Hope y’all don’t have much real work to get done today, because I wrote another novel.
So you’d better appreciate it, because these guys don’t pay me per word.
Nothing like a little competitive controversy to kick off a column. Here are the leading candidates for the league’s premier annual honors as I see them, and my selections for who should ultimately take home the hardware.
(All statistics are for league games only.)
Bryan Leitch, Quinnipiac — 10 goals and 20 assists make him the league’s leading scorer.
Marc Arcobello, Yale — 11 goals and 13 assists are good for second in the league in scoring, but he’s also a league-best +15.
David McIntyre, Colgate — His 13 goals led the league in that category, and his 24 points tied him with Arcobello for second. Also a +6 on a -13 team.
Zane Kalemba, Princeton — Led the league in goals-against average (1.48) and save percentage (.944); second only to Yale’s Alec Richards in winning percentage (.667).
With all due respect to Leitch, he was on a line with David Marshall (10-12-22) for all but five games this season, and was paired with Marshall and big-timer Brandon Wong (9-12-21 in 26 games) in another five … and that’s not including copious power play time with each of them. He’s putting up massive points to be sure, and I’m not about to minimize that fact. But what it comes down to is that he’s a very good player surrounded by other very good players, so it’s hard to tell where his contributions stop and his linemates’ begin. (His mere +2 doesn’t help his cause, either.)
Kalemba is a worthy candidate, but he too played with some very talented accompaniment. He boasts the best numbers of any goalie in the conference, but he also played behind a disciplined team that ensured that he faced the third-fewest shots per game of any regular starter. (Corey Milan at Union and Charles Long from Colgate were slightly better protected in that regard.)
So, Arcobello or McIntyre?
It’s tempting to go with Mac because he was such a one-man-show for the Raiders for much of the year (Brian Day’s 18 points makes him the only other Raider to register among the league’s top 50), but that’s not really fair to Arcobello, who put on quite an exhibition in his own right. True, Arcs centered a line between Brian O’Neill (10-7-17) and Sean Backman (10-10-20), but to be honest, it’s the +15 that sells me. It’s a rare hockey player that can look out for himself and his goalie in the same shift, and Yale seems to have found one. (O’Neill is only +11, and Backman +6, so don’t try to argue that angle, either.)
I’m a goalie at heart, so it’s a defensively responsible player who will steal my heart before all others.
Brian O’Neill, Yale — Read above: he’s the top goal-scorer among rookies, with 10 in 21 games. He plays both ways too, posting a +11.
Doug Jones, Dartmouth — The leading scorer among frosh, Jones was always a big help on the ice … literally. Only three goals, but 16 helpers.
Patrick Cullen, RPI — More goals than Jones (eight), more assists than O’Neill (nine), all for a team that scored a third-worst 50 times this year.
Jeff Buvinow, Brown — Three goals and 15 points from a Brownie? A freshman, no less? A freshman defenseman!?
Jody O’Neill, Dartmouth — Fifth-best .928 save rate among goalies, but also played only 35 minutes fewer than league-leading Corey Milan of Union. He also led the ECAC in saves — 698 — by a 136-stop margin.
Let’s cut to the chase here. Cullen and Buvinow’s accomplishments are impressive, without a doubt, but if they didn’t play for such low-scoring teams, they probably wouldn’t be in this race. Neither led his respective team in scoring, so let’s set them aside.
Brian O’Neill’s clearly a sniper, and benefited greatly from linemates Backman and Arcobello (see above). He’s in the mix, and his defensive awareness certainly helps. Jones was strong, and we should expect big things from him while in Hanover, but a -1 rating kind of sinks his status. Jones is out.
So it’s between O’Neill and O’Neill — how weird is that?
Blame my netminding bias if you will, but I have to give the nod to Jody. Brian played with some spectacular linemates, and on the third line no less, where he and his buddies could frequently run roughshod over some shallower competition. Jody did a lot of work on his own, however, as evinced by his saves and the fact that only 10 of his teammates who saw regular playing time finished at even or better in +/-. Give that guy a prize … and a vacation.
