This Week in ECAC Hockey: Jan. 17, 2008

They say that the keys to winning in ECAC Hockey are to take care of your home games, and to take advantage of your power plays.

So who’s doing both?

Cornell — no surprise there — holds the longest current home unbeaten streak in the league. Granted, it’s only four games, so it doesn’t compare much to Clarkson’s celebrated 19-game stretch that ended at the hands of St. Cloud State earlier this season. The Big Red are a modest 3-1-1 at Lynah so far, but only the Golden Knights (9-1-0) and Union (6-1-3) can match Cornell’s number in the home-loss column.

The Knights hold steady with 16 consecutive league games at Cheel without a loss. Runner-up Union has … four.

On the flip side, can anyone explain Princeton to me? Currently the Tigers are in first place at 8-4-0, yet are only 3-4-0 in league play at Hobey Baker Rink this season. Brown hasn’t been winning anywhere, home or otherwise, and is 1-4-0 in ECAC play at Meehan right now.

The Raiders are only 0-1-1 at home in league, which could spell a second-half resurgence in front of friendly fans. The normally hostile Thompson Arena has been less beneficial to the Big Green this season than usual: Dartmouth is 2-3-1 there in league play. Rensselaer is 1-2-2 in league at Houston Field House; the Saints are 1-3-1 at Appleton against league foes.

On the man-advantage, the sizzling Bobcats are rolling along with a 17.4 percent overall efficiency rate, while Dartmouth, Cornell, Harvard and St. Lawrence are within two percentage points.

However, the struggling Engineers are dead last in the country overall, scoring only seven times in 111 power-play opportunities, for a 6.3 percent success rate. Colgate (10.3) and Yale (10.8) aren’t much better off, generally speaking — both are also in the bottom seven, nationally.

From the Top

So what is it about the Tigers that has shot them to the top of the charts? Even head coach Guy Gadowsky isn’t really certain.

“The ECAC is so tight, that often one big save or one big goal can make a difference [in the standings],” he said.

On the whole, Princeton has been doing the little things necessary to win. Sophomore goaltender Zane Kalemba has won four straight games, and five straight in league. The Tigers are winning on the road. The team is 10th-best nationally in penalty minutes per game (11.7), 15th on the penalty-kill (87 percent), leads the ECAC in scoring and is riding a five-game winning streak as well.

A primary key to the success of this team has been the development of its young defenders, according to Gadowsky. Along with quick learning curves, the defense has also been blessed with a true leader in senior Mike Moore.

“There’s not a defenseman in the league I’d rather have than Mike Moore,” said Gadowsky. “He’s a great leader and a great player.”

Kalemba, despite pedestrian statistics thus far, has won the starting nod from the coaching staff.

“Zane is absolutely at his best in close games,” Gadowsky praised, “and there are lots of those in the ECAC.”

The coach admires Kalemba’s focus and composure under pressure.

“He’s the calmest guy on the team. He doesn’t panic … he takes pride in his mental toughness.”

Hopefully for all involved, Kalemba and his teammates are as focused on their impending exams as they have been on the ice in early 2008.

Underdogs Again

Talk long enough to Joe Marsh, and you’d think the Lynn, Mass., native was pulling for the Rockies in last year’s World Series, and that he’d since adorned his car with a San Diego Chargers pennant.

He didn’t, and he hasn’t, but rooting for the underdog just seems to be as much a part of him as the Scarlet and Brown that pumps through his veins.

“The mentality of being an underdog … people misread it,” said the iconic Saints head coach. “It’s not about an inferiority complex; it’s about being resilient. It’s a sense of responsibility to do what needs to be done, not a sense of entitlement.”

It’s a message that he’s been preaching to his SLU charges for years, whether they be ECAC doormats or, say, defending regular-season champions.

“We’ve gotta play like underdogs,” he pronounced in his jovial, rough-edged Boston accent.

After an uninspired start, his boys might finally be coming around to the idea.

“We’re starting to get a few breaks, the power play’s coming around a bit,” Marsh said. “We’re getting better sustained effort.”

The Saints have won three in a row, including the upset of now-No. 5 New Hampshire on the road two weekends ago. Following a stretch of five games in seven in which SLU potted precisely two goals apiece, the Saints offense has exploded with 25 goals in its last five contests.

Likewise, the defense and goaltending are coming around as well. Sophomore Alex Petizian seized the reins on a four-horse merry-go-round, and has started a couple of gems since the holiday break.

“Petizian has been playing awfully well,” agreed the coach. “[At Harvard] was his best game,” Marsh said, referring to a one-goal, 39-save victory last Friday.

Petizian might get pushed a bit harder once more with the eventual return of senior Justin Pesony.

“[Pesony’s] been hurt, he’s married, he had his first kid, he’s been back and forth to Edmonton this year … and he’s still holding a 4.0 [double-majoring] in psychology and economics,” Marsh said, aghast. “He’s also the best-conditioned athlete I’ve ever had in my life.”

Marsh also praised the team as a whole, not only for its work ethic on the ice, but also in the classroom.

“This is the sixth semester in a row of having over a 3.0 team-average GPA,” Marsh stated proudly. “I have more seasons coaching behind me than ahead of me … and these guys are making it easy.”

Growing Green

Dartmouth has an admittedly young and inexperienced team this season. This isn’t breaking news to anyone.

The news, to those who may have missed last weekend, is that these Green have some bite.

Bobby (Gaudet)’s Boys made a headlong charge at the league’s premier team in Clarkson Friday night, and came out of the fight with two points and a lot of confidence.

The team suffered a hangover loss to St. Lawrence on Sunday, but rebounded nicely with a non-conference victory at Boston University on Tuesday evening.

