This Week in the ECACHL: Nov. 30, 2006

For anyone who’s read any of my past columns, you know what’s leading off.

That’s right, it’s time for my weekly rant about the crazy road wins in the ECACHL this year.

Only four teams in action this weekend, but once again, home-ice advantage proved meaningless in a 1-1-2 weekend where Princeton and Quinnipiac visited Harvard and Dartmouth.

Dartmouth escaped without losing — two draws, to be exact — as did Princeton, taking three points. Harvard went 1-1, while Quinnipiac salvaged a point at Hanover for the 0-1-1 weekend.

To update: visitors leading, 18-11-4. No change from last week, as Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer still hold the only winning home records … all are undefeated on familiar ice.

Re-adjusting the standings

The winter break will come before the true midpoint of the season, as usual. Four teams will have ten league games under their belts by Christmas, while Rensselaer and Union will have only played six.

However, RPI and Union only played a pair of ECACHL games prior to this weekend, and will load up with four more league games before Christmas. St. Lawrence, Yale, Clarkson and Brown will play three more apiece, while Dartmouth and Harvard each only have a single league game — against one another — remaining before 2007.

Thus, it’s going to be a high-intensity couple of weeks for the teams looking to play catch-up, and some much-needed recuperation time for the likes of the Big Red and the Bobcats, who only have two games before the hiatus.

In Providence, Brownies eat you!

Don’t look now, but Roger Grillo’s Brown Bears were victorious in four of their last five games after an 0-2-2 start. They haven’t lost back-to-back games all season, and have played tough in defensive skirmishes and shootouts alike.

The team is 3-1-1 when scoring three or more goals, and still 2-2-0 when scoring fewer than three.

Freshman netminder Dan Rosen played his first five games in the Bears’ last six, starting four of them. He immediately impressed, earning a 3-1-0 record after relieving Mark Sibbald in the November 10th loss to Wayne State. His goals-against average couldn’t get much better at 1.31, and his save percentage is out of this world at .962 on 156 shots against (six goals).

Lest there be any doubt at all, Grillo declared Rosen the number-one goalie until there was a reason to change.

Grillo was also pleased with the performances of sophomore defenseman Matt Palmer and frosh d’man Jeremy Russell.

“Palmer is a steady, solid defensive defenseman,” said the coach. The 5-foot-11 Anchorage product is pointless on the season, but has also stayed clear of the box in eight games so far.

Russell’s three assists in nine games don’t tell the whole story, according to his coach. “Russell has really played tremendously,” said Grillo. The first-year blueliner has also kept his nose clean, only serving six minutes in penalties

Cornell catching on

The Big Red kicked off the season in typical fashion, spinning off five straight wins, including their first three league contests.

Then, a Big Green roadblock in the second weekend of November put an end to the Ws, and sent Cornell into a bit of a slide. The Red are 2-3-0 in their last five, including rare home losses to the Green and Wayne State.

“We’ve been playing up-and-down hockey game to game, period to period,” said head coach Mike Schafer. “Obviously, our penalty kill is our biggest area of weakness” in what is traditionally a strength.

The Red are suppressing their opponents on fewer than 79% of their penalties overall, and only a disconcerting three times out of four in league.

“We’re making some mistakes,” said Schafer. “There have been a lot of five-on-threes, there’s some inexperience, there’s some great plays by the other team… and some bad bounces that will even out in the end.”

The boss is convinced that time will heal all wounds, and the penalty kill will settle with further game experience and a few bounces going its way.

Schafer is also optimistic about the upperclassman combination of junior Raymond Sawada and senior Byron Bitz. The pair has a dozen points between them, and “in the last four games, they’ve been absolutely dominant,” said Schafer.

Black & blue-liners

Dartmouth’s defensive corps has been darn near decimated in the early going, and yet the Green have hung tough.

With immense credit to the coaching staff and the healthy players, the Big Green remain in the top half of the league in points and winning percentage despite 14 man-games lost to injury — all on defense. This is thanks to some creative patchwork and willingness to relocate to help the team get by.

“We’ve been really banged up, so I’m pretty happy with how we’ve played, picking up some points,” said head coach Bob Gaudet. “We’ve been scratching and clawing.”

Among the wounded are freshman Peter Boldt and seniors Grant Lewis and Ben Lovejoy. Boldt is out ’til February, give or take, with a broken ankle sustained against Yale on November 17th.

“He’s a prototype defenseman in the way the game’s being played today,” said Gaudet, who considers Boldt a major loss.