Zane Kalemba, Princeton — See above, and I need say no more.
Ben Scrivens, Cornell — Second in goals-against (1.74) and save percentage (.939), third in saves (552) and winning percentage (.643).
Alec Richards, Yale — Top winning percentage (.794), third in save rate (.936) and GAA (1.83).
Alex Petizian, St. Lawrence — Fourth in GAA and save percentage … catching a pattern here? That said, he was second in saves (562).
Jody O’Neill, Dartmouth — See above once more.
All of these fellas are candidates for a reason. Kalemba led in the major statistical categories, but played behind the defending champs as well. Scrivens was a workhorse, and led the league in the primary stats for much of the year. Richards backstopped ECAC Hockey’s top regular-season team, Petizian helped SLU surge into a first-round bye, and O’Neill … well, he just worked his butt off in his first year at college.
Tossing: Petizian, O’Neill and Scrivens. They either weren’t consistent enough to be considered the best, or weren’t the best enough to be considered consistent.
So it comes down to priorities. Is the better goalie the one who wins more, or who has the better stats?
If Richards had done significantly more work than Kalemba, I think I might’ve tabbed him as my Dryden winner. But the fact of the matter is that Yale’s goalie only played in 17 of the Bulldogs’ 22 league games, and Kalemba wasn’t exactly piling up the Ls. People were hesitant to buy into the Tigers’ ‘tender last season, but he’s proven that he’s anything but lucky with his performance this year.
My Dryden winner for ’08-09 has got to be Princeton’s impermeable protector, Zane Kalemba.
Keith Allain, Yale — Finished in first place, when Yale was picked to end up pretty much anywhere but.
Joe Marsh, St. Lawrence — Picked to squeak out home-ice in the preseason, the team took off in the second half to secure a first-round bye instead.
Bob Gaudet, Dartmouth — The Big Green lost a lot of firepower and a four-year starter between the pipes, so the media, coaches and myself all dropped Dartmouth to 11th in the preseason poll. Suffice to say the wily Gaudet made us all look pretty stupid.
All three of these coaches’ programs made five-spot jumps in the standings between last year and this. Yale was sixth at the end of the ’07-08 regular season, St. Lawrence was ninth, and Dartmouth was in a tie for 10th. My, how times do change.
To break it down, Gaudet would win for doing the most with what initially appeared to be so little. Marsh could win for saving a sinking season in such dramatic fashion: the Saints were 3-6-2 at the halfway point, but finished 11-7-4 and on a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1). And Allain, obviously, took a middling team and shot it straight up the chart. Yale didn’t lose consecutive league games all season, and played extraordinarily tight defense despite massive offensive production.
So really, it’s about what your perspective is on what kind of coaching is most important. For me, Gaudet’s veteran savvy may have been the most incredible coaching performance of the year, but when all the candidates led their teams to equally massive improvements over last season, the ultimate tiebreaker has to be wins. Yale did it, did it often, and did it convincingly.
Mr. Keith Allain, please report to the podium.
Not to Forget …
… Defensive Defenseman choice Zach Miskovic of St. Lawrence, who had six goals, five assists, and a +11 rating in all 22 games. Yale junior Ryan Donald was so close, sporting a league-best +14 among blueliners, but Donald’s 44 penalty minutes — while not criminally high — dwarfed Miskovic’s 18.
… Defensive Forward Brock McBride. A clean defensive sweep for the Saints, as McBride finished tied atop the conference leaderboard in +/- with a +15. His seven goals and 10 assists aren’t bad either, and he played a relatively clean game with 30 minutes served in 20 games.
