This Week in ECAC Hockey: Jan. 7, 2010

Tourney Talk

Nine ECAC Hockey teams played in holiday tournaments this year, but none of them took home any hardware. Yale and St. Lawrence came closest, but each team lost its finale by shootout.

UConn Hockey Classic

Massachusetts went to 3-1 against the ECAC on the season by coming back to beat Union 4-3 in the opener. The Dutchmen lost both a 3-1 lead and a nine-game winning streak in the process, but bounced back nicely in a 7-0 victory over host Connecticut the following afternoon. The win was the 100th in coach Nate Leaman’s career, extending his school record for wins at the D-I level. Following a win over Army, Leaman now sits 22 behind Charles Morrison’s 123, won at the D-III level between 1978 and 1988.

Florida College Classic

Resilient Princeton came back from 4-1 and 6-4 deficits to tie Maine in Game 1, going 4-for-8 on the power play (but also allowing three goals against on six penalty kills). Maine ultimately won the shootout, but it was a big win for the decimated Tigers on the heels of a 3-2 win at Massachusetts-Lowell.

In the other opener, Cornell couldn’t get it going against Joe Howe and Colorado College. The netminder stopped 25 of 27 and only allowed one power-play goal on six Big Red advantages. CC and CU split the second period, 2-2, despite the Colorado Tigers’ 21-3 shot advantage.

In the consolation game, Princeton upended their league-mate 3-2, once again by way of a comeback. The Big Red held a 2-1 lead early in the third period, but goals three and a half minutes apart by team leaders Dan Bartlett (on the power play) and Mike Kramer (shorthanded) put the Tigers on top to stay.

Great Lakes Invitational

Rensselaer did the ECAC proud in the opener, toppling home-standing Michigan 4-3 despite an overwhelming shot deficit. Allen York stoned the Wolverines on 43 of 46 bids (and 19 of 21 in the third), while the Engineers capitalized on four of their paltry 13 tries — including two goals on three first-period shots. The ‘Tute then withstood several UM power plays in the final frame, including a full two-minute 5-on-3; while the Wolverines tied the game with just under eight minutes to play, RPI’s Marty O’Grady responded in kind 46 seconds later to earn the Trojans the win.

The championship was, unfortunately, a repeat of RPI’s last trip to the GLI in 1985. That year, the Engineers defeated Michigan first, before losing to Michigan State in the finale. Two dozen years later, history repeated itself in a 6-1 MSU trouncing. Freshman Bryce Merriam started between the pipes for RPI, but was yanked after getting beat on two of his first nine shots against. York didn’t fare as well in Round 2, either, giving up four goals on 22 shots in long relief.

Denver Cup

St. Lawrence overcame a 27-year, 13-game slump against former ECAC foe Boston College in the Mile High opener, topping the Eagles 5-2. The upset ended an 11-0-2 run by BC over SLU dating back to 1982, a time predating even Joe Marsh, a quarter-century fixture behind the Saints’ bench.

“It’s a huge win for us; I’ve never been part of a St. Lawrence team that’s beaten Boston College,” he told’s Candace Horgan after the game.

The following night didn’t go too badly for the Saints, either, though they certainly had their hands full with Nebraska-Omaha. Kyle Flanagan had a goal and a helper and Mike McKenzie had two assists in the 2-2 draw, which UNO claimed in a shootout. Kain Tisi stopped 37 of 39, to run his tournament total to 68 shots, four goals.

Dodge Holiday Classic

Nothing doing in Minneapolis for Clarkson, which dropped games against a middling Northern Michigan (9-8-4) team and a downright awful Bowling Green club (3-15-2). Things went bad from the get-go as the Wildcats buried the Golden Knights under a 15-4 shot deficit in the first period en route to a 4-0 final. Bowling Green took a similar 2-0 first-period lead the second night, but Clarkson’s comeback to tie it in the second period went for naught as BGSU piled on two more in the third. The Knights were scoreless in nine power plays in the tournament.

Badger Showdown

Yale made a big splash in Madison, extending its resurgence from early-season mediocrity. The opening 6-1 rout of No. 11 Ferris State (14-4-2) shortly preceded a back-and-forth 2-2 draw with No. 4 Wisconsin on the Badgers’ home ice. The Bulldogs impressed the voters enough to jump to No. 6 in this week’s poll, and rightfully so: the Elis blasted the Badgers, 42-22 in shots, and went 1-for-3 on the power play while holding UW to 1-of-6.

Jeff Malcolm (one goal on 24 shots) and Nick Maricic (two on 22) split the tourney tending Yale’s net, each stretching his respective save percentage toward the threshold .910 mark.

