This Week in ECAC Hockey: Jan. 14, 2010

So have you heard about this Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno/NBC mess?

Just kidding. Moving on …

Genie in a Bottle

While kicking back with your buddies at your favorite post-game establishment, a waitress you’ve never seen before sets a bottle of beer in front of you. Without saying a word, she turns around and disappears through the crowd.

The vessel looks old — you can barely make out the label through the dust — but more importantly, it’s full and ostensibly free. You pick it up to brush some of the powder from its time-worn face, when in a flash the room goes completely black around you. As you rub your eyes, trying to figure out what happened to the lights, you begin to notice that you’re all alone … standing in a dim but brightening row of seats in the arena you just left.

A voice calls from the public address system, but there is no echo. You are gradually coming to the indubitable conclusion that you’ve sprinted past your limit for the night, and then some … when the voice says:

“I am the Genie, and as a reward for your loyalty to your friends, school and bar, I am prepared to grant you three wishes … no strings attached.”

We all know that you’re going to blow them on something like hot naked Swedes begging you to canoodle with them in pools of Labatt, so forget it. I’m taking your wishes for you, and putting them to better use.

These are the three things you should be wishing for, if you’re a fan of …

Brown

1) One Instant Recruiting Cycle. Brendan Whittet is a proud and passionate Brown man, and I for one can’t wait to see what he’ll do with the program over the next few years. But here in reality, Bruno fans will have to be content with baby steps.

2) An athletics budget. I wish I could give you raw numbers that demonstrate that Brown is lagging a distant sixth among hockey-playing Ivies in money spent on athletics, but I can’t … I can only speculate. That said, such speculation is not borne of irresponsible “general impressions,” but of examples such as the widely reported low-ball salary offered for the position that Whittet ultimately accepted. Brown is fortunate to have such a devoted alumnus and legitimate leader all in the same man.

3) Brown pants and helmets to match their brown jerseys. Seriously guys, black breezers and buckets with chocolate sweaters? You might think you’re fooling people, but you’re not.

Clarkson

1) Potsdam International Airport … and/or Clarkson Airlines. The North Country is not as remote as Alaska, but it may as well be to many big-time programs around the country. Coach George Roll persuaded Colorado College to visit for a deuce last year, but apart from the Tigers, the only other out-of-state, non-conference opponent to travel border-ward in the past two years has been Alabama-Huntsville. All of Clarkson’s other non-league home games have come against upstate neighbors such as Niagara, RIT, Canisius, or even out-of-conference tilts against St. Lawrence.

2) A time machine. Let’s see if we can’t convince the likes of Shawn Weller, Nick Dodge, Steve Zalewski, David Cayer, Shea Guthrie, Grant Clitsome or David Leggio (all from the 2006-07 team) to postpone graduation for a couple of years.

3) One goal, about three years ago. Seriously, just one goal …

Colgate

1) Legalized human cloning. Get another David McIntyre into the lineup, and you may as well throw out all the old record books. (Then again, perhaps it’s already been done: Clever sophomore Austin Smith is the team’s leading scorer, after all.)

2) A one-goal handicap. In the Raiders’ seven wins thus far, they’ve scored 30 goals … over four a game. In their remaining games: Thirty-one in eight losses and four ties, for two and a half goals a game.

3) A return to a more naïve, hateful time. “Colgate Red Raiders” rolls off the tongue; “Colgate Raiders” sounds … well, like what it is: a lame abbreviation of a classic moniker.

Cornell

1) Three goals a game. That’s the point at which Cornell will not lose this year: the Big Red are 1-4-2 when scoring fewer, but a perfect 7-0-0 otherwise. The Red are also 1-4-1 when allowing three or more, by the way.

2) Hand-Grenade Night. Because playing at Lynah isn’t intimidating enough … you tell the goalie to skate, stop, turn and bend over, you dang well know he’s going to do it tonight!

3) LSN: the Lynah Sports Network. You might laugh it off, but you know you think Cornell Hockey should have all its games televised nationwide. The Big Ten has its own network, right? Cornell’s, like, 50 times better than all those state-school clowns combined. Admit it.

Dartmouth

1) Air support. The infantry just isn’t cutting it … Adam Estoclet, Doug Jones and Scott Fleming are — surprisingly — scoring at the same pace as they were last year, but there isn’t much behind them. Forwards Matt Reber and Nick Walsh are making valiant attempts, but the offense is dismally predictable as we approach the halfway mark.

2) Last year’s goalie. Well, he was the same person as this year’s goalie, but only in name. Jody O’Neill’s stock took a nose-dive this year, as his save rate has fallen under .900 and his goals-against average is a full goal higher than last year, his rookie season.