Props to Rensselaer’s Road Warriors
The RPI pep band burned some serious rubber last weekend, trekking from Troy to Hanover (roughly 130 miles) for Friday night’s game between the Engineers and Big Green. The ‘Tute tunesters then took to the road again to support the women’s team in their ultimate mega-upset of Harvard on Saturday afternoon (126 miles). The crew promptly packed up and whipped right back up to Dartmouth (another 126 miles) for the second game of RPI’s stunning sweep on the men’s side, and drove by drowsy memory back down to Cambridge (126 once more) for the Engineers’ disappointing loss to — ironically — Dartmouth in the women’s championship.
After three towns and four games in three days, the band cruised back into Troy on Sunday night (173 miles later). The total trip involved roughly 12 and a half hours on the road, according to Mapquest estimations, and covered over 680 miles. That’s a lot of rubber, gas, and games of license-plate hunting.
“To me, we have the best pep band in the country,” sang men’s coach Seth Appert. “I’ve been in other leagues, I’ve seen our league, played in the CCHA, and I was in Denver for nine years. There are some good fan bases throughout the country, but I think we not only have a great fan base here at RPI, but what those students do for us is amazing.”
They don’t do it simply for the music; it could be argued that the melodies are secondary to the bands’ love of RPI hockey.
“They drove straight back up for our game Saturday. We win, to win the series, and it’s kind of a drizzly, cold rain, and all the band is waiting outside in the rain, to cheer our team on as we come out to the bus 30 minutes after the game … then they go back down to play again for the women on Sunday. It’s really impressive, and what a great sign of school spirit. Our [players] are really lucky to have them.”
“We don’t take them for granted. We have a lot of respect for them,” Appert said, adding that it was important that the band’s seniors were recognized on Senior Night as well as the players. “Our student-athletes are very fortunate to have the fan base that we have and obviously to have the pep band behind them like that.”
I was at the women’s finale on Sunday, which is where I heard about the group’s remarkable commitment. The band was the primary source of energy in the stands, as the Big Green didn’t have a musical accompaniment, and I, for one, greatly appreciated it.
More than anything, though, it was sincerely moving to see the band members standing by the bus after the team’s tough 6-1 loss. Rather than falling asleep on their feet, the crew applauded and cheered whole-heartedly for every member of the team that slowly trudged toward a melancholy three-hour bus ride and a six-month offseason. It was honestly inspiring.
Don’t worry, the orchestra will be on hand in Ithaca this weekend, once again standing strong in support of its beloved Engineers.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this has all happened — and continues to happen — while these kids are on Spring Break?
No. 12 Brown @ No. 1 Yale
The basics: Yale won the season series with 3-0 and 4-3 wins, but also stumped the Bears in a non-conference meeting by a score of 6-3. That said, all three games were played back in November, and I think it’s safe to say that these are both very different teams than they were four months ago. Mike Stuart is strong possibility to return for Brown, and Sean McMonagle is probable, according to coach Roger Grillo. Top defenseman Thomas Dignard hasn’t suited up for Yale since January, and rookie rearguard Kevin Peel didn’t play in the final two games of the regular season. It is unknown why these two haven’t played, however, as Yale coach Keith Allain was unavailable for comment.
Brown made its handful of devoted fans very, very happy last weekend, for not only did they string together consecutive victories for the first time all season, but they were both against rival Ivy Harvard. The 1-0, 2-0 wins also gave Brown an extremely unlikely place in the Harvard record books: the Crimson had never lost consecutive collegiate games by shutout. Ever. In 111 years. So that’s one for goalie Mike Clemente’s memento book, eh? Bruno advanced in large part thanks to Clemente’s stellar performance, with a dutiful nod to some forgiving iron. But Brown also took only six penalties in the two games, and obviously held Harvard off the scoresheet for those six power plays.
Yale could’ve finished stronger, at 1-2-1 in its last four, but a week off to fine-tune and rest up should help the Bulldogs as they enter what should be an immensely physical and grinding series. It’s hard to make any real judgments about Yale’s imminent style of play, because by the end of the regular season not only had the Elis pretty much wrapped up first place, but they’d also become pretty worn down. A week off might show that all Yale needed was a rest … or it could expose weaknesses that the past couple weeks had merely hinted at. The Bulldog penalty kill has been exceptional, surrendering less than a goal for every ten shorthanded situations. The power play has been decent (17.5 percent), but not as potent as you’d desire or expect out of such a high-octane offense (3.36 goals a game in league this year).
