-ups for us.”

In a nutshell, it’s the league’s best offense (3.36 goals per ECACHL game) versus the worst defense (4.05).

“This has been as tough a season as I can ever remember,” admitted Taylor. “The highs for this year were few and far between in terms of wins and losses. As coaches and a team, we’ve had to find different ways to pick our spirits up and judge our progress.

“We had good moments against some good teams. The two ties against Colgate and Wisconsin and the win at St. Lawrence. We’re better than our record indicates.”

And this is why they play the games.

The Bulldogs aren’t supposed to win this series, which means that the pressure in on the collective shoulders of the Big Green.

“It’s a clean slate,” acknowledged Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet on Wednesday. “Yale played really well against us. They really carried the play against us in the second period of our last game.

“They are a very well-coached team with good skill … They have a lot of weapons.”

The problem for Yale, however, is that for most of this season those weapons have misfired. The Bulldogs averaged only 2.13 goals per game overall. They were a slightly better 2.27 in ECACHL play.

In 31 games last season, Joe Zappala scored 18 times, had nine game-winning goals and four power play tallies. This year, the junior dropped to five goals in 29 contests and just 14 points overall — fewer than in his rookie season. He hasn’t scored since January 29.

Classmate Jeff Hristovski dropped to his freshman total of seven tallies after posting 12 last year. He has, however, shown signs of returning to form with two goals in his last three games.

But it isn’t just about those on the roster who didn’t connect. Four of the eight players that reached double-digits in points in 2003-04 are not on this year’s team. Ryan Steeves, Vin Hellemeyer and Jeff Dwyer graduated while blueliner Joe Callahan left after his junior campaign.

In their stead is a very young Yale sextet. Of the 21 players that have skated in more than half of the team’s games, 12 are freshmen and sophomores and only one is a senior (Nick Shalek).

Up front, the youth paid dividends as the season chugged along. Sophomore Brad Mills currently leads the team in points (23), more than doubling his freshman total. In one stretch this season, he notched at least one point in eight straight games. He has five goals in his last seven contests, but has been shutout over the last four.

On defense, the Elis are even younger. They have three sophomores and one rookie and each suffered through growing pains in 2004-05, especially early on. This is where the high-powered, aggressive Dartmouth forwards could have a field day.

“We have to have four or five guys back against them,” said Taylor. “We need quickness from our defense. We need to establish as a team that we can skate with Dartmouth early in the first game.”

Taylor is also concerned about the Big Green’s mobile defense, which includes junior Garret Overlock and sophomore Grant Lewis. Overlock enters the postseason with nine goals and 22 points, including seven power play tallies and three game-winners. Lewis, meanwhile, registered nine fewer points than in his rookie campaign and did not connect at even-strength, but he scored five times on the power play.

“We have to be really good at the transition,” said Taylor. “They are very good at the offensive transition. Their defensemen are very active and good with the puck.”

Gaudet likes his crop of blueliners as well … and his forwards … and his goaltenders.

“The team has really played well,” he commented. “I’ve said that from early on, even though we didn’t have the results to back that up.

“I like the work ethic. We’ve played well, especially since holiday time. We have had some kids emerge that we needed to emerge.”

That includes players like rookies Nick Johnson and David Jones, as well as defenseman Ben Lovejoy — who transferred from Boston College after the 2002-03 season and has helped solidify an underrated part of the Big Green.

“Johnson has been phenomenal,” Gaudet explained. “Jones has played very well, as has (freshman) Jon Grecu. He hasn’t had the same impact because I haven’t had him on the ice much. Lovejoy has been a good addition.

“It’s a fun team to coach.”

The first half of the season wasn’t a bundle of joy for Dartmouth fans, though. The club was racked by injuries to key players — like junior Hugh Jessiman (who returned last weekend and will play against Yale) — and had three members of the Big Green leave the team.

On the afternoon of December 29, Dartmouth stood at 4-6-1 and had gone through two months of play when it couldn’t buy a goal. But Gaudet rallied the troops heading into the beginning of its holiday tournament that evening and the results have been more like what was expected when they were picked to finish first in the preseason media poll.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries,” said Gaudet, “things to work through, lineups, hockey adversity. We learned a lot about discipline and respect for preparation.

“Teams that work the hardest are the most successful. We need that focus.”

