This Week in the ECACHL: Jan. 18, 2007

Hey, if you’re getting tired of this, just let me know, because I still find it fascinating

The Hosts and Visitors played to a draw last weekend, 4-4-2. St. Lawrence (2-0) and Quinnipiac (1-0) were perfect on home ice, and Clarkson managed two 1-1 ties. Yale, Union, RPI and Quinnipiac each won their only road games of the weekend.

Lest you forget why I’m keeping this up, I might remind you that the home teams have only come out ahead in two of the seven columns I’ve written since the commencement of league play. In the ECACHL — where special teams and home games are the most crucial elements of all — half the equation seems to have flown completely out the window.

Overall standings: 32-25-8 Visitors, with nine more games this week.

Raiders preparing for battle

In an unpredictably up-and-down season for the Colgate Raiders, the thing they may have working most in their favor right now is their schedule.

Head coach Don Vaughan’s boys have played 24 games already, two more than any other team in the league. Yet only 10 of those games have counted for league points, putting the Raiders in the middle of the pack for league games played.

The team picked by most to finish atop the ECACHL in preseason polls has stumbled a bit so far, at 9-12-3 overall and 3-5-2 in league. However, things may finally be falling into place for Colgate.

Coaches always say that defense wins championships, and before the lopsided 5-0 loss at St. Lawrence last Saturday, the team had played a dozen straight games without allowing more than three goals against. While the Raiders only managed a 6-5-1 record over that stretch, it was the offense that was struggling, scoring two goals or fewer in six of those games … and only one goal five times.

Vaughan is beginning to see things going right though.

“We’ve responded to some of the challenges before us,” he said, especially referring to their winter-break tournament title. “We’re starting to do the little things … being patient, not pressing.”

Vaughan said that he and his staff had tweaked the forecheck and power play a bit. Specifically, where the Raiders had been playing a two-one-two forecheck, now they have backed off, and have been playing more patiently. The power play was tottering along at a 13.3 percent success rate but was also the only unit in the league not to have allowed a shorthanded goal. The penalty kill, on the other hand, was respectably negating 84 percent of opposition power plays.

“We’ve got to get back to shooting the puck,” Vaughan intoned, but also noted that key injuries to Mark Anderson, Peter Bogdanich, Mike Campaner and Ethan Cox of late have only been the half of it.

“We have a couple other injuries, that guys are trying to play through,” he said.

Reigning ECACHL Goaltender of the Year Mark Dekanich has been at the forefront of the team’s newfound defensive success. Despite losing the three-goals-or-fewer streak on Saturday, it’s worth pointing out that three of the Saints’ five goals were on the power play (which was three for six overall), including a five-on-three.

Big Green in the pink of health

Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said that “the biggest thing we face is that we haven’t played a lot of hockey.” His Big Green have only played 17 games overall, tied for fewest in the conference, while a dozen of those games have been of the league variety.

The opposite of Colgate’s situation, the Green have played a fair number of important point games, with few experience (and PairWise)-boosting nonconference matches.

“We’re really just starting to find out about our team,” Gaudet said.

Fortunately, the Hanover hitmen can finally begin finding out about themselves as a full unit.

“Our team health is much better [than in the fall],” the coach said with conspicuous relief.

While frosh forward Peter Boldt is still out for another month or so, team leader Grant Lewis is back on the blueline and Dartmouth’s relatively short roster can finally begin to function the way it was designed to.

Gaudet expressed concern over his team’s inability to bury “the big goal”, and stated that the power play had been off its game (13 for 94, 13.8 percent). With the extended winter break Dartmouth had this season — only one game between November 21 and December 29 — Gaudet also expressed concern for the team’s psyche.

“When you’re playing good, you can oftentimes carry it over [the break into the next game],” he said, “but when you’re not, sometimes you have too much time to think about it.”

Small sample size, but perhaps indicative of things to come: Dartmouth scored on two of seven power-play opportunities against Holy Cross on Tuesday, and scored three goals in the final six minutes of the 4-0 victory.

Big goals? Check. Finishing? Check. Power-play? Check. Team defense? Check.

Holy Cross may have outshot its hosts, but Mike Devine notched his second shutout of the season, and fourth of his career in the win.

Cornell’s identity crisis

Cornell’s program is in the unique position of being young, inexperienced, and fighting for a first-round bye in the league playoffs.

But this pack of Big Red hopes to outlast the competition with some hot young stars and a positively adherent sense of chemistry and attitude.

“We’re up and down, it’s been frustrating,” said 12th-year head coach Mike Schafer. “We’ve played well and we’ve played poorly. Our special teams were great against Clarkson (six for six on the penalty kill, and scored a power-play goal) but couldn’t keep anything out of the net [the previous night] against St. Lawrence (allowing two PPGs, 0-11 on the power-play).”

Schafer said that the key to consistency for this team is to develop solid special-teams units.

The Big Red rank second to last in the league in both penalty-kill and power-play efficiency (11.8 and 79.7 percent, respectively), and Schafer has had his charges spend a lot of time in the video room during their extended winter break.

“The penalty-kill has come a long way in just the last two weeks,” he said.

One area of the game that the coach was not terribly concerned with was the defense.

“It’s not bad, just look at the opposition we’ve played against. Clarkson and St. Lawrence, I think we held UNH to under 20 shots (19), and Sacred Heart has some of the best players in the country if you look at the numbers.”

Excluding Sacred Heart, the average ranking of Cornell’s other four opponents in their last five games — Maine, Clarkson, SLU and UNH — is roughly ninth in this week’s poll.

Troy Davenport has played most of the minutes ‘tween the twine for the Red, with a goals-against under 2.5 but a save percentage that is sub-.900 as well.

“Yeah, it concerns me,” said Schafer. “It’s no secret that we’ve pulled the goalie three or four times this year, but it’s reflective of the team, how we’ve played. Sometimes Troy plays, sometimes not. We’ve given Ben (Scrivens) a chance with some minutes, and he’s played well.”

Overall, this season poses “a unique challenge,” said Schafer. “We have a lot of young guys in positions with an awful lot of responsibilities.”

With five of the next six games at home, the coach is looking forward to playing for points in a comfortable and supportive environment.

“It’s great to be at home with a younger team, for the familiarity,” he said, “even though that means we have a lot of road games later on.”

Watch for Mitch Carefoot. The senior winger scored both of Cornell’s goals last weekend, “which I guess makes him our hottest player,” laughed Schafer. Carefoot has four goals in his last six games.