For Brown, this weekend will be all about recalling how last weekend felt.
“I think we’ve been creeping closer to that (a 60-minute effort) over the past month,” said Grillo. “The guys’ confidence has gotten stronger, younger players have developed down the stretch … I think (the sweep) is a combination of a lot of factors.”
Grillo is wary of Yale, fully understanding how lethal the Bulldogs can be.
“They’re a deep team. They play at a very high pace, they skate, they’ve got some really good skill. I’ve been really impressed with them both on tape and when we’ve played them earlier in the year, and I have a great deal of respect for what they’ve been able to accomplish this year. It’s never an easy thing (to win the ECAC),” he said. “We’re going to have to be on our A-game to give ourselves an opportunity.”
Regarding his squad’s back-to-back blankings, the coach indicated that it was never really the plan to win by 1-0 or 2-0 results.
“I don’t think you ever go into a game expecting to totally shut somebody down, but if the game falls that way then great. If not, then you adjust and you move forward,” he explained.
When regular starter Dan Rosen faltered early in 2009, Grillo was blessed to have a talent like Mike Clemente waiting in the wings. The first-year collegian holds a .932 save rate in over 930 minutes of gametime, and was immense when called upon last week.
“I think a lot of people look at (the Harvard series), and if you weren’t at the games I think you’d probably look at it like we stole a couple games. But I thought the team played pretty well, I thought we did a lot of positive things, but certainly Michael gave us the opportunity to do that,” said Grillo. “There were chunks of time in both games where we were just ok, and that’s where he stepped up and made some huge saves for us.”
To be fair, Clemente was bailed out by his (well technically Harvard’s) posts a couple of times, including one or two disputed non-goals. The coach doesn’t sweat that though; if anything, he feels like his Bears have earned a few lucky breaks.
“We hadn’t earned those positive breaks earlier on in the year, and I thought this past weekend we earned ’em,” he said.
While three goals in a weekend doesn’t ordinarily equate to advancement, Brown pulled it off, and expects to see more of the same as the playoffs continue.
“(Offense) has certainly been part of our Achilles’ heel all year, but I think this time of the year you can’t afford to get into a shooting match with anybody,” mused the coach. “Defensive hockey is what ends up winning championships.”
And while he’s preached to anyone who will listen that his team is good enough to hang with — or beat — just about anybody, he allows for a little bit of a carefree attitude in his locker room. No one expected Bruno to get this far, so they’re playing with house money.
“There’s a reason for playoffs, you’ve gotta play the games, so we’re looking at it like we want to continue to play, we want to continue to move on, we want to continue to get better. We’re also working hard to give ourselves that opportunity. We’re not just gonna show up and hope it happens; we’re gonna show up and try to make it happen,” he said of his team’s nothing-to-lose mentality.
“(The players) are very upbeat. They’re disappointed about how the regular season went, but they’re excited about where they’re at right now, and I think their confidence is sky-high.”
Well why shouldn’t it be? If Brown did something no one had ever done last weekend, why stop now?
No. 11 Rensselaer @ No. 2 Cornell
The basics: Cornell swept the series, 3-0 and 4-1. Freshman defenseman Mike Bergin is out for the year, and hasn’t played since early December. Senior forward Kurt Colling was out last weekend, but is probable to play this weekend. Sophomore forward Joe Devin hasn’t played in the Big Red’s last three games, and Evan Barlow and Joe Scali didn’t skate in the season finale at Brown. Forward Tyler Roeszler hasn’t laced up since early February, but none of these are confirmed injuries: head coach Mike Schafer was unavailable for comment, so the absences are of unknown significance.