Since that day late in 2004, the Big Green is 13-4-1 and they’ve posted a lot of crooked numbers on scoreboards throughout the league — including 10 games of five or more goals.

The run led Dartmouth to the precipice of a first-round bye only to miss out by one point on the regular season’s final night. It’s the first time since 2001-02 that the Big Green will not have a week off before opening the postseason.

“We would have taken the bye and relished the opportunity to get some rest,” Gaudet said, “but would have been concerned about continuity. You get competitive and want it, but [once you have it], you struggle with what to do.”

In other words, hockey players like to play. Having a weekend free tends to throw teams off their normal cadence of weekly game action.

“It’s not sour grapes,” said Gaudet. “If we had gotten [the bye], it would have been great. We were lucky and happy to be in the mix. We tried to control what we could control and stumbled a bit. Some good teams beat us.”

More often than not, however, in 2005 it was Dartmouth doing the winning.

“We have really good chemistry,” said the coach before launching into the main reason he thinks the team has come together so well.

“Lee Stempniak has been phenomenal,” raved Gaudet. “He’s as good a player and person that I’ve even been around. For him to fill the void of Jessiman and lead the team and keep the guys focused … he’s an unbelievable role model.

“He does it by example; he’s not going to intimidate people.”

Maybe not off the ice, but on it he’s always the first person other teams highlight when dissecting the Big Green. That’s what a team-best 34 points and a career total of 142 will do for your reputation. This from a player who had only three goals as of December 30.

Since then, Stempniak has posted 10 multi-point games.

“We can’t get into a shootout with Dartmouth,” Taylor remarked. “They are too strong and deep. If we can keep it a low-scoring game, we have a chance. The biggest challenge will be their size and depth.

“We have to get consistent goaltending. We’ve had moments of brilliance back there from Matt Modelski.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Taylor will go with his sophomore between the pipes this weekend. Senior Peter Cohen played well in a loss to Union last Friday and junior Josh Gartner has the experience. Taylor expects to make his decision late in the week. For Dartmouth, the decision is a bit easier as senior Dan Yacey has not lost since December 19 and has allowed more than two goals just four times this season.

Prediction: Dartmouth in two games

No. 11 Rensselaer (14-20-2, 6-15-1) at No. 6 Brown (14-12-3, 9-11-2)

This Season
RPI won the season series 1-0-1, tying the Bears 3-3 in Providence (12/3/04) and winning 3-2 at home (2/12/05).

Recent Playoff History
1990 Quarterfinals at RPI: Engineers win 5-3, 6-4

Top Five Scorers
Kirk MacDonald, Jr., F, 35 GP, 15-19-34, 8 PPG, 4 GWG
Kevin Croxton, Jr., F, 36 GP, 8-23-31, 5 PPG
Nick Economakos, Sr., F, 34 GP, 11-17-28, 7 PPG
Brad Farynuk, Jr., D, 36 GP, 5-16-21
Oren Eizenman, So., F, 25 GP, 6-10-16, 4 PPG

Les Haggett, Sr., F, 27 GP 11-14-25, 5 PPG
Mike Meech, Sr., F, 27 GP, 11-9-20, 6 PPG
Brian Ihnacak, So., F, 26 GP, 11-9-20
Jeff Prough, Fr., F, 28 GP, 8-9-17
Sean Dersch, So., F, 29 GP, 6-11-17

Between the Pipes
Andrew Martin, Sr., 27 GP, 9-15-1, 2.99 GAA, .891
Jordan Alford, Fr., 13 GP, 5-5-1, 2.84 GAA, .888

Adam D’Alba, Fr., 23 GP, 12-8-2, 2.05, 932

An Inside Look
Last season, the Bears struggled down the stretch — losing four of their last five games — before being bounced in their first playoff series. This year, Brown heads into the opening round with three straight losses and just one win in its last six contests.

Will the postseason result be any different?

Head coach Roger Grillo obviously thinks so. He and his team are confident going into this weekend’s series against Rensselaer, but the Engineers will certainly have something to say about that.

“RPI is a solid team,” said Grillo on Wednesday. “Their goalies played well against us. It’s going to be a battle. We need to make sure that we play solid hockey. We need to be willing to battle and compete.”

Apparently, this is where the Bears got tripped up last month.

“We got away from our game a bit,” Grillo explained. “We became a little complacent and expected things to happen. And it bit us.

