Following last Friday’s 2-0 win over Harvard at Fenway Park, Union coach Rick Bennett was understandably asked a bevy of questions about taking part in the festivities and how the Dutchmen adjusted to playing outside. (Outside of frozen toes, Bennett had no complaints with the elements.)
The focus then shifted to the next night, where Union would be playing travel partner Rensselaer, a team entrenched in last place and going on two months without a league win. It was a game that seemed like an easy one to overlook, especially given the emotions that would be carrying over from the Dutchmen’s Fenway matchup with the Crimson. But not quite.
“You know what? We’re going to enjoy this for the trip back,” Bennett said. “But once we hit that parking lot and put our equipment up, it’s going to be about RPI.”
It would be easy to dismiss Bennett’s words as so-called “coachspeak,” except for one thing: They’re not.
Yes, Union did roll to a 5-1 win over the Engineers, but a quick look around the league last weekend proves that, cliché or not, no team can afford to take its opponent lightly.
Case in point: Friday night, then-second-place Colgate lost 6-2 on the road to a Princeton team that entered the game four games under .500 in conference play. Saturday, the Raiders were throttled 7-1 by a Quinnipiac team that came within two short-handed goals of knocking off Cornell the night before.
Clarkson entered Friday with just eight points in league play but took three of a possible four points by tying Brown before beating Yale in overtime. So what gives?
“It’s a great race,” Brown coach Brendan Whittet said several weeks ago. “In college hockey in general, there’s a lot of sameness. If a team shows up on any specific night to battle and play hard … you can be very successful.”
So who’s the favorite in the league this year? Cornell and Colgate appeared to have the upper hand, but as last weekend proved, no one is out of it.
“I’ve been in the league as a player and coach for 20-plus years,” Whittet said. “Every once in a while you have a team that can run away with it [but not this year].”
ECAC weekly honors
As selected by the league:
Player of the week:Kelly Zajac, Union. The senior had a part in five of the seven goals the Dutchmen scored on the weekend. Zajac had a goal and an assist in Union’s 2-0 win over Harvard and matched a career high with three assists against RPI Saturday. He is second on the school’s Division I assist list with 78.
Rookie of the week: Sam Labrecque, Clarkson. The defender scored the winner against Yale Sunday with 61 seconds left in overtime and finished with three points on the weekend. Labrecque leads all Golden Knights rookies in scoring (4-12–16) and Sunday marked the first two-goal game of his career. Overall, he ranks third on Clarkson in points and is tied for second in power-play goals with three.
Goalie of the week: Troy Grosenick, Union. Another solid weekend for the sophomore goaltender, who is first in the nation in both goals-against-average (1.60) and save percentage (.939). He turned away all 18 shots he saw Friday against Harvard for his third shutout of the season, good for fifth in Division I, and made 39 saves in a 5-1 win against RPI Saturday while adding his first career assist on the game-winning goal.
Checking on the ranks
Three league teams are in the latest USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, with Cornell holding steady at No. 9, while Union moved up two spots to No. 12 and Colgate tumbled six spots to No. 18 after a winless weekend. The Raiders took a hit in the PairWise Rankings as well, falling to No. 26, percentage points behind Quinnipiac. Leading the way for the ECAC in the PairWise is Cornell (12) and Union (tie, 18).
Show your support … in 140 characters or less
Colgate senior forward and Hobey Baker Award candidate Austin Smith has his own group of supporters on Twitter under the handle @AustinforHobey.
Will social media help push Smith over the edge in the voting? Who knows, but it’s hard to ignore his nation-leading 22 goals, three more than any other player. They’ve come in the same amount of games, giving him a comfortable lead in per-game scoring as well.
A peek into the future
Several schools locked up some recruits over the last several weeks. Here’s a look at who committed, courtesy of College Hockey Inc., including a pair of brothers in Christian and Tom Hilbrich. All are set to start in 2012 unless noted.
Clarkson: Tyler Moor, C, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL); Simon Bessette, Wellington Dukes (OJHL).
Colgate: Jake Kulevich, D, Berkshire HS (NEDI); Brett Corkey, D, Vernon Vipers (BCHL), 2013.
Cornell: Christian Hilbrich, LW, Indiana Ice (USHL).
Rensselaer: Jimmy Devito, LW, Chicago Steel (USHL), 2013.
Quinnipiac: Tom Hilbrich, D, Pembroke Lumber Kings (CCHL).
Union: Tyler Hynes, RW, Albany Academy HS (NEDI), 2013; Tim Boyle, D, Noble and Greenough HS (NEDI).
Yale: Matt Beattie, F, Exeter Academy, Phillips HS (NEDI).
A pair of games in upstate New York were delayed last weekend. Both Brown at St. Lawrence and Yale at Clarkson had to be bumped from Friday night to Sunday due to a blizzard that blanketed the region while knocking out power in many places.
Final Frozen Fenway note
Speaking of snow, the small swirls of it blowing around the rink at Fenway Friday night certainly was an interesting sight. Say what you want about outdoor games, but for the players, fans and media, it was a fun opportunity.
While Fenway was far from full (the announced attendance was 8,891, although it was hard to tell how accurate that was) it was still a good atmosphere considering Union is over three hours away and Harvard doesn’t draw as well as the other Beanpot schools.
For whatever it’s worth I enjoyed myself, as it was only the second time I’ve gotten to sit in the press box at Fenway. (And neither one was for the Red Sox … my first time was at the Baseball Beanpot … and yes, there is such a thing.)
Still, I think colleague Jim Connelly puts it nicely here. Yes, the outdoor experience is good for all those involved, but really the bottom line is what it always is: money, for both the conferences, and more so the host, in this case the Red Sox. (Carl Crawford didn’t hit .255 for free, you know.)
In the end, I’m sure there will be plenty of outdoor games on the schedule and I’m sure they’ll be a great experience for those involved, which in the end is all that matters.