Rensselaer is perhaps two wins away from total absolution. Following a horrific regular season, the Engineers finally clicked in a meaningful and tangible way by edging Dartmouth out of the tournament by 3-2 (ot) and 3-1 scores. It was RPI’s first six-goal weekend since the North Country split eight weeks back, and also marked the fewest goals allowed in a weekend since the second week in January (also three). The much-maligned power play failed to show up again, but the penalty kill held the Big Green to one-for-seven and Allen York stopped 58 shots in his first taste of NCAA postseason.
Cornell flew right through mid-January, by playing Cornell hockey and winning Cornell wins. The offense was good for three or four goals a game, Ben Scrivens and the bruising defense rarely surrendered more than one or two, and life was good in Ithaca. But since Yale tipped the Big Red 4-3 at Lynah on January 23, things have seemed a little out-of-whack for the Red. The team is 5-6-1 down the stretch and was pressed into four overtime games (in which it went 2-1-1). The defense allowed two four-goal games and a fiver in its last six, but the scoring has prevented the situation from escalating into a full-on meltdown. The power play has been a big reassurance for Schafer and the Big Red, clicking along at nearly 22 percent in league play. The PK is also solid, functioning at a roughly 88 percent kill rate.
Following a few weeks of consistent efforts and dramatically improved quality of play, RPI suddenly dropped a couple of eminently winnable games. Just as coach Seth Appert began to worry about how much more his team could take, the Engineers pulled together through exceptional leadership and resilient pride.
“We really lost our belief in the month of February,” began Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert. The coach praised captain Matt Angers-Goulet for successfully buoying the troops during tough times though. “I think a lot of teams going through some of the struggles we went through would have very little spirit or life left in them this week,” he said after complimenting A-G’s hard work.
Last weekend, RPI finally saw some dividends from its months of hard work … and this was no chump change, either.
“We played very good playoff-style hockey: blocking shots, finishing checks, taking care of the puck, knocking up a lot of odd-man rushes — things of that nature — and staying out of the penalty box,” praised the coach, who counted 55 blocked shots in two games against Dartmouth, “and that’s a good recipe for success,” he said.
The sweep wasn’t a product of finally being on the right side of what had been an endless string of unlucky bounces, Appert proclaimed. Bounces, he said, aren’t really in his vocabulary.
“I’m not a big believer in bounces. I just don’t believe in ’em,” he stated. “I think that you get what you earn, and our lack of success in the season wasn’t because of bad bounces, and our success this weekend wasn’t because of good bounces. It was because of hard work. You earn everything you get, nobody gives you anything. I’m a firm believer in that in hockey, and also in life.”
“We played with a little more determination and collective will than we did throughout the season,” he assessed. Now that his charges know what it feels like to earn a win, Appert believes they can avoid making the little-yet-critical errors that accumulate into losses. “When you lose a lot of close games, sometimes those little things can be the difference.”
“I think we played a similar style (to how we’d been playing), but I just think we did everything a little bit better and perhaps with a little bit more urgency and passion than we have in the regular season.”
As for Cornell, the Engineers have learned one thing for certain from their two defeats at the hands of the Big Red: don’t fall behind.
“They’re a tough team to play from behind against. That’s their comfort level, and they’re good at it, they’re good defensively. They just don’t give you a lot of opportunities to play from behind,” the coach stressed, further mentioning how Cornell had built early and ultimately insurmountable leads against RPI during the regular season.
For the ‘Tute to triumph, not only will it have to play with poise, determination and confidence, but with a bit of a chip on its shoulder as well.
“We’re going to be aggressive because that’s who we are; that’s when we play our best,” said Appert. “We’re going to be physical, we’re gonna go after them, and we’re going to play the style that we have to play when we’ve had success this season, and that we played with at Dartmouth last weekend.”
It’s crucial to keep the Red off the scoreboard early, the coach believes, as the Red defense can be positively punishing when allowed to dictate the play. The visitors will have to play tight defense, but also pay the price in the offensive zone by getting into Scrivens’ part of the ice.