“It’s probably a million different things. It’s hard to put a finger on one thing. If it was that easy, we would have fixed it.

“The mental grind [of the season] got to some guys.”

That’s not an unusual occurrence when one is coaching a young team, as Grillo is doing in Rhode Island’s capital city.

Seven of eight rookies played at least 23 games and the other — Seth Seidman — skated in a baker’s dozen. In addition, three sophomores played 25 or more contests.

These Baby Bears didn’t just skate around the ice for a minute or two each night. They were key ingredients in Brown’s third consecutive winning season, including its fourth straight year of at least 14 victories — a feat it had not accomplished since Richard Toomey’s years behind the bench from 1974-78.

Among the eight Bears that have posted double-digit points thus far, six are underclassmen. Seniors Les Haggett and Mike Meech have had strong seasons — especially Meech, who had only ten points last season.

But the rest of the offense has centered around the future of this Brown club. Sophomore Brian Ihnacak, the 2003-04 ECAC Rookie of the Year, is joined by Sean Dersch and Antonin Roux (6-7-13) in the top eight. Among freshmen, Jeff Prough and defenseman Sean Hurley (2-15-17) are tied with 17 points. Rookie Brian McNary ranks just behind them with 16, including six goals.

“We lost eight guys from a pretty good team last year,” said Grillo. “A lot of guys have stepped up.”

That includes rookie netminder Adam D’Alba, who was eased into his first year in the college ranks by his coach. Eventually, Grillo let his freshman loose on college hockey and the results were immediate. D’Alba won his first game against then-No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth and went 6-0-1 before losing to Cornell.

“We had some real high points this year,” said Grillo, “stretches where we played some great hockey. In a lot of areas, we played up to where we knew we could.

“But we’ve had some low points.”

They’ll look to break out of what has become a season book-ended by losing streaks at home on Friday.

“It’s exciting for a lot of guys to be home,” said Grillo about the advantage that his team will look to capitalize on. “For over half the team, it will be the first playoff experience, so to have it at home is exciting. You get to sleep in your own bed, all of that. It’s huge for us.”

Enter the Engineers.

RPI won its last game of the regular season in overtime over Yale, but it had lost four of five before that — including three shutouts — en route to its second season of 20 or more losses in the last three years. Clearly, something will have to budge this weekend.

“We’ve had some peaks and valleys,” explained head coach Dan Fridgen this Tuesday. “We’ve had some disappointing losses and good team wins, like the North Country trip (a sweep).

“Overall, it’s been somewhat disappointing. Losing nine one-goal games comes down to doing little things. It could be a won faceoff or a blocked shot.”

Rensselaer has also had issues between the pipes. Fridgen has settled on senior Andrew Martin — who transferred from Fairfield in the summer of 2002-03 — and he has not been disappointed. But before that, it was a trouble spot for RPI.

“Coming into the season,” admitted Fridgen, “goaltending was the big question. That’s no secret.

“Every goaltender has an adjustment period. [Rookie] Jordan Alford had a tough time. It was not until the North Country trip that we formally settled on Andrew. He’s had only one bad game since then. He’s played well.

“If you don’t have that, it is a tough road.”

As their coach is quick to point out, though, there have been other individuals that have risen to the occasion this season for the Engineers, including a couple of names that everyone may not be familiar with … yet.

“Kirk MacDonald stepped up this year,” Fridgen said. “We went through a drought and early on was playing injured, which is difficult for players to do.”

The bench boss then turned his spotlight to a couple of underclassmen.

“Jake Luthi really came into his own,” said Fridgen about his sophomore defenseman’s regular season performance. “He stepped up and provided some timely offense for us (five goals, 11 points). And he’s played good defense.

“Jonathan Ornelas, as a freshman, has really developed his game and made the adjustment to this level.”

More than anything else, Ornelas’ coach is pleased that the rookie has learned how to use his greatest asset — his blazing speed.

“He’s learned to use his energy at different times,” said Fridgen, “as opposed to going all out all the time.”

The diverse elements each team brings to the table should make for an interesting series and one of the toughest to predict.

“It will be tight defensive games like the others this season,” Fridgen opined. “They’ve been getting solid goaltending and have talented forwards with good defensemen.

“They are similar in many ways to us.”