Lewis, who’s been out since game one, is a “maybe” for the Harvard game on the 16th, and Lovejoy — who sustained a strain a couple weeks ago, but fought through it — sat against Quinnipiac, but is probable for Harvard.

All told, “the team really pulled together [last weekend], they got after it. We didn’t make any excuses” in the back-to-back 3-3 ties against Princeton and QU.

Junior forward J.T. Wyman actually moved back to play defense versus the Bobcats; Gaudet cited his rare quickness and experience playing the point on the power play as reasons behind the move.

Offense gelling for Appert

While the results have lacked consistency for the Engineers, the play and productivity on offense has been a steep incline as far as coach Seth Appert is concerned.

Despite two losses and a tie in the last three games, the first-year leader at RPI says, “Actually, we’re probably playing better offensively. We’re starting to grasp how we want to play.”

A bright spot has been the play of sophomore Andrei Uryadov.

“He’s playing extremely well. He has as high as skill set as anyone on the team-maybe higher. He’s got great hands … and creativity, and a really great shot.

“I mean, he can really really zip it,” emphasized Appert.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound native of St. Petersburg, Russia, earned a spot on the first line with seniors Oren Eizenman and Kirk MacDonald.

Appert also likes what he sees between some of his players.

“We’re starting to develop combinations, five-on-five and on the power play, that are playing well,” he said.

One such duo is Jake Morissette and Seth Klerer, who have combined for 18 total points on the season. Another is Matt Angers-Goulet and Paul Kerins.

“[They have] really provided some quality offense, even when it doesn’t show up on the scoresheet,” praised Appert.

Union makes a run for it

The Dutch have had a trying start to the season, between Scott Brady, Shaun Williams and Augie DiMarzo departing the program, coinciding with a five-game winless streak.

It may sound strange to hear, but on the heels of a third-straight victory, perhaps this is a team that is stronger for its troubles, rather than wounded from the hardship.

“We had a good weekend, and more importantly a consistent weekend,” said head coach Nate Leaman of his side’s 4-1 win over Army, and 4-3 victory over currently 19th-ranked Massachusetts.

“We’re young, so it’s all a matter of being consistent.”

Leaman was pleased with the production he saw from the T.J. Fox-Matt Cook-Mario Valery-Trabucco line on Friday’s game against the Black Knights. The combo tallied three goals and three assists on the evening, having a hand in each of the Dutchmen’s four goals.

The following evening, it was the line of Jason Walters, Olivier Bouchard and Josh Coyle that did the damage, with two goals and two assists (though Fox continued his torrid pace with two assists on the game as well).

Rich Sillery and Justin Mrazek have held down the fort in back.

“Rich is getting better every day. He held [Union] in the game against Army early on,” said his coach. “[And] Justin rebounded nicely from a rough start against UMass.”

Union gets to put its streak to the test right away, with four straight ECACHL games on the road, and five road games out of six before winter break.

Snapshots

Dartmouth ‘keeper Mike Devine has played every one of the Green’s goalie minutes this year — 613, to be precise — and appears no worse for wear, with a 2.64 GAA and .915 save percentage overall, only incrementally worse than his league figures.

Alec Richards is the only other goaltender in the league to play all of his team’s minutes between the pipes. Richards has the better goals against (2.41/2.50 overall/league), but Devine leads in minutes and save percentage.

And don’t you worry, Green-backers, for Gaudet is confident that junior Devine will be back for another go next season.

There have been murmurs about the whereabouts of Colgate senior defenseman Mike Campaner. Well, the athletic training office reports that the blueliner has been sidelined with a lower back problem, with no timetable for recovery available, as per office policy.

Union’s Mike Wakita is skating, but still isn’t in game shape. The freshman defenseman hasn’t played a game for the Dutchmen yet.

Quinnipiac will be without the services of assistant captain Michael Bordieri and fellow forward Chris Meyers for an indefinite amount of time.

Senior Bordieri got seriously beaten up at Rensselaer earlier this year, suffering a broken rib, punctured lung and ruptured spleen. He’s back on his feet, but nowhere near game-shape yet.

Meyers had surgery on an injured leg about two weeks ago, and hadn’t returned to campus as of last word.

Mailbag!

Question of the week: if you could retire one number from your school’s roster (that obviously hasn’t been retired yet), which would it be, and why?

Fill my mailbox to its limit! Millionth response of the week gets a five-hour shopping spree at the 99-cent store of your choice. [email protected]

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