“I think we’re willing and ready, and have the understanding of that’s where you need to get at this time of the year no matter who you’re playing, and probably even moreso against Cornell.”
Do the upstart Engineers have another upset in ’em? Puckman Nation is eagerly waiting to distribute some custom-made “Get Out of a Bad Season Free” cards if they do.
No. 8 Union @ No. 3 Princeton
The basics: The sides split the season series, with Princeton taking the first game 4-1 in Schenectady, but the Dutch winning a stunner in New Jersey 3-2 in January. Justin Pallos didn’t play at all last weekend nor in the Dutchmen’s season finale against Cornell, but he appears to be the only questionable concern on the Union roster. (Coach Nate Leaman was unavailable, so this is purely speculation.) Junior striker Tyler Beachell missed Princeton’s last game for reasons unknown, but the Tigers do finally have Cam MacIntyre back in the mix after playing only 10 regular season games on the heels of his 31-game, 31-point sophomore campaign.
Union has finally shed its albatross, beating Clarkson in straight sets — 5-3, 7-2 — to win its first-ever playoff series. Goalie Corey Milan has played in every game this season, and while his numbers aren’t outstanding, they’re not sub-par either. (Plus, your team scoring a dozen goals tends to minimize the stress of the position.) The Union special teams could use some work, with the penalty kill toiling along at an 81.5 percent success rate, and the power play is only barely above 16 percent. Union fans — and coaches, and players alike, I’m sure — are hoping that the explosion of goals seen last weekend is a sign of an awakening offense, one that struggled to produce more than two or three most nights during the regular season. The team boasted seven double-digit point-producers in ECAC play, but no one with particularly staggering numbers. (Jason Walters was most impressive, with 10 goals and 11 assists in 21 games.)
Princeton may not have wrested first place, as most expected in the fall, but they’re still the same Tigers that took the league by storm last spring. The roster sports an incredible 21 players who earned points in league play, with only backup goaltender Alan Reynolds (played one game) and junior defender Kevin Crane (five games) failing to register a point. Nobody accumulated double-digit goals or assists, but the depth is really something to behold. The power play has fallen off a bit this year, at only a 12 percent conversion rate, but the penalty kill is just peachy at 89.5 percent. The ‘Jersey cats are fast, deep, and very opportunistic; they don’t give much warning when they’re about to rock you for two or three quick strikes. They clearly know how to win, which makes them as good a bet as anyone else still alive.
Potential Dryden Award-winner Zane Kalemba has been having a lot of fun this year, reveling in the challenge that comes with wearing the target.
“It’s a new situation. Last year coming into the season we weren’t really picked to do that well, so we could kinda sneak up on teams,” he said, “whereas this year we were picked to win the league and everybody’s got a target on us and everybody’s coming after us when we play them. So I think we really had to play a little harder this year because of that. It’s a little bit more of a challenge.”
“We’ve had to work harder for each win. That’s not to say we haven’t been as successful; we’ve just had to work harder. If you come out every night and you know that you can’t let down for a minute because everyone’s gunning for you, it’s definitely a lot more fun when it’s a lot more challenging.”
The goalie with the career .917 save percentage has seen that same stat hit the ceiling this season. He also dropped his overall goals-against average by over six-tenths of a goal, and what’s better, he still has a year left to torment his ECAC Hockey competition.
“Last year I think I was a little more inconsistent. My focus this year is to try to bring the same focus to every game, and to build off last year’s playoff run,” he said, alluding to his Most Outstanding Player performance in the ’07-08 tournament. “I think our team’s obviously been more consistent defensively this year, and any individual success I’ve had or anybody has on our team is really just a product of the whole team buying into being committed, and being committed to the discipline we have.”
Speaking about facing Union, Kalemba gave them about as high a praise as you could imagine: he compared the Dutchmen similarly to the Tigers.
“They’re a hard-working team, and they play similar to our style. We split with them this year, so we know if we don’t show up they can easily beat us,” he stated.