Even though it will be senior vs. freshman in goal, both netminders will be experiencing their first ECACHL playoff starts. In addition, while the Engineers have yet to lose to the Bears this season, the games have been amazingly close and could have easily gone the other way — it took a third period comeback and a goal with 8.3 seconds left for RPI to pull out its win.

But don’t expect the Engineers to get any bonus points this weekend because of that victory.

“Rather than build off anything in the regular season,” Fridgen said, “this is a whole new time for us. Certain guys have played well. We need them to continue to play well. For certain guys that haven’t, this is the time for them to step up.”

Prediction: RPI in three games.

No. 10 Princeton (8-18-3, 6-14-2) at No. 7 St. Lawrence (15-17-2, 9-12-1)

This Season
SLU won the season series 1-0-1, winning 6-4 in Princeton (1/8/05) and tying 4-4 at home (2/4/05).

Recent Playoff History
1992 Quarterfinals at SLU: Saints win 6-3
1988 Quarterfinals at SLU: Saints win 5-1, 10-1

Top Five Scorers
Dustin Sproat, Jr., F, 29 GP, 16-17-33, 4 PPG
Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, So., F, 28 GP, 6-24-30
Luc Paquin, Sr., D, 29 GP, 6-18-24
Patrick Neundorfer, Jr., F, 29 GP, 9-13-22, 8 PPG
Neil Stevenson-Moore, Sr., F, 29 GP, 5-10-15

T.J. Trevelyan, Jr., W, 34 GP, 24-18-42, 8 PPG
John Zeiler, Jr., F, 34 GP, 8-19-27, 4 PPG
Stace Page, Sr., W, 34 GP, 11-14-25, 4 PPG
Max Taylor, So., F, 33 GP, 9-13-22
Mike Madill, Jr., D, 34 GP, 6-15-21

Between the Pipes
Eric Leroux, Jr., 20 GP, 6-11-3, 3.12, .906
B.J. Sklapsky, So., 10 GP, 2-5-0, 3.80, .875

Mike McKenna, Sr., 31 GP, 13-15-2, 2.85, 907

An Inside Look
If you’re a fan of wide-open hockey, good offenses and exciting play, then you should head up to Canton, N.Y. for this series. Both SLU and Princeton have good offensive weapons and aren’t afraid to use them.

“I can guarantee that it will be great hockey to watch,” said Tigers’ head coach Guy Gadowsky this week. “I love the way they play. It’s an exciting brand of hockey. Both games against them have been great games, up and down and great to watch.”

Tigers junior Dustin Sproat (15-12-27) finished the regular season tied with Lee Stempniak for the top point total in league play. Defenseman Luc Paquin (6-17-23) racked up the highest point total in conference action among defensemen. Sproat and the Saints’ T.J. Trevelyan finished second to Cornell’s Matt Moulson in goals, with the St. Lawrence junior also landing in a third place tie with 25 points. Their numbers were obviously even more impressive overall.

While it isn’t odd to be talking about St. Lawrence in terms of a good offense, it has been a while since we’ve been able to include Princeton on that list.

“We had an excellent season,” said Gadowsky. “Obviously, we didn’t know what to expect, but there wasn’t very high expectations of us. Statistically, we accomplished what we wanted. We scored more goals and we finished tenth not twelfth. No one thought we’d be anything but twelfth.

“We had some big wins and worked hard … the power play getting off to a fast start was important.

“The players enjoy coming to the rink. It’s fun.”

On the other side of this weekend’s ice is a team that head coach Joe Marsh is quite pleased with.

“I think, in a lot of ways, it was a better year than our record would indicate,” he said Thursday. “The effort was great. The kids were good with staying on the agenda. There was very little down time.

“You always want to try to make improvements and this team has made some big ones. We’ve had a more consistent offense, especially given that we lost Rich Peverley (17-25-42 in 2003-04). He was a huge loss.

“Some other improvements were fairly subtle. There’s nothing that jumps right out at you. It’s a low maintenance team and probably the best team I’ve ever had, academically. It allowed us to focus on hockey.”

Both the Saints and the Tigers have had their ups and downs throughout the season and similarly stumbled through a tough stretch drive.

Princeton has won just four times in 2005 and bottomed out with a 0-5-1 stretch that included losses to three nationally-ranked teams: Cornell, Colgate and Harvard. The good news for the Tigers, though, is that they wrapped up their regular season with a 2-1-1 mark, including a win and tie on the road last weekend.