3) A marketing slogan. Hanover is situated squarely between Durham, N.H., (New Hampshire) and Burlington, Vt. (Vermont), putting Dartmouth in a prime location to steal a big chunk of Hockey East’s fans. My suggestion? “Dartmouth Hockey: New Verhampmontshire’s Team.”

Harvard

1) Tradition. Oh, the school is about as full of that as any ordinary human being could stomach, but the hockey team’s historic cachet goes unappreciated by much of greater Boston. The Bright Hockey Center may not be as glitzy as competing venues, but it is as accessible, affordable and functional a facility as any other in the region. For an athletic institution that prides itself on its heritage nonpareil, an awful lot of Harvard kids show up looking like empty seats.

2) A team hypnotherapist. Nothing else has worked to cure the Crimson of their annual midseason swoon (10-, 13- and nine-game winless streaks in their last three years, respectively), so we may as well start trotting out the quacks.

3) Another cloning machine … but for animals. This is so that we’ll never have to face the prospect of a day without Duke, the indescribably adorable and friendly Bernese Mountain Dog who roams the Bright Hockey Center’s halls. The loyal companion of equipment manager John “Odie” O’Donnell, Duke has become a welcome fixture at the arena. Can we get him anointed with temporary mascot status, perhaps?

Princeton

1) Doctors. Lots and lots of doctors. The Tigers are more beat up than Rihanna, and the season’s not about to get any easier. It may not seem like much to a casual rink rat, but having 17 skaters on the roster instead of 18 — especially when not all 17 are even necessarily healthy themselves — can make a huge difference to the fatigue and chemistry of the team.

2) One second less …

3) George Parros Day. Everyone who sports a ‘stache gets in for free, and The Man Himself will sit in a throne of gilded teeth as pilgrims kiss his ring. Plus, ‘Stache Gear.

Quinnipiac

1) Whatever it was we just had! But lost somehow! The Bobcats entered December at 12-1-0 and earned first-place votes in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the first time ever. Now, however, QU is 13-7-1 and averaging barely two goals a game in its last eight. Whatever “It” was, it doesn’t seem to be the defense’s fault; the ‘Cats have allowed only 25 goals in those eight games, including seven in the skid-starting loss at Yale.

2) The Whitney War. Everyone knows that Yale and Quinnipiac are rivals, but those snobs down the street can’t see outside of their Ivy bubble. Maybe if we crush them a few dozen more times, they’ll begin to show us the hatred we so richly deserve. (And yes, I’m going to continue pushing “Whitney War” as the rivalry’s official title.)

3) Big-name visitors. True, Massachusetts and St. Cloud State have turned out to be pretty significant guests on this year’s docket, but when do we get to see the Michigans, Minnesotas, Denvers, and Boston Universities of the nation? Either lure the big-time programs, or give us that annual Northford Ice Pavilion game. For old time’s sake?

Rensselaer

1) Three and a half more seasons of Brandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo. These fearsome freshmen have combined for 42 points in 42 games, and — with help, of course — have opened up a lot of room for the lethal Chase Polacek.

2) A little less horn. We’re all about the goal horns, sincerely, but the volume is a little excessive at the Houston Field House. There’s already one “RPI Rule” in the NCAA books; do we really need two? Both pertaining to over-the-top horning?

3) A copyright on “Let’s Go Red.” Cornell thinks they can have it? Not if we officially claim it first, suckers. Better yet, let’s put it to an online vote … don’t worry, we’ll design the site so it’s perfectly hack-proof. No, really, we promise.

St. Lawrence

1) Misko, McBride or DeVo. Any one of those three players from last year’s graduating class (Zach Miskovic, Brock McBride or Kevin DeVergilio) would’ve fit the bill perfectly for this year’s designated sniper. The Saints are swelling with scoring, but it’s not coming from any one reliable source … just a bunch of multi-goal guys with a bundle of assists.

2) Joe Marsh Rink. The guy’s only been your coach for, what, twice as long as anybody else? He’s stood behind that bench for over a third of the program’s existence. We understand that a small school can’t just up and build a new rink simply so it can be named in Marsh’s honor, but the least you could do would be to re-name the current venue “Joe Marsh Rink at Appleton Arena”. Not that he’ll allow you to do it before he retires, of course. Or dies.

3) A lifetime supply of wood varnish. Appleton Arena looks like a rink built inside an oak tree. For people who complain about the shift toward composite materials over lumber in hockey today, go check out the Saints’ digs. Just don’t bring anything combustible … and look out for splinters!

Union

1) At least six more wins. If they’re well-timed. That’s how many Union will need to advance to its first NCAA tournament. The long-cursed Dutchmen finally got over the hump with a playoff series victory last season, but this year’s squad looks good enough to skip the traditional next step — the ECAC Hockey Championship weekend — and shoot for something bigger. They’re not getting the respect they deserve for being undefeated in conference play, but nobody ever won a thing based on respect alone; respect is part of the destination, not the vehicle.