Coach Guy Gadowsky has always sung about Kalemba’s unbreakable focus and stability in the game, and the third-year Tiger inadvertently supported his coach’s descriptions when discussing his exciting, up-tempo team.
“I try not to get too involved in what my team’s doing offensively,” he said, saying that he feels more or less the same whether a game is 6-1 or scoreless. “I try to stay level-headed. But watching game tape afterward, it’s obviously a lot more exciting. But while the game’s going on, I try not to get too excited. One of my strengths is being mentally focused all game and giving my team a little bit of confidence in that respect. Whether the game’s going well or not, I try to bring the same level of focus.”
It’s playoff hockey. If there’s one thing that wins in the playoffs, it’s focus.
No. 7 Quinnipiac @ No. 4 St. Lawrence
The basics: The programs split in the regular season, with QU winning the first game 5-2 in November, but SLU rebounding with a 4-3 (ot) win in mid-February. It may prove coincidental, but both games were won by the road team. Senior forward Casey Parenteau likely out “unless the team goes real deep,” according to coach Joe Marsh, while classmate Matt Generous was described as “50/50” on the blue line. Defenseman Sami Liimatainen is still out for Quinnipiac after a rough outing at Harvard two weeks back, but he appears to be QU’s only injury concern.
Quinnipiac is trying to prove that yes, it does belong in the same breath as Princeton, Yale or Cornell in this year’s ECAC. The Bobcats didn’t do themselves any favors by playing such a long series against Colgate, but on the other hand, perhaps it proved their mettle to win two of three overtime classics. The story is clearly Brandon Wong’s return, as the integral pivot scored both of Quinnipiac’s overtime winners and added an assist on the weekend as well. He might not be playing at a hundred percent, but he’s obviously feeling good enough to wreak some havoc. We saw the Many Faces of Bud Fisher last weekend as well, as the once-and-again starter played well in the wins, but also allowed five goals on 27 shots in the loss. He probably can’t afford to have another three-ring night like that this deep in the playoffs.
St. Lawrence has had a week to flush out the injury bug, but it still may not have ushered the likes of Generous and Parenteau back into the lineup. On the plus side, Saints fans are hoping that the final weekend of the season demonstrated an exciting new talent for their team: the ability to play shut-down hockey. The Canton crew pummeled Union and Rensselaer on the road to close out the First Season, winning both games by 2-0 scores. Alex Petizian has played great down the stretch, oddly stopping 31 shots in each of those two shutouts as well. He hasn’t had a sub-.900 save-percentage game in his last seven appearances, and his goals-against maxed out at three (four times) in his last 14 outings. Add in the obligatory reminder that the Saints are 10-3-3 in their last 16 (and 8-3-3 at home all year), and you’re looking at a pretty hot team.
Despite all that about Quinnipiac’s inconsistencies and St. Lawrence’s extended run, Marsh isn’t exactly punching his tickets to Albany just yet.
“They’re a very formidable offensive team, very strong special teams — the power play I think is excellent. It’s a tough draw,” he said of the potent Bobcats.
“Quinnipiac has a certain level of skill, that they’re capable of making big plays. They’ve got some guys that can make plays and score goals … we’re going to have to be really sound defensively and really sound in transition. They’re a real good team, and you expect to see good teams this time of year.”
The coach is acutely aware of Wong’s return and the impact it had on the Colgate series.
“He’s a top player in the league, and he gives them that extra kick. With (Bryan) Leitch and (David) Marshall, you got a nice bounce with three very skilled guys. We’ve got to try to keep five guys on the defensive side of the puck as much as possible, but at the same time try to play our game as well. Certainly Wong gives them a big boost. I’m sure he adds quite a good deal psychologically to that team as well,” he said.
A big part of Marsh’s concern lies in Quinnipiac’s experience. The ‘Cats lost to Clarkson in the league championship just two years ago, and many of Hamden’s current club played on that overachieving team.
“They’ve been there and they’ve been successful enough certainly over the years that it makes them a very dangerous team. (Success) is not all done in one year,” Marsh warned.
