And so, much like the annually premature appearance of tank-tops and flip-flops on campuses across the Northeast, so too does it feel like hockey season is moving too fast, trimming teams too soon. ECAC Hockey is down to four: Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Harvard.
Is Harvard back?
While it was somewhat shocking to see senior defenseman and adroit puck-mover Pat McNally back in the Crimson lineup Friday night, it was therefore predetermined that the Vancouver Canucks prospect would have a hand in Harvard’s do-or-die series. Less than a month removed from knee surgery and visibly cautious on the ice, McNally nonetheless made smart plays with the pucks that found him on Friday (win) and Saturday (loss); he then capped his grand return with the game-tying, season-saving goal on Sunday with 3:34 remaining in regulation and earned the first assist on Jimmy Vesey’s double-OT winner.
Second-line winger Colin Blackwell returned to form this weekend as well, though he missed the end of Sunday’s game with cramps. Overall, the Crimson are on the mend and looking to reassert themselves as a viable national contender despite an absolutely disastrous winter. Senior goaltender Steve Michalek was outstanding on the weekend with 79 saves against 84 shots (.940 save rate), and he is getting ample support in Harvard’s 21 goals over its last six games (5-1-0).
With the lines back in November form, Yale’s monkey off its back, and health improving by the day, Harvard could – could – ultimately prove to be one of the best six-seeds in ECAC history. The Crimson will take on Quinnipiac on Friday afternoon.
Union takes QU to the brink
Lesson from the three games in Hamden this weekend: Don’t ever count Rick Bennett’s team out, especially in the playoffs.
The Dutchmen took the host Bobcats to the edge with three straight one-goal games (including Sunday’s empty-netter). Union out-shot QU 38-25 in the rubber match, but junior Michael Garteig was equal to the task with 37 stops. The drama hit a glass-shattering pitch with 96 seconds to play in regulation and QU up 2-1: Bobcats freshman forward Andrew Taverner was whistled for hooking, and Union pulled Colin Stevens for a last-ditch six-on-four.
Matthew Peca found the puck, a lane, and the net to send Quinnipiac on to its third straight ECAC semifinals appearance. QU is the only team in the league to win a postseason series every season since its entrance to the conference in 2005-06, and is in a good position to make the NCAAs for the third consecutive year as well.
Empire State represented
What with Rensselaer and St. Lawrence facing off in the quarterfinals, the league was assured that at least one New York program would advance to LP; this year, there are two.
The Saints smothered the Engineers in 1-0 and 5-1 wins to sweep the series, while further south, Colgate won a pair of squeakers against Dartmouth to move on. Three of the league’s top four advanced to the semifinals, with only Yale bowing out in the quarters.
Attendance at Herb Brooks Arena will be a curiosity: SLU will be the default home team, playing about an hour from home, but how many fans the other three will bring remains to be seen. Pack the house, Raiders/Bobcats/Crimson peeps; following years of personal skepticism, I will happily admit that a hockey weekend in Lake Placid is worth the trip.