This Week in the ECACHL: Jan. 25, 2007

Are you kidding me? Only five weeks of regular-season games left already?

And yeah, it’s a segue into the predictable fact that through 11 weeks of full or partial ECACHL competition and eight columns masterfully penned by yours truly, the home side has only come out ahead twice.

This week, however … is no different. Sorry to tease. 2-4-3 for the home team; they didn’t win, it’s a shame. Visitors just keep reeling in the wins; I really wish I could find a statistical breakdown of the league as a whole in home and away games. There’s gotta be something to this.

On the big board: 36-27-11 for the Visitors, with 11 games on the docket between Thursday night and Tuesday night. It’s like a five-day hockey weekend!

And while we’re at it…

…let’s take a look at the matchups this weekend. The schedule is intriguing most weeks, but this weekend should be especially fun.

Travel partners Union and Rensselaer currently reside at the bottom of the ladder, with eight points each. The pair hits the road for Yale and Brown, in eighth and ninth place, respectively.

Meanwhile, Harvard — tied with Brown for ninth with 10 points — and sixth-place Dartmouth are northbound for the weekend. They have the ever-daunting task of matching St. Lawrence and Clarkson, who are in second and third place respectively.

Fourth-place Cornell and seventh-place Colgate square off in a Thursday-Saturday home-and-home, while the Crimson play a third game at league-leading Quinnipiac on Tuesday.

Ten of the 12 members of the ECACHL have played a dozen games even, with only QU and Princeton having played 14. (The Tigers play Robert Morris on Monday in their only game of the weekend.)

The way this weekend is arranged, the members of the quartet playing between Providence and New Haven have a great opportunity to thrust themselves back into the mix. Yale could conceivably jump to fourth place with two home wins; Brown is within four points of fifth. Union and RPI, with road sweeps, could find themselves tied for seventh, a four-spot jump.

Only the Saints and Knights are in line to knock the Bobcats from the league’s top spot this weekend, but if SLU takes care of business it is assured of at least a first-place tie going into February.

Harvard kicking it into gear

Hoo boy, the last time we got a close look at Harvard was back in … mid-November? To be fair, winter break and the exam period kept the Crimson off-ice while the rest of the league was carving itself up.

Disjointed though it might be, Harvard has aligned three Ws in a row, and four of five dating back to the mid-December triumph over Dartmouth. The team has tested and molded a legitimate starting goaltender in freshman Kyle Richter, and only three of the 22 Cambridge skaters who have seen game ice this season have yet to register a point.

“The overall atmosphere is very positive,” said head coach Ted Donato. “We’re four points out of fourth place.”

His team may have the toughest haul in the league this weekend in the North Country trip, as Dartmouth, at least, has two points on the slow-starting Crimson.

“It’s an incredibly difficult weekend, all on the road,” said the coach, including the fact that his side will play three games in five nights. The trio is only the first half of a six-game, 11-day period ending with the Beanpot’s opening round.

In fact, Harvard will endure a grueling, yet annual, stretch of 10 games in 23 days between Friday night and February 17 at Brown. By the end of the regular season, the team will have played a dozen games in 30 days while much of the rest of the league will only have had to play 10.

Understatedly, Donato said, “It’s a great challenge for us.”

In his third season at the helm, Donato recognizes the new challenges he and his team have to — and have had to — overcome.

A young team without a proven starting goaltender started the season heading down before it could pick itself back up.

“This season has been much more challenging [than the past two],” he began, “but I think most of the bumps and bruises are behind us. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a coach.

The first two years, there was lots of success. We spent a lot of time looking at the national polls, trying to position ourselves in the national picture. [But] you learn much more through adversity than success.”

Richter and senior Justin Tobe have split time this season, but it was Richter who relieved a shaky Tobe at Dartmouth to hold down the 3-2 win, and Richter has backstopped each of the squad’s three wins since.

The 20-year-old Calgary native has a 2.72 goals-against average and a shutout to match his .912 save percentage.

Donato also praised third-year forward Mike Taylor.

“Taylor’s been outstanding the last six weeks. His line [with Ryan Maki and Doug Rogers] has really been getting it done.”

On defense, “Dylan Reese has been superb; [Alex] Biega has really been excellent,” Donato lauded the senior-freshman duo.

Bottom’s up for RPI

As coach Seth Appert sees it, the Engineers have hit the floor, and are already back into a climb.

“We’ve made good strides the last few weeks,” he said. “We hit bottom that Harvard/Dartmouth weekend [January 5-6], but we’ve made good strides since about halfway through the Dartmouth game.”

Appert cited a serial killer as the source of the team’s frustrations: consistency.

“We lacked consistency in our mental and physical efforts,” he said. “The combination has been elusive at times.”

But the first-year boss reassured that the killer wouldn’t inflict more than a wound on his team.

“There is frustration, of course. The players want to win, the coaches want to win. But it’s how you deal with that frustration … the players chose not to break up or splinter, but stay together.” Morale, he said, is solid.

With four road games in a row up ahead, the travel time may be just what the ‘Tute needs. Yale and Brown this weekend will serve as hearty appetizers, while the Engineers might hope to seek a measure of redemption — at least from within themselves — with the Harvard-Dartmouth trip next weekend.

“Sometimes it’s good to get on the road,” Appert said, “away from the distractions. It will be some good time to spend together [as a team].”

Rensselaer is still running with Mathias Lange and Jordan Alfond alternating between the pipes. Neither is putting up All-American numbers, but Appert is content with their efforts.

“Our young defense [three freshmen, one sophomore] is sometimes leaving them in tough situations. For the most part, [the goalies] have been pretty consistent.”

Senior defenseman Jake Luthi’s three goals and 19 assists leads the team in points, while four different players’ seven goals lead the team in that category.

“Our depth is a strength,” said Appert. “We don’t have, right now, that many guys that we know night to night will put points on the board. We have to score by committee, win by committee.”

And with any luck, rise by committee.

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