“I think they are going to be a very tough team,” said Marsh. “They are a dangerous team offensively. They play pretty loose and play hard. It’s a team that’s having some fun.”

“We played better hockey down the stretch than early in the year,” said Gadowsky. “Sebastian Borza, Darroll Powe, Keith Shattenkirk, Landis Stankievech and Neil Stevenson-Moore all had big games down the stretch.

“They’ve improved throughout the year and give us the depth we didn’t have at the beginning of the year. I give them a lot of credit for their perseverance and hard work. They are now offensive threats. That’s the biggest difference with our hockey club.”

For Gadowsky, there’s another element that is important to his team’s success.

“At times, [goaltender] Eric Leroux was incredible,” the coach explained. “In college hockey, you’re not going anywhere without good goaltending.

“Eric was tremendous down the stretch.”

In the North Country, Marsh points to three players, in particular, that have made significant impacts thus far.

“Trevelyan has had a tremendous year,” said the coach. “He’s one of the best forwards in the East. He’s a natural scorer … a sniper. John Zeiler, his linemate, is a good, tough, hard-working competitor. He’s developed into a really solid power forward.”

Marsh then turned his attention to a blueliner that receives very little fanfare.

“The biggest improvement has been with Mike Madill. He’s one of the best defensive defensemen we’ve ever had. He’s very intelligent, durable and logs a ton of ice time. He’s also great in the locker room. It’s not a stretch to think that he will wear a ‘C’ next year.”

Pretty high praise, indeed. But Marsh wasn’t done.

“Mike McKenna has had a solid year,” he remarked. “Stace Page has had a solid year too. And Josh Anderson has been great of late and has been a great captain.”

All of this brings us to what will be an entertaining weekend of hockey. When the clubs last met, the Tigers scored late in the third period — the teams combined for six tallies in the final 20 minutes — to earn a tie.

“It was an up and down, entertaining game,” Marsh remarked. “There was not much of a trap. It was a shootout.”

Will Princeton’s comeback in Appleton Arena matter come Friday?

“Every hockey game is a new game,” Gadowsky said. “It may or may not matter.”

The other interesting aspect of the series worth watching is whether the wide open play will continue now that the postseason is upon us and the stakes are much higher.

“The playoffs add a different sense of urgency,” explained Marsh. “It might be a little tighter. I’d like to see us pay better attention to the defensive details. You have to be really conscious of playing defense.”

Gadowsky, however, thinks a little differently.

“Both staffs believe that [this] is winning hockey. We’ll do it to get the chance to win against anybody.”

Sounds good to the rest of us. Lace ’em up.

Prediction: St. Lawrence in three games.

No. 9 Clarkson (11-20-3, 7-13-2) at No. 8 Union (12-20-2, 8-13-1)

This Season
Spilt season series with each team winning at home, Union 4-1 (11/6/04) and Clarkson 2-0 (1/21/05).

Recent Playoff History
2004 First Round at Union: Golden Knights win 8-3, 5-2

Top Five Scorers
Jay Latulippe, Sr., W, 34 GP, 14-20-34, 9 PPG
Chris Blight, Sr., W, 32 GP, 6-18-24
Steve Zalewski, Fr., C, 34 GP, 12-7-19, 4 PPG
Mac Faulkner, Sr., W, 34 GP, 11-8-19, 5 PPG
Mike Sullivan, So., C, 32 GP, 8-9-17, 4 PPG

Jordan Webb, Sr., F, 33 GP, 16-11-27, 8 PPG
Jonathan Poirier, Jr., F, 31 GP, 11-14-25, 8 PPG
Scott Seney, Jr., F, 33 GP, 9-16-25, 3 GWG
Olivier Bouchard, So., F, 34 GP, 9-13-22
Joel Beal, Sr., F, 32 GP, 4-14-18

Between the Pipes
Dustin Traylen, Jr., 25 GP, 7-13-2, 2.97, .903
Kyle McNulty, So., 9 GP, 2-6-1, 3.01, .895

Kris Mayotte, Jr., 21 GP, 8-10-1, 3.34, .891
Justin Mrazek, 16 GP, 4-10-1, 2.32, .905

An Inside Look
A rematch of last season’s first round match-up, this is probably the most intriguing series this weekend. The Golden Knights return to the postseason in the same No. 9 seed that they used to catapult themselves to the 2004 ECAC championship game. Their postseason run a year ago began with convincing wins in Schenectady, but that’s where the similarities end.