Ledyard National Bank Classic

Dartmouth laid a couple of mammoth eggs in its own tournament, losing by a touchdown (plus PAT) to Northeastern on the first night and crumbling at the feet of five-win Holy Cross in the finale. Following a promising three-game win streak in late November, the Big Green are now once again on a four-game slide.

Shillelagh Tournament

Colgate gave up three goals on six power plays to host Notre Dame in the opener and fell 5-2 as a result. The consolation game was a little less understandable, though, as the Raiders dropped a lousy one to Niagara, which Colgate had already defeated and tied in the fall. The 5-1 loss was the ‘Gate’s fifth in six games.

Tigers Hanging On

Like many others this season, I was befuddled by Princeton’s sudden and utter fall from grace. An NCAA contender for the past three years, this edition of the Garden State icers just hadn’t been able to put all the pieces together.

Then I finally caught up with coach Guy Gadowsky. Lo and behold, it’s not that the pieces weren’t fitting: The Tigers don’t even have enough pieces to begin with.

“We haven’t played with a full roster in a long time, and I give the guys a lot of credit. We’re just trying to keep our heads above water until we get healthy,” he said of his Tiger triage unit that has nonetheless gone 3-0-1 in its last four games, all against teams ranked in the top 15.

In beating UMass-Lowell, tying Maine, and upending Cornell and Quinnipiac, Gadowsky believes that his club has done a spectacular job at battling tremendous adversity.

“We’ve struggled to have healthy guys in the lineup, and several have played unhealthy, but because we really had no choice; we had to have bodies,” he said.

When playfully asked if he was scouting Princeton’s intramural ranks, he responded, “We were very close, absolutely.”

“Believe me, Christmas couldn’t come soon enough,” he said of the winter break. “Unfortunately, it still wasn’t long enough to get healthy, and in Florida we lost another two guys. We have an odd academic schedule, we have exams coming up next week, so we’ll a two-week exam break … and again, I’m really looking forward to that break.”

No coach ever likes to point the finger at injuries for a game (or in this case, semester) gone wrong, but when the injured reserve roster looks better than the line chart, the situation may have gotten a bit out of hand. Gadowsky reluctantly agreed that this season, for one, has been defined by its medical woes.

“So far,” he said. “We started behind the 8-ball: We had four major surgeries in the summer, so we were down four guys before they even got on campus. It’s really been a struggle this year. I give the guys credit, that was a big win for us at Lowell. We ended up playing two men short, and playing defensemen at forward. … I give the guys a lot of credit for the attitude they’ve maintained throughout all this.”

The Tigers have been forced to play seven games with fewer than 21 players on the bench, including two played with 19.

“Oh yeah, we’ve played several games [short on the bench]. A lot of games we’ve played one down, a few we’ve played two down. First time in college I’ve ever been through this,” Gadowsky said. “Monday night we played without one captain in the lineup. We have Kaiser, Pederson and MacIntyre — our three captains — and not one of them played.”

Much of the external criticism for Princeton’s rough start (3-8-1 before the four-game unbeaten streak) has fallen on the undeserving shoulders of goaltender Zane Kalemba. The senior and reigning Ken Dryden Award winner as ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year has had uncharacteristically poor numbers, but those are simply one of the effects of having such a shorthanded lineup, said Gadowsky.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “Zane has been in the net when we’ve been extremely shorthanded, playing guys at all different positions, short D, and when that happens, you end up giving up a lot of Grade-A opportunities that you ordinarily wouldn’t. Believe me, his numbers aren’t an indication of how he’s been playing.”

A huge risk/reward facet of the situation is in player development. With every available body seeing ice time, Gadowsky & Co. have had to put young or inexperienced players in high-leverage situations. The unintentional baptism-by-fire approach could pay big dividends down the road … or it could completely wreck a fragile player’s confidence.

One thing’s for certain: It has certainly accelerated the team’s natural development process.

“Absolutely, it has. I think it can also bury you, which is why I give the guys so much credit,” explained Gadowsky. “If you go through what we’ve gone through this season, it can bury you — it’s very difficult to get points, and it’s very difficult to get points in the ECAC at any time, especially when you’re injured. If you really struggle, it can bury you.

“If we can go through this and maintain our heads above water at the end of it, then I think it can be a big benefit to the confidence of the team. On the other hand, if it completely buries you it can ruin a season.”

Fortunately for Princeton, the Tigers only have this weekend’s league deuce — at home against Union and Rensselaer — before another two-week break. A nonconference game against lowly Connecticut on Jan. 25 is all that stands between RPI and Harvard on Jan. 29 … three long and painless weeks away.


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