The matchups for ECAC Hockey’s championship weekend are set, as Cornell, Clarkson, Harvard and Princeton all advanced to the league semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The top-seeded Big Red will face No.6 Princeton at 4 p.m. Friday, while No. 3 Clarkson and No.4 Harvard will play at 7:35 p.m. The championship game will be Saturday at 7:35 p.m.
Harvard and Cornell are familiar participants in the league’s championship weekend. This is the fourth straight appearance for the Crimson and the third time in the last five years that the Big Red have made it to the league’s final four.
Harvard beat Cornell in the title game last season and also won the 2015 championship. The Crimson had to come back from a 1-0 series deficit in the quarterfinals against Dartmouth over the weekend, winning Game 3 4-2 Sunday behind a Ryan Donato hat trick.
Princeton was the only lower seed to win a quarterfinal series, as the Tigers swept No. 2 Union at Messa Rink. Prior to this weekend, the Dutchmen were 17-0-3 in the last twenty games against Princeton, including a sweep in last year’s quarterfinals that ended on a Mike Vecchione penalty shot in overtime.
This year, the Tigers won thanks to some dramatics of their own, as David Hallisey’s goal broke a 2-2 tie with 9.5 seconds left in Game 2 Saturday to send Princeton to the championship weekend for the first time since 2009.
Like Harvard, Clarkson dropped Game 1 last weekend, but rallied to beat Colgate in Games 2 and 3 to head to the semifinals for the first time since 2007, when the Golden Knights won the league title in Albany.
Cornell is a lock to the make the NCAA tournament while Clarkson is in a good position to get an at-large bid as well if the Golden Knights do not win the title this weekend. Harvard and Princeton are out of the running for an at-large bid and will need to win the championship if either team is to advance to the NCAA tournament.
The presence of the Big Red and the Golden Knights should help attendance, as both fan bases typically travel well. Clarkson’s campus is an hour-and-half drive from Lake Placid.
The league has started to announce its end of the year awards over the last several days. Here is what has been announced so far. The winner of the coach of the year, goalie of the year, and player of the year will be announced this week.
Rookie of the Year: Matthew Galajda, Cornell
Also nominated: Jack Jacome, Clarkson and Odeen Tufto, Quinnipiac.
Top defensive forward: Nico Sturm, Clarkson
Also nominated: Cole Maier, Union and Mitch Vanderlaan, Cornell.
Top defensive defensemen: Alec McCrea, Cornell
Also nominated: Kelly Summers, Clarkson and John Marino, Harvard
Goaltender of the year: Galajda, Colgate’s Colton Point, Union’s Jake Kupsky, and Clarkson’s Jake Kielly have all been nominated.
Coach of the Year: Union’s Rick Bennett, Clarkson’s Casey Jones, and Cornell’s Mike Schaefer have all been nominated.
Player of the Year: Galajda, Point, and Harvard’s Ryan Donato, have all been nominated.
These awards are decided on by the league’s 12 coaches. If I had a vote for the remaining awards, I’d take Point for goalie, and player, and Bennett for coach.
It’s tough to leave Donato out for player of the year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins it. The junior had 17 goals in league play – exactly one quarter of the total scored by the Crimson. That likely would have been higher had Donato not missed time due to the Winter Olympics.
But Point had a .954 save percentage in league play, and the Raiders were 1-3-1 in league games when he didn’t play.
As for the coach award, Bennett did a great job with an inexperienced Union team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll. The Dutchmen went 16-5-1 in league play and entered the final weekend of the regular season with a chance to win the league title before finishing second.
Schafer and Jones also did good jobs with young teams, as both Clarkson and Cornell advanced to Lake Placid. I think Dartmouth’s Bob Gaudet is worthy of a mention as well, as the Big Green played well down the stretch and always seem to be competitive despite not putting up gaudy statistics.
Rensselaer assistant coach hospitalized
Rensselaer assistant coach Nolan Graham was struck by a car on March 6 and is currently in the ICU at Albany Medical Hospital and will remain there for the foreseeable future. The medical staff is optimistic about a full recovery in 6-12 months.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for Graham, his wife Crystal, and daughter Ellie. As of Sunday night, $48, 173 of the $50,000 goal had been raised in just over two days.
Best wishes to Graham, his family, and RPI hockey.