For a team that’s used to traveling great distances in the regular season, it was a relief to get the bye week. Not only did the Saints get to rest up, but they didn’t have to travel in either of these first two rounds. The coach has warned his charges that a familiar sheet is worth diddly-squat if you don’t work hard enough, and he has two — almost three — very handy examples to call on to prove his point.
“We needed (the bye), I think, psychologically as much as anything to kinda regroup, get ready, and gear up for what’s really a whole new season. It’s always a plus to stay at home, but it’s one that you’ve gotta try and build on. You can’t rely on it; just look at this past weekend,” he said, as Harvard and Dartmouth lost, and upcoming foe QU was nearly terminated by feisty Colgate.
From Quinnipiac and head coach Rand Pecknold’s perspective, it’s back to business as usual. Wong’s return was a cause for celebration — two of them, as it turned out — and it provided a big boost for the rest of the team.
“He’s a little bit rusty,” said Pecknold of his omnipresent center, “but you can’t argue with two overtime goals. When we needed him, he stepped up and made big, big plays.”
The coach didn’t feel that the overtimes were too taxing on the team’s well-being.
“Ultimately you get a little more battle-tested by going to overtime, but the one night we lost, it was only about a minute in that they scored so it didn’t even feel like it went that long. I think there’s definitely positives to take out of winning overtime — huge positives.”
In scouting the Saints, QU realized that there’s nothing in particular that they need to be worried about. That’s because there is no individual facet of SLU’s game that supersedes any other: they do everything well.
“I think the thing with St. Lawrence, what their strength is, is they’re so well rounded. They’ve got great forwards, whatever 12 they put in the lineup are great. They’ve got the high-end kids: McBride, DeVergilio, McKenzie … then they maybe have the best six D in the league. And then there’s Petizian, with his .931 save percentage. Very well rounded team, they do a lot of things well, and really don’t have a weakness. You’ve just gotta be ready to play hard, there’s nothing really to exploit in that.”
Speaking to Pecknold as he and the ‘Cats bussed northward, he didn’t spend any time bemoaning the travel time. Just part of the business, he said.
“This is what you get for not finishing in the top four. You’ve got to get on the bus, and go up there and try to find a way to win on the road. They earned it, they deserve it, and we’ve got to find a way to overcome it.”
Time and a Half
In most occupations, working overtime earns you a little extra in your back pocket. If only Colgate were so lucky.
The Raiders played an NCAA-record 19 overtime games this season, going 6-6-7 and playing a ridiculous 81:53 of sudden-death hockey. The team played three OT games in five outings in November, five-of-six and six-of-eight straddling the winter break, and nine of Colgate’s last 11 games needed extra time, including the final seven in a row.
All told, the Raiders played back-to-back overtime games twice, back-to-back-to-back once, and then the preposterous septuplets to close out the year.
Unfortunately for these extra-mile (or -period) players, their experience couldn’t top Quinnipiac’s depth. Despite taking the home-team Bobcats to overtime three straight nights in the first round, the ‘Cats found a way to beat the Raiders in what had become an almost assumed overtime effort.
While Colgate’s record — 12-18-7 — sums to 37 games, the team should always look back and take pride in the fact that they worked harder than any other 37-game team ever has.
They had to play 38 1/3 games just to play 37.
St. Pierre Signs with Syracuse
Colgate senior Nick St. Pierre signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Syracuse Crunch, it was announced Tuesday. St. Pierre was the Raiders’ leading defensive scorer this season with four goals and 13 helpers, and finished his Colgate tenure with 14 goals and 48 points in 147 games. More impressive than his stats is the fact that he was only the second player to serve as an assistant captain and/or captain for three straight years.
Congratulations to the young man for his noble career in Hamilton, and just as much for his decision to commute between Syracuse and Hamilton this spring so that he can complete his degree in economics. There’s a reason he wore a letter on his chest three years running: he leads by example.