2) Longer road trips! The Dutch are 8-2-2 away from Messa Rink so far, outscoring the opposition nearly 4-2 on the road, while the differential is significantly slimmer at home.

3) An alternate logo. I think it would be difficult to come up with a really cool, stylish Dutchman for the sweaters, but I think something outside the garnet U would be worth looking into.

Yale

1) Proof. In late November’s 1-0 loss at Vermont, the lone goal was scored late in the second period during a scrum in the Yale crease. The officials consulted the instant replay to have a look, and they ruled the play a goal. When the tape of the replay never materialized a few days after the game, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna allegedly told Yale officials that Vermont accidentally erased it. Thus the determinate evidence of one of the Bulldogs’ biggest results of the year disappeared under extremely shady circumstances.

2) Four goals a game. The Elis are 0-4-3 when scoring fewer than four in a game; that leaves them a perfect 9-0-0 when hitting the quartet.

3) A definitive No. 1 goalie. Alec Richards was no world-beater in his time with the ‘Dogs, but he was a reliable netminder behind a stacked and confident team … you don’t need Martin Brodeur in your crease if he’s playing behind the ’83 Oilers. But in what is effectively a three-man brigade, nobody has stepped up yet to claim the starter’s role outright. If there’s a soft spot on the Bulldogs today, it’s in the team’s confidence (or lack thereof) in its goalkeeping.

Men of Troy Are On a Roll

It’s been a funny year for Rensselaer, but the team is only now starting to laugh.

At 12-10-1, the Engineers have put together two three-game winning streaks, but also a four-game string of L’s in a very up-and-down kind of season. But now, five games into a six-game road swing, the ‘Tute has won four of five and is feeling good. Consecutive 4-1 victories at Quinnipiac and Princeton have given the team some confidence after numerous gut-wrenching losses, and coach Seth Appert is looking forward to the rest of the campaign.

“I thought we were very good against Princeton; I liked the way we played that night,” Appert said. “We were hard to play against. We were physical, we were fast, and that is when we are at our best. We have a team that can really skate, and … when we play physical and we play fast … we’re a good hockey team.

“We can play with, or beat, anyone in the country; I think that’s been evidenced with some of the games we’ve won, both in and out of conference,” he said, referring to wins against New Hampshire, Boston University and Michigan. “But we’re not there yet. We don’t consistently play as fast and physical as we want to. We have to get … to where how we played at Princeton becomes a habit and an expectation every time we step on the ice.”

While the squad appears to be heating up, Appert is reluctant to say that the Engineers are playing their best hockey of the year.

“We still have work to do. We’ve been pretty resilient and we’ve responded well to adversity. We’re 4-1 in a tough stretch of road games … where we lost a lot of heartbreaking games going into that, but played well. I think we have confidence from winning some games, but while we were really good against Princeton, we were not very good against Quinnipiac.”

One giant star in the RPI constellation has been freshman D’Amigo, who has not only put up 17 points in 19 games, but also made a name for himself on the international stage with a huge series of performances at the World Junior Championship. Appert can’t wait to see what D’Amigo will be able to do at the collegiate level.

“As to what it means to our team, we’re all very proud of him,” he said. “We’re proud of his performance, of the way he represented his family and our university, and obviously our country. He gains confidence in himself, and coming back from that I think that showed on Sunday … against Princeton.”

Appert also spoke of how D’Amigo’s play could help RPI’s recruiting efforts down the line.

“Future players will see how well he played in big moments, but also how well he spoke of playing at RPI and how much that means to him. It shows what a classy kid he is, and it also shows recruits that it doesn’t matter where you play. What matters is you go where you’re comfortable and where the coaching staff is going to believe in you and develop you.”

The Engineers’ recent run will be put to the test in a big way this Saturday, as the team hikes across town to tangle with first-place Union. The Dutchmen hold a 2-1-0 edge this year in one league game (a Union triumph) and two non-conference contests. Regardless of affiliation, this is not a game to be missed: Just this year, the three tilts have featured six goals in the last four minutes of regulation and two overtime goals to boot.

Readers’ Poll

Getting back into the swing of things, I present you with a question about the league’s parity: Who is the dominant team in ECAC Hockey right now? Union’s undefeated, but not getting a lot of love from the pollsters; Cornell, Yale and Quinnipiac have had their hiccups as well.

It’s been a wild season so far, but hopefully it won’t end in the first round of the NCAA tournament this time.

Help Wanted

As a final note, if anyone is interested in writing recaps for home games at Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, or Yale, please contact us. Journalism experience is mandatory. The gigs are unpaid, but hey — free hockey, and valuable experience for media majors out there as well.

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