“This [weekend] has nothing to do with last year,” admitted Clarkson head coach George Roll on Tuesday. “Last year, I think we played much better as a team, especially in the second half.”

Amazingly, the Knights are still searching for their 2004-05 identity. At one moment they play like world-beaters (as in their win over Ohio State) and the next they fail to show up (see their 5-1 and 5-0 losses to Dartmouth and Harvard, respectively).

“Obviously,” explained Roll, “as a staff and a program, we are very disappointed with the regular season. For us, we felt our expectations were much higher than the result. To have 20 losses … it should be the motivation to improve.

“The only way to look at it is to wipe away the season we had. We [now] have the opportunity to turn it around.”

The Dutchmen, meanwhile, have not forgotten what took place last March.

“Last year,” said Union head coach Nate Leaman this week, “Clarkson took their play to another level and we couldn’t match that. They got hot at the right time.

“This year is a different year. We hope to use last year as a learning experience. I hope we don’t forget it.”

The Dutchmen have had a Jekyll & Hyde campaign as well. After a season-opening four-game losing streak, Union went 7-1-1, including 6-0-0 to start the ECACHL slate. The club was scoring in bunches and was rolling through its schedule.

But just as quickly as its confidence soared, it came crashing down. The Dutchmen won three games between December 10 and January 8, then lost seven in a row. They won just four games in all of 2005.

The offense disappeared and the entire club began pressing.

“The team was up and down,” said Leaman. “The last slump was because we were struggling to score. If we can find a way to generate goals in the playoffs, we’ll be ok.”

Union wrapped up its regular season with a 2-3-1 mark, including a 1-0-1 final weekend. Is it a sign of things to come?

“We had a lot of adversity against Yale,” explained Leaman about a game his team won 3-2. “That’s why it was good to get the win. When facing adversity you need to recover.

“It was important for us to hold Yale and Princeton to 18 and 16 shots (respectively). Going into the final weekend, we wanted to shore up our defense and find a way to score.

“And for the second year in a row we went into the final weekend having to have success to earn home ice and we did it.”

The Knights, on the other hand, struggled down the stretch going winless in their last five games (0-4-1) and getting outscored 21-6.

“We need to be much better defensively,” said Roll. “At times we can play with the best teams in the country. At times we’re awful. We need more of a commitment to team defense and discipline in the system and in the penalties we take. There are a lot of things we need to do. It’s been the same thing all year.”

Clarkson, like other struggling clubs that skate this weekend, has the chance to start over in the “second season.” To do that it will look to leading scorer Jay Latulippe to continue his point-per-game performance and for rookies like Nick Dodge (6-8-14) and Steve Zalewski to remain the impact players they’ve been all season.

But to make any real noise, the Knights will need solid goaltending from junior netminder Dustin Traylen and the re-emergence of seniors Mac Faulkner and Chris Blight. A year ago, the duo combined for 36 goals and 82 points. This season they have 17 goals and 43 points. That’s a mighty drop-off in production.

“The biggest thing for us is to match their intensity level,” Roll said. “We need to play 60 minutes. They’ll want to extract revenge for last year. I’m sure they’re not happy to just get home ice.

He’s right.

“We need to bring our play to the next level in the playoffs,” explained Leaman. “Our seniors want to leave their imprint. I’ve said since the start that we’re as good as our seniors.”

The biggest key for Union will be to put up better numbers than they have in months. For that task, its coach will turn to his offensive leaders, including senior Jordan Webb and juniors Jonathan Poirier and Scott Seney. Sophomore Olivier Bouchard and senior Joel Beal will also need to contribute.

“We’ve mixed up our lines quite a bit,” said Leaman. “If guys aren’t working hard enough or not scoring, changes need to be made. You can’t sit dormant. I like our lines now and this week we’ve made some adjustments to our power play and offensive zone play.

“It all comes down to burying chances.”

The Dutchmen’s play in goal will also be important.

Rookie Justin Mrazek started both games this season against the Knights and was impressive both times, making a combined 48 saves and allowing just two goals. But will Leaman turn to a rookie in the postseason or will he go with the guys he’s alternated Mrazek with — junior Kris Mayotte?

“I haven’t made the decision yet,” said Leaman. “I’ll evaluate them this week in practice.”

Prediction: Clarkson in three games.