“We’ve had inconsistent team defense,” said Gaudet. “It’s an evolution. I have to fit the system of play to the kids we have,” he said. “You can’t just go out and find guys who will fit perfectly in your system.”

To boast briefly, before the game at BU, I encouraged some Terrier friends of mine to pay attention to Dartmouth forward J.T. Wyman. Thank you, Mr. Wyman, for making me look a little bit sharper than I probably am.

Wyman scored his 11th goal of the season on a nifty breakaway move with 1:38 remaining to ice the Terriers.

“That was kind of a vintage J.T. goal,” said Gaudet, who appreciates the creativity that Wyman and his other forwards often display. “Creativity in the offensive zone, attacking over the blueline … it’s something where we give our guys absolute freedom,” he said.

Over the past seven games, the Green have averaged exactly three goals per match: five tilts with three goals scored, plus four goals against Northern Michigan and two at Princeton.

“You can make do with three goals a game,” Gaudet laughed, when asked how he’d feel should that trend continue. “Used to be, the first team to four wins the game,” he said. “It’s really hard to score nowadays. We’ve got a younger group, and we’re not quite as honed, experience-wise … but it seems like more guys are chipping in now.”

Gaudet continued explaining how — spotted three goals — he would happily encourage stronger defensive play.

“We forecheck very aggressively, but that is defense. We don’t have the puck. We don’t play back in a neutral-zone trap,” he said.

Fortunately, when things go bad, senior workhorse Mike Devine is between the pipes to make things right. The ‘keeper might have a higher GAA than in years past (2.80), but his save percentage is right on target with his previous campaigns (.915).

For better or worse, Dartmouth might not get the drop on New Hampshire that St. Lawrence did. The Big Green square off against the Wildcats annually, and UNH is probably preparing for this Saturday’s contest with a bit more focus than it did for its previous ECAC guests.

Blue Bruno

Brown, it can safely be said, is in a slump.

The Bears have dropped 10 of 12, and haven’t won since November 9. What’s the big problem down in Providence?

“It’s a combination of things. There are a lot of aspects of our game that aren’t solid,” said coach Roger Grillo. “We’re inconsistent. Our confidence is rattled. [There’s no single thing] that we’re doing extremely well, and there’s no single thing we’re doing extremely poorly. We’re playing well enough to stay in games, but not to win them.”

The solution, he says, is hard work. “We’re a little banged up right now. We’ve gotta get healthy, and we’ve gotta work hard.”

One of the bright spots so far this season is the play of third-year goalie Mark Sibbald. While sophomore Dan Rosen has struggled after a fantastic freshman season, Sibbald has made productive use of his increasing time, posting a .921 save percentage in five full games.

One reason that Bruno has been struggling has been the injuries of key players such as forwards Matt Vokes and Jordan Pietrus, and rearguard Mike Stuart. Grillo hopes to have all three back for this weekend’s non-conference game against Merrimack, but “if not this weekend, definitely by next weekend” for the resumption of ECAC play.

Union Pays the Price

Out of context, you’d think that “paying the price” would be a bad thing. A penalty, a fine, a reciprocation.

But in hockey, paying the price is both a penalty and a reward. Just ask Union.

“We just had some guys growing into some roles [earlier this year],” began head coach Nate Leaman. “We weren’t finishing, our goaltending was [subpar] … but we were still generating chances.”

“There aren’t many games where you’re going into the third period separated by more than one goal either way,” he said of the ECAC.

So what’s the difference between a team that can finish, and one that can’t?

“In this league, there are probably about five or six different places,” Leaman laughed.

However, since the winter break, Leaman has seen a noticeable change on the Dutchmen from a team that could get the puck to the net, to one that could put it in the net.

“We know as a group that we have to play good team defense [first],” he said. “Offense comes out of good team defense. We want to be a tough team to play,” so they play aggressively in their own zone.

At the very back, the goalies are finally coming around.

“Corey [Milan] is a heck of a lot quicker, and explosive. He makes incredible saves in practice, that just leave guys shaking their heads,” Leaman described. “Justin [Mrazek] is a bigger guy; he takes up a lot of the net. He uses his body to stay square to the puck, cuts down the angles.”

Leaman anticipates a continued rotation, at least for the time being.

The Dutch play rival Rensselaer in a travel-partners home-and-home, with the weekend kicking off at the Achilles Center.

“It makes for a very special college weekend every year,” the coach said of the regional rivalry. “Throw the records out the window; it’ll be fast, it’ll be physical.”

The Dutchmen fell to the ‘Tute 3-2 in the Governor’s Cup earlier this season, but haven’t lost the rivalry weekend lately. The programs split last year’s edition, Union took three points in the spring of ’06, and the Dutch swept the deuce in the fall of 2004.

Coaches’ Corner

This week’s question involves controversy, but not in the form of lively debate between the pollsters.

Instant replay. Do you like it, and in what circumstances is it appropriate?

Everyone is for it, and most coaches agreed that it should be used only to review goals scored (or not scored). Furthermore, those asked agreed that it should be a mandatory amenity in every ECAC rink.

The only issues at hand, it seems, are to convince university accountants to spring for the systems and to properly train the officials to use the technology.


• Rensselaer sophomore Erik Burgdoerfer will serve a one-game suspension on Friday night. The defenseman is being penalized for a hit from behind in last weekend’s game against Cornell.

• Clarkson forward Scott Freeman is out for this weekend’s games at Colgate and Cornell. The freshman has scored two goals with eight assists in 19 games.

• Torren Delforte and Chris Potts are questionable for the Dutchmen this rivalry weekend. The forwards have combined for seven goals and four assists, in 18 and 19 games, respectively.